UNILAD Voices is a new series where our writers argue in favour of an opinion they’re truly passionate about. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
2018 has been a golden year for the amazing Spider-Man, he got a kick-ass video game, his comicbook hit issue #800 and people finally learned that his name has a hyphen in it.
But perhaps most surprisingly of all the Wallcrawler has had his best-reviewed film to date, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, which scored an impressive 99 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes.
The question is could Spider-Verse live up to the spectacular hype and would it be superior to the previous benchmark of quality for ‘Spider-Movies’, Spider-Man 2.
The obvious answer is of course ‘no’. After all, Spider-Man 2 isn’t just a great Spider-Man film it is (in my opinion) one of the best superhero movies ever and the standard upon which all Spidey adaptations should be based.
So as I sat in the theatre last week waiting for my screening to begin, I was pretty much convinced that I’d like Spider-Verse but that I wouldn’t love it like I love Spider-Man 2.
I was wrong, so very, very wrong.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is without a doubt in my mind the best big screen adaptation of Spider-Man and potentially even the best comicbook movie ever made.
It perfectly balances everything a superhero movie needs; action, humour and thrills, while also giving us the most accurate take on Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s iconic creation ever, Peter Parker.
Not only that, it also gives us the big screen debut of both Brian Bendis’ Miles Morales, better known to comicbook fans as the Ultimate Spider-Man, and the incredibly popular spider-powered Gwen Stacy (Spider-Gwen to her friends).
Each of these three characters, while slightly skewed versions of their comicbook counterparts, are pitch perfect in their depictions with the film’s writer’s Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman clearly understanding what makes these different Spider-Men tick.
Take their Peter Parker, voiced by the perfect Jake Johnson, he’s a schlubby, jaded, and dare I even say selfish take on the character.
There’s an argument to be made that the Peter Parker of the 616 Universe (the dimension the main Marvel Comics exist in) would never be as self serving as Johnson’s Spider-Man appears in Spider-Verse.
But as someone who’s read almost every Spider-Man comic ever (I have a lot of time on my hands) I disagree, you see Peter is a bit of a selfish person.
You want examples? I’ve got examples. In just the last decade Peter’s sold his marriage to the devil to save an octogenarian, let a super villain who’s previously threatened to destroy the world go free for saving the life of that same octogenarian, and failed to alert a university that his doctorate was actually earned by a super villain possessing his body.
Yeah comicbooks are weird, like really weird.
Even in the his very first appearance Peter lets his manager get robbed because Spider-Man ‘looks out for number one’, and we all know how that turned out. RIP Uncle Ben.
What Lord and Rothman understand, however, is that self-improvement is a core tenet of the Spider-Man character, that Peter wants to be better but he makes mistakes and slips up just like people do in real life.
He’s selfish in the same way everyone is selfish to some degree.
It’s why in the comics Peter constantly repeats Uncle Ben’s mantra, ‘that with great power there must also come great responsibility’, not because he likes how it sounds as a catchphrase, but because it’s a promise to himself to not slip up again. It is a reminder to be better.
Peter Parker in Spider-Verse embodies this perfectly. He’s a bit lost but through the film Miles and the other alternate Spideys remind him of his commitment to his promise and to be the best version of himself.
Miles and Gwen get a similar distillation. Miles is fundamentally a legacy character struggling to move out of the shadow of the Spider-Man who came before him, while Gwen struggles to adapt to a world where her friends are either constantly dying or turning into super villains.
Through helping Peter out of his funk Miles realises the same thing Peter does, that he can’t worry about the other Spider-Man, he just has to be the best version of himself.
While Gwen learns friends are worth fighting for even if they live in other dimensions.
Perhaps though the reason I love Spider-Verse as much as I do is because of its absolute bonkers premise, so out there it could only work on the pages of a comicbook, or a film that embraced how truly weird the medium they’re adapting can be.
This is a frequent problem with modern superhero films. They’re afraid of embracing the silliness of their source material and it’s a real shame because it means they often lose some of their magic.
I blame Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy (controversial I know) for this because while his three Batman films (well the first two) are brilliant, I believe they created this weird belief in Hollywood that superhero films had to be gritty and grounded.
That’s why we got such a dark take on Superman in Man of Steel and why The Amazing Spider-Man felt so odd, the filmmakers behind them are trying to ground bombastic characters in a serious world when they’re supposed to live in a colourful and weird one.
Spider-Verse however embraces the silliness endemic in comicbooks wholeheartedly, basically going as out of its way to be as weird as possible, and it works wonderfully allowing the film to show the audience things I didn’t think could ever be seen on the big screen.
In fact it feels like this is a story you’d find on the spinner rack in a comic shop, instead of one whipped up by a focus group trying to tell what they think a ‘cinematic’ Spider-Man experience should be.
The animation works hand in hand with the silly script to reinforce the notion that you’re watching a comicbook come to life with fluid 3D renderings of the Spider-Gang.
I was a big fan of the animators using subtle Ben-Day dots, the printing process used in older comic books, to give the film a retro feel. They also include the Kirby Krackle and I chuffing love the Kirby Krackle!
It would be remiss to talk about Spider-Verse without mentioning the late, great Stan Lee’s cameo which, without spoiling it, is a beautiful tribute to the man and his greatest creation Spider-Man.
While the cameo was recorded long before Stan’s unfortunate death last month I challenge anyone not to cry when he appears on screen with the same vigour and charisma he’ll always be known for.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse swings into cinemas on December 12.
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