Ask anyone who has now had the pleasure of seeing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Sony’s magnificent animated take on arguably their most iconic property – and they will more than likely tell you they exited the cinema on a cloud, given the wondrous big-screen adventure they’d just witnessed. It may have taken the studio almost 20 years – and let’s not forget, they have been some mini triumphs along with the blips – but they’ve delivered the perfect depiction of the character’s world(s), which feels familiar yet absolutely fresh and innovative at the same time. You need only to see the overly-enthusiastic notices on both Rotten Tomatoes and popular film diary service Letterboxd to know that the film has been an across the board success with fans and critics.
The filmmakers’ approach to essentially pull from the different iterations from the world of Spidey to create a heady cinematic collage – both visually and thematically – has paid off handsomely, with each version of the character getting a breezy backstory which never drags the viewer down with exposition. Using the 2011 creation Miles Morales as the main protagonist – an Afro-Latino teenager who receives a similar radioactive spider bite to that of Peter Parker – and whose eyes we view the story from, is the film’s masterstroke. ‘Spider-Verse’ never feels gimmicky or reliant on distracting cameos and oh-so-clever nods to past titles from the franchise (although one comical and good-natured reference to Sam Rami’s much-maligned third entry early on in proceedings is absolutely priceless).
Above all, it’s the fact that this is an animated feature, bridging that gap between the comic and the screen so masterfully – whilst still managing to remain incredibly faithful to that 2D origin – that, in hindsight, makes it seem like such a no-brainer for Sony to have initially greenlighted. Why has it taken till now to see this come to fruition? In the past animated takes on superheroes – both before and since the live-action cinematic boom – have been mostly relegated to DTV titles, with some good results, and some lacking the appropriate vision. What Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has in its favour is a sizable budget and the right team on board – including The Lego Movie masterminds, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – to achieve its ambitious aims.
The live-action Marvel films have largely done a terrific job of integrating the heightened action from the page to screen, but even then, there’s a physicality to some of the characters that’s tricky to pull off without betraying how they move as human, albeit super enhanced ones. Free from having to make any such concessions, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse can glide around with gleeful abandon, thus helping to make it that jaw-dropping visual feat it is. The end battle, where huge objects and swirling mass from the alternative universes surreally spin around like a gigantic food processer as the various versions of Spider-Man attempt to navigate around them, would simply be impossible to replicate in the same frenzied, eye-popping manner in a live-action version.
Given the film’s impressive take so far at the box office, which might be a little short of the same rip-roaring numbers the live-action counterparts bring in – a world-wide take of $300m in less than a month – it’s inevitable that more Marvel characters will receive the big-screen animated treatment, with probably Marvel Studios themselves jumping on the bandwagon. They could almost reverse engineer what Disney are currently doing with their ‘live-action’ adaptations of old classics, and offer animated do-overs of the likes of Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger and The Incredible Hulk. Whatever happens with the brand – at both Sony and Disney – whether they can web-sling to reach the same dizzying heights of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse remains to be seen.