Animation has often put adults off from even watching certain films and television shows. I remember the fact that my mum always refused to watch The Simpsons because it was “a cartoon” and the difficulty I have in trying to explain the exceptional Bojack Horseman to more discerning adults. Often when people think of animation they think of Shrek, Monster Inc., or The Lion King. Whilst all excellent films in their own right they have sort of defined what people think of when they think of animation.
Then there are of course the hardcore animation fans who realise the depth and brilliance that animation can provide, those who adore the likes of Avatar: The Last Airbender and obsess over The Boondocks. I sort of consider myself in the middle of these two groups. I adore Rick & Morty, Bojack Horseman is one of my all time favourite shows and Monsters Inc. is genius. As far as my superhero passion goes, I love the live action films (specifically Marvel and the Christopher Nolan Universe) and the video game worlds (Arkham series, Insomniac’s Spider-Man). As far as animated superhero film goes I have always remained fairly impartial.
So it was with a cautiously optimistic approach that I entered the cinema to see an early screening of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Our phones were taken off us at the door due to the screening being about a month out from its January release date and the first thing I noticed was that the cinema was FILLED with children – some as young as 5 or 6. I wasn’t surprised as to the young age of many of the audience: all the marketing and trailers I had seen thus far had suggested this was the target audience that Sony were aiming for. My thoughts at this point were it would be a fun, easy, kid-friendly Spider-Man film with a few adult gags chucked in to make it bearable for the older family members. The toys on the seats backed up this idea.
Then it started and in an instant every preconception and misconception I had was completely obliterated.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an exceptional film. From the narrative, to the pacing, the graphical style, the voice acting, the sound design – everything. I was absolutely blown away from the second the film started with it’s gorgeously designed opening credits right through to it’s exceptionally choreographed final fight scene. This film barely took one wrong step. I couldn’t believe it. I laughed, Ben cried, we were absolutely enthralled from start to finish. This wasn’t just blowing the mind of my inner child – it was blowing my stupid adult brain to pieces.
Story line-wise, it is basically about the Spider-Men/Women from several different parallel universes (or comic book universes) being flung into one universe to stop Kingpin (in his best portrayal to date thanks to the character design and voice acting by Liev Schreiber) from destroying all the dimensions (or Spidey-verse) as he tries to bring his family back from the dead. With so many characters to introduce the film does well to do so in such a way that the film is never laboured with the amount of backstories it has to set up or explain and for the most part the characters are fleshed out enough that we can connect with them and understand their complexities and nuances.
Fourth walls are broken, comic books and previous films are mentioned (and teased) and this is done with such ease it never feels like a chore to follow everything being flung at you. Each of these characters are superbly well cast (particularly Nicholas Cage as Spider-Man Noir) and there is not one miscast performance in this. Each character is well written and interesting (with the exception perhaps for Spider-Pig who was perhaps a little under utilised but great for the younger audience members). What results is a film overflowing with incredibly engaging and intriguing characters, all who bring their unique character traits, humour and weaknesses to the film.
The graphical style of the film is like nothing I have seen before. Described by another critic as “2.5D” it is more than just 2 dimensional graphics, it’s almost like a blend of traditional cartooning styles, cell shading, computer animation bought together with it’s own exceptional and unique overall artistic style of which I have never witnessed before. There is never a dull moment visually and I think this is perhaps the most beautiful and stunningly intriguing animated film I have ever seen. It blends modern neon colours with more traditional anime elements whilst still giving each of the characters clear links to the style of animation representative of the universe they came from.
The writing is unbelievably good. It has well written, crafted and timed jokes mixed in with emotional storytelling and edge-of-your-seat excitement. Presenting not only well written male superheroes and villains – Spider-verse also provides exciting and fully realised female characters – both good and bad – as well as some excellent and much needed positive male-father-son relationships as well as avoiding the cliches of all the typical male and female leads needing to fall in love for their relationships to be important. This is storytelling at it’s finest – it is not afraid to portray the importance of positive relationships between fathers and sons whilst avoiding cliches and never being afraid to show the importance of strong male figures being vulnerable and expressing this vulnerability and emotion.
This is not only the Spider-man film you have been waiting for but I think it is also the Superhero film you have been waiting for. I would quite confidently say that this is the best movie I have seen all year and easily one of the best Marvel films to date if not one of the best Superhero films ever made. Whilst I think you can take yours kids along (ages 8 and up would be my suggestion) to see this, I personally think it shouldn’t have been marketed as a kids movie as it is so complex, mature and thought-provoking that I think the adult audiences stand to get a lot more out of it and I hope that people aren’t put off from seeing due to the fact it appears to be for kids. This is the must see film of summer and I absolutely can’t wait to see it again.
Well done Sony. You’ve finally done good here.
– Ashton Brown
Check out Sarah’s thoughts on the film here!