I approach a superhero movie even of such bracing invention as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with a significant degree of trepidation; it will be, after all, just another superhero movie whether good or bad, and I'm reluctant to accept them as constituting a legitimate genre of art in and of themselves. Each is possessed of distinct genre signifiers from elsewhere, while their common declarations of style and purpose are as banal as their least inventive iterations. Variations on a tedious theme, then, but Spider-Verse's theme is genuinely thrilling when it's given the space to properly express itself. After all, this is just another superhero movie, and its persistence in reverting back to the supposed demands of such banal purposes stymies the creativity that's otherwise in abundance here, but there are worse things a movie can do than leave its audience craving more of the good stuff. At least it has good stuff!
Spider-Verse's boldness is primarily stylistic; its formal and thematic concerns are meagre in similarly innovative qualities. Truly, I marvelled (no pun intended, for once) at the capacity of the filmmakers to weave magnificent displays of technical and visionary brilliance into familiar set-pieces and narrative cliches. With this much creativity bounding around inside a thin shell of schematic mundanity, there's an unwieldy condition to Spider-Verse's bountiful ingenuities - they seem to balloon into grand statements of artistic splendour from nowhere, though their objective quality is indisputable. The movie suffers from a commonplace characteristic of superhero stories today, as the over-saturation of origin tales has dissuaded their creators from indulging even their most essential requirements - the implication is that we know just fine how this is all meant to go, and crucial steps in these tales' developments are bypassed in favour of attempting something new. Thankfully, in Spider-Verse, those attempts largely pay off, but there lingers a sense that all this excellence is somewhat misplaced, maybe even under-emphasized.
Yet excellence it still is, and gratifyingly accessible on repeat in our now well-established 21st Century instant culture, for which this fast-paced picture feels quite perfect. There's wondrous aesthetic wizardy in a forest-set action scene that recalls Zhang Yi Mou's Hero (albeit on an entirely different mode); the climactic sequence excuses its inevitably over-inflated scale with frame after frame that presents the filmmakers' vision in extraordinary glory, with backdrops and inserts containing more visual innovation than many entire movies. And if one really must insist on a purpose for this picture, its casting of a black Latinx as our principle Spider-Man is certainly not without consequence. I may have left Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with much less trepidation than I approached it with, but a superhero movie it remains both on paper and in spirit. Something radical needs to occur if this so-called genre is to establish itself as something as legitimate and valuable to cinema as any other genre - the Western, the film noir, the rom-com come to mind. For all the radicalness of its vision, Spider-Verse contains that vision within a time-worn template whose own radicalness is long spent.
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