Over the last decade and a half or so I have, to a greater or lesser extent, enjoyed every entry into what’s become the Marvel Cinematic Universe form Iron Man to Avengers: Endgame, so, when Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse landed in 2019 I really wasn’t sure what to make of it, and that’s probably why it’s taken me until now to give it a watch.
From the off it’s clear this is something different and entirely disconnected (for all practical purposes at least) from the MCU and right away that brings a breath of fresh air to proceedings as we meet a Peter Parker who is possibly linked to the one we saw in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies (though not entirely) and, more importantly, Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales.
Describing the story, which charts Morales’ path to becoming a new version of Spider-Man (I don’t think that counts as a spoiler), with the aid of a range of other, extra-dimensional, Spider-people could easily become confusing when laid out in this format but in that comes a big part of what works so well in the film.
Unlike many other recent blockbusters what the writers and directors have done here is take a complex set of events and render them in such a way that they twist and flow with a deft freedom that never becomes contrived or confusing.
Along with that the visual style of the film backs this up with an animation style built from the traditions of comic book art developed into its own version of it.
With that it has a bold simplicity at the right moments while clearly building its world (an alternative version of New York, at once both familiar from other Marvel movies and necessarily different) with enough complexity to be rich and engrossing.
The character design matches this with the villainous Kingpin and Doctor Octopus being particularly striking and inventive versions of the long established characters while the various versions of Spider-people that appear as the film goes on continue this theme.
Most impressive as we meet these versions of the character is how the animation shifts to match each of them, from Loony Toons style vintage cartoons to cutting edge anime all thrown into the mix while the voice cast are perfect with even a cameo from Nicolas Cage fitting in and not jarring like guest appearances in film often do.
Through all of this the film keeps itself grounded in the essential essence of Spider-Man which means, like all the best versions of the character from the original comics to Raimi’s version to the recent MCU take, this is engaging and relatable in the way creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko intended.
On top of everything it has a terrific joie de vivre that is infectious and ultimately makes for one of the most enjoyable examples of a comic book movie I’ve seen in sometime, unencumbered as it is by the need to be linked to anything wider and with a freshness lost to the ever increasing ‘expanded universe’ fare of a majority of other big, bold blockbusters.
Given the timing of its release it also (arguably) stands as a far more fitting tribute to the original intentions and spirit of the late, great Stan Lee (who of course has a cameo appearance of his own).
Excelsior, true believers!