• It's a bold new take on Spider-Man. (Into The Spider-Verse)Source: Into The Spider-Verse
A diverse new take on Spider-Man packs a punch with the most fun and lively Spidey film to date.
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With this, the seventh Spider-Man movie to be made within the past twenty years, you could be forgiven for being a little burnt-out by the prospect of seeing yet another take on the Spider-Man character. Even more unappealing is the idea of sitting through yet another origin story. But don't discount Spidey with his new cinematic adventure. With Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, the web-slinger feels fresher and more vibrant than in any big screen outing to come before.

This is a Spider-Man you haven't seen before. And not just because, for the first time in a movie, Spider-Man is now animated. Credited writers Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman have wisely jettisoned Peter Parker as the hero of these films. Instead, the hero of the movie is the teenaged Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino kid who is at the start of his superhero journey as he begins to learn how to use his powers while discovering that with great power comes great responsibility. 

It almost seems as if Lord and Rothman did all that they could to put up barriers to prevent casual fans from being able to enjoy the film. It is peppered with arcane references that will only be understood by the nerdiest Spider-Man fan (the film opens with a graphic of the Comic Book Code logo... a joke that could only ever be funny to comics fans). And then there's the over-loaded premise...

Miles, freshly bitten by a radioactive spider to give him the powers of a Spider-Man, finds himself present at a skirmish between the Peter Parker Spider-Man and the villainous Kingpin. Parker is killed in the battle, but not before he makes contact with an inter-dimensional portal that the Kingpin is trying to open. The consequence is that multiple alternate-universe Spider-People are transported to Miles Morales' dimension.  

He is taught to harness his Spider-Man powers by five different Spider-People: an alternate Peter Parker who is older, fatter, and jaded after life hasn't gone his way, a teenaged cute Spider-Woman (AKA Spider-Gwen), the 1930s inspired Spider-Man Noir who is incredibly serious and views the world in black and white, Japanese hero Peni Parker who fights crime with her Spider-robot, and a Looney Tunes-inspired diminutive pig named Peter Porker who fights crime as Spider-Ham.

This all sounds overly complicated and just too-hard to follow. And yet... this is probably the most accessible and audience-friendly Spider-Man movie to date. Lord and Rothman maintain a clarity with their storytelling that never gets confusing. It is incredibly easy to follow the plot, with every character so distinctive that there is never any confusion despite the consistent spider motifs to each of their costumes and identities. There are some aspects of the story that are never explained (really, where did Miles' radioactive spider come from?), but there's nothing detrimental to audience enjoyment. 

Spidey in this film is young and vibrant. Alter-ego Miles Morales is a lovable, funny, brainy, and charming teen who is struggling to make friends at the boarding school he's just been sent to. Learning to become Spider-Man, for Miles, is as much about learning to become a hero as much as it is about him finding confidence in himself and his place in the world. Yes, the film has a lot of Spider-People in it, but they are all such distinct and fun characters that it is never difficult for the audience just to accept what's going on and to go along for the ride. 

The film is so smart and clever that one can't help but wonder what the problem was for Disney with Lord and his regular writing/producing partner Chris Miller and their work on the recent Star Wars: Solo movie. The two were fired from the project at a late stage in production, with Ron Howard brought in to 'right the ship'. With such crisp writing and well-considered choices made for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, it seems baffling that Solo could be deemed so objectionable by the powers that be controlling Star Wars.

With such strong themes of acceptance and diversity running through the film, it is interesting that the film doesn't dwell too-heavily on Miles Morales' ethnicity. This may be a smart move with so much of the film's writing a high-wire balancing act (juggling so many characters, identities, and messaging) that anything more specific about his cultural background could come off as preachy or overly-labored. What we do get is the first big-screen Spider-Man of colour, with Miles Morales born to a Latina mother (who does speak occasional Spanish to her son) and an African-American father. 

Morales was a welcome addition to the Spider-Man comics in 2011. Created by Brian Bendis and Sara Pichelli, he has been viewed as a response to calls for a more diverse Spider-Man. This conversation saw a groundswell in 2010 after Donald Glover's name was raised to play Spidey in the Amazing Spider-Man film (the role went to Andrew Garfield). And since being introduced into the comics, Morales has made appearances in Spider-Man animated shows, books, and the recent Spider-Man PS4 video game. 

Seeing Miles Morales on the big screen here is a triumphant debut for the Spider-Man so many of us have been waiting to see. Not only does the introduction of the character pack a punch, his debut is in a film that is far and away one of the most fully realised comic book films to date. It captures the spirit of Spider-Man wonderfully, while also adapting a playful cartoon sensibility to the form and structure of a more traditional live-action film. 

After seeing the results here, one can't help but wish all of the live-action films were as visually inventive and lively as Into The Spider-Verse. It's the most shamelessly fun movie you'll see in 2018.

 

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is released in Australian cinemas on 14 December.

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