Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse – half family movie, half unhinged acid trip

Into the Spider-Verse takes Spiderman, everything we love about superhero movies, and a great deal more – the difficulties of growing up, family drama, real-world problems – then smashes them together in a hadron collider to give birth to a shimmering, psychedelic, emotional odyssey that turns out to be the finest blockbuster release of the year.

Half family movie, half unhinged acid trip, Lord and Miller’s take on the Spiderman universe blurs the line between intoxicating, child-friendly popcorn entertainment and pure art. Building on the success of the scintillating Lego Movie, and ascending to superlative heights untouched by Marvel movies or even mainstream animated features (sorry, Pixar), this is a gleefully ridiculous, Day-Glo freakout that’s as surprising as it is satisfying.

Taking centre-stage is Brooklyn’s Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino teenager straddling two worlds. One foot is firmly planted in that of his uncle Aaron – that of hip-hop and subway graffiti; the other is trapped in upper-class Brooklyn Visions Academy – a pressure-cooker of a school filled with kids Miles is totally unable to identify with. He is, as you might expect, bitten by a radioactive spider, setting off a chain of events that involve parallel dimensions, more spider people than you can shake a badly designed lollipop at, and a whole lot of cosmic madness to boot.

This story, as fun as it is, proves to be a mere backdrop for a propulsive origin tale exploring the empowerment and danger of discovering yourself, as well as the power of friendship. Frequently hitting the emotional high notes most big-bucks productions fall octaves below, Spider-Verse proves to be a powerful, meaningful, invigorating experience that outclasses its live-action counterparts threefold. This is the distillation of the superhero movie – the origins, the discovery, the friendships. This is the past, the present, and the future mashed up into one – where Aunt May can be alive in one universe, and dead in the next; where MJ and Peter Parker divorced, or died, or lived happily ever after in some dimension but here did another of these things. The emotional resonance that comes with the pathos Lord and Miller’s script conjures from the mix n’ match approach of their characters ripples through time and space before building into a tsunami that crashes victoriously into the auditorium.

But, of course, the chief selling point of Into The Spider-Verse is its mesmerising, awe-inspiring visual language. For the first time that I can remember, a proper big-budget Western animation has deviated from the tired, boring Pixar playbook to deliver something unique and interesting. Chiefly, Sony Pictures Animation have taken inspiration from the aesthetic of vintage comics, overlaying the colour-dot pattern of old-school panels on top of their characters to create a tactile, authentic-looking approach that prioritises bright poster colours over disappointing attempts at realism. The glitch-art stylings of the animation beautifully flicker and flash, turning night-time city scenes into something that would feel more appropriate from Blade Runner. And, in its final 20 minutes, the visual field of the film descends into complete multicolour abstraction for an eye-popping, LSD climax set at the collision point of five dimensions. Yes, a Spiderman movie can be that crazy.

Its invigorating soundtrack – featuring Post Malone, Swae Lee, and Black Caviar amongst others – ensures a toe-tapping, joyous counterpart to the visuals. It’s stirring, rapturous stuff that reflects the advantage of lending a contemporary setting and tone to animated movies.

This is a film so ridiculously entertaining, so visually spectacular that I could feel the serotonin being released and bubbling through my brain. It’s fast, fun, and zany, like all the best family films, but its foundations are laid much deeper than you might expect. A pretty trite approval of modern animation will often go something like ‘there’s enough here to entertain kids and adults’, but in the case of Spider-Verse – as with Lord and Miller’s other, stellar work – the adults might actually end up enjoying it more. Expect to see audience members wearing sunglasses.

5/5


James is an undergraduate law student at UCL, and London Student's Chief Arts Editor/Film Editor. He wants you to know that Christopher Nolan is overrated.

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