Until now, Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has been my favourite example of how to represent comics on film: snappy editing coupled with an abundance of colour, and small, satisfying visual touches like occasional text boxes. However, the use of animation allows SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE to employ these same techniques with a greater degree of freedom, even expanding on features that its live-action counterparts simply can’t. For instance, where a cinematographer may need several lighting rigs to emphasise different shades and textures, the animators instead cleverly mimic the panelled layout and screen-tone technique made famous in hand-drawn cartoons; it’ll sound cliché, but the images spring to life. Despite experimenting with multiple visual styles, it never feels like too much thanks to a strong sense of identity, which even allow its climactic action sequences to take a somewhat abstract approach that’s instantly memorable. With all due respect to The Incredibles 2 and Ant-Man and the Wasp, this is the best looking superhero film of the year.
Meanwhile, SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE’s structure makes shrewd use of its source material to subvert conventions of the superhero genre such as tedious origin stories, which I’m sure viewers who are up to date with previous Spider-Man films will appreciate. In fact, the overall message that “anyone can be Spider-Man” feels like a sly dig at the multiple big budget incarnations of the hero from the past two decades. There are more than half a dozen ‘Spider-people’ featured here, yet their introductions only last two to three minutes each, apart from protagonist Miles Morales (Shameik Moore). Before Miles is thrust into the spider-verse, as it were, his biggest worries are starting a new school and finding his identity, the latter being exacerbated once he gains his powers. Due to some interdimensional villainy too complex to explain, Miles finds his mentors in the Spider-people mentioned above, primarily a cynical and past his prime Peter Parker (Jake Johnson). However, this doesn’t revert the film to an extended training montage, as Miles is forced to learn the ropes while the others attempt to thwart Kingpin (Liev Schreiber). Each hero is given their moment to shine and has potential for a spinoff, although the highlight for me was the hilarious, Looney Tune-esque Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). Perhaps the one downside of so many heroes is the film’s occasional habit of overstating its more emotional points, though thankfully its tight pace ensures these moments aren’t dwelled on.
Ultimately, anyone wondering why we need another comic book adaptation in 2018, or another Spider-Man film in general, need look no further. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE’s bold approach to a familiar character pays off brilliantly, raising the bar for the superhero genre by pushing the boundaries for what an adaptation can be. The bright colours and unapologetic amount of heart make this a perfect blockbuster for kids and adults alike, and I’m already keen to watch it again.