Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

With the absolute glut of superhero films that make it to the screen in any given year now, it’s difficult for any to really stand out. If they’re not repeating a statement, story, or aesthetic from a film in the genre that did so already, they’re conforming to a house style strict enough to make any real sense of novelty waver. If a film can be superficially different enough to draw acclaim (as with MCU films periodically praised for being unforgettably different before being forgotten after a few months), while remaining exactly the same as its peers under the hood, it’s lauded, and if a film does go to bat for something genuinely different, it usually draws pushback. These issues get particularly noticeable when it comes to series or characters with a lot of continuity, where there’s so many expectations built up.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” isn’t revolutionary on the actual story engine level, the bones of the script are standard fare, but they’re significantly enlivened by multiple things. The film centres itself around a sort of character and perspective rare to find in the genre (both superheroic and wider family action films in general, with the stumbling mixed-race lead of Miles Morales actually having his identity and family dynamics of huge factor the film, not just a sheen of representation), self-awarely pokes at the absurd amounts of continuity inherent to superheroic characters, and has a strikingly stylised and novel animation style.

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Part quasi-sequel to the three Sam Raimi Spider-Man films of the 2000s, part crossover of a litany of Spider-Man ranges featuring different versions of the title character, the film makes a point about the adaptability of these sort of media empire characters, implicitly making the case to, if not tell different stories, at least tell them with a different cast. The film even uses different animation styles with its different Spider-People, the mashup of more traditional animation with noir stylings with anime with the film’s primary design, a kind of shifting faux-rotoscoped kinetic affair bursting with colour.

There’s always plenty of invention here. Things don’t get too crowded until the third act, which underplays a messy twist in a way that makes the family mechanics of the film feel retroactively thinner, then – after the requisite hero-mantles-his-powers scene – turns into a sludge of mind-numbing psychedelia as heroes scramble to deal with a macguffin and stop a superweapon and all that jazz. For a film so self-aware about the genre for most of its runtime, it ends in a disappointing haze of frenetic and over-sustained action that dampens the emotional beats. Still, it makes its make very well through its first two acts and the visuals and central concept remain striking throughout. Three and a half Spider-People, and a broken USB driver.

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