The “In Association with Marvel” revival continues for Spider-Man, a character so long underserved by creative stultification at Sony. Now, between this dazzlingly realised animation and Tom Holland’s new live action Peter Parker, the webslinger is getting a run of worthy film outings.
This new story splinter follows Miles Morales, well-established as Spider-Man in the world of comics, but in the film a newcomer voiced spiritedly by Shameik Moore. Bitten by a radioactive spider with fated inevitability, his progression in the suit is heavily disrupted by some inter-dimensional shenanigans orchestrated by a joyfully cuboid Kingpin (Liev Schreiber).
In an earthquaking flash, a selection of alternate Spider-Things are dragged into Miles’s Brooklyn, bringing with them glitchy anomalies and company for the resident adolescent superhero. From Hailee Steinfeld’s trendy Gwen Stacy to Nicholas Cage’s brooding Spider-Man Noir, they bring some of the poppy kitsch of the comic universes to the screen for the first time, despite Sam Raimi’s best efforts.
The ragtag bunch’s highlight is Jake Johnson, though, as a jaded and past-his-prime Peter Parker, transported to a reality where he could still have a positive impact. Johnson’s deliveries, paired with a zippy script by The Lego Movie‘s Phil Lord, make for some delightful riffs and moments.
The real star of Spider-verse, though, is an irrepressible, papery visual style that animates beautifully and with tactile pizazz. Neons blots of colour pop out of the screen, moments are highlighted by freeze-frame cracks, and the world feels totally alive. When alternate realities and quasi-magical forces invade it the flavour is further dialled up. This is one of the best-looking western animations of recent years, beating Pixar at its own game. Only the stop-motion wonders crafted by Laika Studios spring to mind as similarly stop-in-your-tracks gorgeous.
It bears saying that Spider-Verse is not a flawless debut for Miles Morales, with some fairly predictable character development and a joke or two that doesn’t land. Lending a hand in keeping its momentum up is a terrific soundtrack, contemporary hip hop beats and melodies lifting sequences and characters. It’s odd to see repeated visual references to Chance the Rapper without his presence on the album, though.
A huge success in America already, Spider-Verse looks like it will set up a sequel, if not its own movie universe entirely, and if the standard it sets can be maintained this could be a thrilling enterprise. Its after-credits sting shows some plans in motion, and is, like the film, notably funnier and more refreshing than it has any right to be.