As far back as I care to remember, there was Spider-Man. As a youngster, I learned to read by pouring over comic books and annuals, and I was partial to the famous cartoon which originated in the 1960s and played perpetually, all the way through to the 1980s where it hit my British screen. That catchy theme tune signalled a high-speed sprint towards the TV in the living room, to enjoy twenty minutes of web-spinning, crime-thwarting fun and mayhem.
This early cartoon show produced 52 episodes in which the titular character (and his alter-ego Peter Parker) faced off against an equally colourful enemy in each episode. Drawing on the wealth of material in the ever-expanding and increasingly popular Marvel Comics back catalogue, the animation truncated original storylines and added an element of cornball 60’s TV humour to the proceedings, keeping the general tone light and aiming to entertain the whole family with it’s unique portrayal of the arachnid superhero.
The 70s and 80s
The late seventies introduced the first live-action version of Spider-man, in 1977’s made for television film starring Nicholas Hammond, which also serves as a pilot for the television show The Amazing Spider-Man that aired in 1978. This was broadcast in the U.K. in the early ’80s, and despite my young age, I was transfixed by this show and pleaded to stay up beyond my usual bedtime in order to see it.
Along with the aforementioned pilot film, there were two more films made during this production, Spider-man Strikes Back (1978) and my personal favourite Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge (1979) wherein the production moved between Los Angeles and Hong Kong and took Spidey on an adventure overseas. Despite getting good ratings, the show was cancelled after just 13 episodes. Until Columbia Pictures brought the character back almost 20 years later, these cheesy 70’s TV movies were the only live-action Spider-Man films that the fans in the west had access to.
In the east, they were making an equally corny yet far more outlandish version of the character. The Japanese Spider-Man (1978) is a very different incarnation in that his powers derive via aliens from the ‘Planet Spider’ and he also pilots a giant robot called Leopardon. This version has much more in common with the Tokusatu films such as Godzilla and The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers than it does with its American counterpart.
This alternative incarnation of Spider-Man is undoubtedly its unique version in every way, bar the iconic costume. The episodes are manic and incredibly entertaining. I did not discover this particular strain of the Spider-Verse until the days of the internet. I more than made up for lost time once I had access to some of the episodes. It has to be seen to be believed, but if you are new to the Japanese version, prepare to be surprised if not markedly impressed.
Legacy of Animated Spider-Man
The early 1980s saw the release of several Marvel cartoons featuring the web-head, one was called Spider-Man and ran from 1981 – 1982. It was the first time the character was animated in a cartoon TV show since the 1967 version. The show was updated to cater to a new, more tech-savvy generation but it still made good use of the wealth of source material, featuring Spidey regulars like Aunt May, Doctor Octopus and a wider-range of Marvel superheroes and super-villains, who featured in guest appearances each week.
A concomitant cross-over series introduced two side-kicks in the form of Iceman and Firestar and was titled Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. The show ran for three seasons from 1981 – 1983 and was an extremely popular show internationally. The stories followed the team of ‘Spider-friends’ as they took on a plethora of Marvel super-villains that included Doctor Doom and the Green Goblin. These TV shows developed the idea of animating the characters from the Marvel Universe, which saw The Incredible Hulk and The X-Men also enjoy popularity in the short form TV cartoon format.
In the 1990s the character was revamped once again in another animated Spider-Man cartoon which also played on Saturday mornings and introduced the friendly neighbourhood crime-fighter to yet another generation of cartoon-watching kids. Again, successful in terms of ratings, it was this incarnation of the show which first started to expand the concept of there being a ‘multi-verse’ in which there were different versions of the hero. This definitely serves as a precursor to Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse, which I promise you I am working my way towards.
The Modern Era
After the nineties animated TV show finished, rumours were flying, or should I say swinging, around that Columbia Pictures were bringing back everyone’s favourite wall-crawler in an all-new live-action film. This film would be directed by none other than Evil Dead director Sam Raimi. A lifelong Spider-Man fan and aficionado, Raimi was perfectly placed to create a new series of films that would launch Marvel’s flagship character back on to the big screen in style. Starring Tobey Maguire as Spidey, Raimi made three films, Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007).
The Raimi films did not continue beyond the trilogy despite there being rumours of a fourth instalment. Instead, Sony decided to reboot the franchise with The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and its sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) which saw British actor Andrew Garfield in the title role. After diminishing box office returns and generally negative reviews, this strain of the Spider-Verse was abandoned, leaving the character to return to the silver screen in Captain America: Civil War (2016) as played by Tom Holland. This marked the return of Spider-Man to the official Marvel Comics Universe movie franchise after a deal was struck between Sony (who own the film rights to the character) and Marvel Studios. Holland has subsequently portrayed the hero twice since in Spider-Man Homecoming (2017) and Spider-Man Far From Home (2019).
Into The Spider-Verse Review
“It’s a leap of faith.”Miles Morales
So enough of the flashbacks, I hear you thinking, or is that just my Spider-sense tingling with all the talk of cartoons and live-action feature films about the fabled web-slinger!? My aim was to map out a reminder about the developments of the character in terms of the small and big screen adaptations and in particular the animated legacy that the character has procured. I do this also, to back up the claim I am about to make… that Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018) is the best Spider-Man film of them all!
Right from the very beginning, this film crackles with creative visuals that set the tone and pay tribute to the rich history of the character. Before the movie has even had a chance to begin, the Columbia and Sony idents are given the pop-art treatment as they are ingeniously melded into the famous Marvel logo with impressive innovation and style. The narrative begins with the voice of Peter Parker (voiced by Chris Pine), who brings us up to speed on what is what in terms of this particular incarnation of Spidey. There are references to the sixties cartoon show alongside the Sam Raimi films in a sequence that brings together the history of the character in an all-encompassing thread. Right from the very off I was engrossed and bowled over by the incredible inventiveness of the animation and how it is used to tell the story, paying homage to the original format comic books whilst simultaneously pushing the envelope wide open in terms of modern animation techniques.
After Peter Parker has had his say, we are introduced to the main character Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), a teenage kid who is in high school and at that awkward adolescent age when there’s pressure from your parents and peers and an added inclination to discover yourself for who you really are. Miles is a good kid, very modern and relatable to a new generation. His father is a cop who is keen to see his son do well in life. There is a great scene played out between the two as Miles’ dad attempts to persuade his son that he must work hard to achieve his full potential. The exposition is well camouflaged, and there are some genuinely funny moments in the witty and heart-felt dialogue.
We learn that Miles has just started at a new high school where the standards are pretty tough, and his fellow classmates are the smartest kids around. Missing his former school, Miles attempts to fit into the new place but ultimately feels like the odd one out. This is classic Spider-Man material re-worked and turned on its head to provide a brand new narrative for a new era. The young lad also has a strong bond with his Uncle Aaron (voiced by Mahershala Ali) whom he looks up to and enjoys hanging out with. His father’s brother, Aaron indulges Miles’ creative energy and takes him to a secret subterranean spot to create a wall-art mural using spray paint. Creating a very cool timelapse sequence, the animation here continues to excel and using the old adage ‘show don’t tell’, the cinematography is nothing short of excellent.
During his time in the subway, Miles is bitten by a radioactive Spider, and he soon begins to show the usual symptoms. An allegory for puberty, Miles attempts to navigate his uncomfortable surroundings whilst trying to conceal changes in his mind and body, which ultimately ends up getting him into more trouble than he bargains for. His newly developing powers eventually lead him to a secret test facility in Brooklyn where non-other than Wilson Fisk aka The Kingpin, is testing a multi-verse collider with the aim of bringing back his dead wife and son. Spider-Man (Pine) is on the case, battling the Green Goblin who is also present, as he attempts to sabotage the collider and stop Kingpin in his tracks. Things get a bit crazy when the machine spools up, and in the ensuing chaos, a portal is opened to several other universes.
From hereon in, Miles receives a baptism of fire as he becomes acquainted with Spider-Man who enlists the young teenagers to help when he realises that Miles has similar powers. Barely escaping with his life, Miles flees the scene with a USB stick that holds the key to stopping Fisk from firing up his collider again. We then learn that the incident has brought more Spider-people through a dimensional wormhole, all of which will have to work together to overcome the odds and restore the natural balance to everything. This becomes a very entertaining and enjoyable development in the story. Thus far, we have followed a young teenager whose world has been turned upside down overnight and now must learn to fulfil the ‘Great Expectations’ put upon him by learning to use his new powers and help the Spider-team defeat Fisk. This plan should see each of them returned to their respective universes, within which each of them is the one and only Spider-Man/Woman.
There is some excellent content playing out in this film with scenes that typify the very best of the Spider-Man franchise by bringing together a series of different versions of the hero. These include a slightly older and battle-weary Spider-Man, referred to as Peter B. Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson), a young Gwen Stacey (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) who in her universe is Spider-Woman, Noir Spider-Man (voiced by Nicholas Cage), Peni Parker (voiced by Kimiko Glenn) who is an anime-inspired creation and there’s also the hilarious Spider-Ham (voiced by comedian John Mulaney). These more experienced Spider-people serve as mentors and inspiration for the new aspiring Spider-Man (Morales) as they work together to save the day and restore balance to the multi-verse.
I will say no more about the story itself, other than I recommend seeing it if you’re a fan of the web-slinger or just love a damn good animation. I myself have never been a great fan of animated movies, and in general, I find that my attention tends to wane when I watch them. Having said that, Into The Spider-Verse had me gripped from beginning to end, and I don’t think I could’ve been any more impressed with the film as a well-rounded and superbly entertaining piece. As I have already stated, the animation/cinematography is of an incredibly high standard, blending the pages of the comic books with the latest technology to create a thrilling and immersive experience, that befits the hyperbolic action of this genre. The performances are all brilliant, providing many a hearty laugh along the way as well as evoking a good dollop of pathos where necessary.
All in all, this movie is a great success and rightly deserves all the credit it has received since its release in 2018. For an ageing fanboy like myself, this particular thread of the Spier-Man multi-verse served as an introduction to areas of the property that I had yet to experience, on top of providing a completely satisfying story that was reminiscent of all the great wealth of material that has preceded it. It is currently available to stream on Netflix (UK), and I encourage anyone who loves the character to give it a go and let yourself be dazzled by a brand-new Spider-Man for a modern era.
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