Stepping into the boots of a beloved superhero on the big screen can be a precarious business, (just ask Ben Affleck). But what makes the most recent addition to the genre different, is that Spider-man: Into The Spider-verse aspires to a greater purpose than entertainment alone.
The animated film takes a distinctly fresh approach to the superhero genre, by “rebooting” Spidey’s famous identity of Peter Parker, and it involves a collaboration between Sony Pictures and Vodafone aiming to close the digital skills gap, and to help young people find careers in the digital economy.
Industries are rapidly changing in the 21st Century, with many sectors today looking towards automation: one could argue it’s not so much immigrants coming for our jobs, as robots (and perhaps Amazon).
The skills employers seek are changing as a result too; today there’s less requirement for once conceived “core” subjects, and greater need for training in computing and digital skills. Video gaming is a thriving field; one of the largest globally with a turnover exceeding both the global music and film industries combined. In Britain alone, video-gaming and animation contribute nearly £3bn to the economy, and employ over 47,000 people – making Britain the second biggest market for gaming in Europe after Germany, ranking sixth in the entire world. As for telecommunications and digital-mobile content? How many people do you know who don’t have a mobile phone?
As one of the biggest global telecommunications companies, Vodafone is well placed to enthuse youngsters for careers in technology. Adding a touch of showbiz to the often tedious process of discerning a career path, is undeniably a smart move. Our new Spider-man, Miles Morales, voiced by actor Shameik Moore, begins the film struggling at a posh new school and buckling under the workload: he’s not quite sure what he’s doing there. He’s just coasting along, waiting for his purpose in life to become clear. “Finding himself”, and what he’s good at, is very much part of this Spider-Man’s journey.
Vodafone has collaborated with this new Spider-Man franchise for their online “Future Jobs Finder”. It consists of psychometric tests in the form of video games to determine what you’re good at – and crucially – what sort of roles you could fulfil in this new digital economy. It’s almost certainly the precise sort of assistance and direction youngsters need nowadays, and Vodafone should be commended for such conscientious effort. And if that wasn’t enough, they’re giving two lucky winners a chance to fly out to Los Angeles for one-to-one career guidance with Sony Pictures animators from the movie as well.
As someone in love with superhero movies since Michael Keaton’s outing as Batman in 1989, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from an animated cartoon, seeming to precisely target youngsters more than older fans.
The film is quite unique in its visual style; at times seeming more like 3D models à la “Robot Chicken”. But without wanting to ruin the plot, the varying styles of animation are a key theme. In addition, Sony’s decision to make the new Spidey a young black man, more streetwise and urban (he’s a “tag artist” and listens to R&B, as opposed to Peter Parker’s atypically white/middle-class geekiness), was no doubt very deliberate. The film’s premise is that “anyone can be Spider-man”: YOU can be the hero in your own story. A lovely message; though it did slightly verge on playing to cultural stereotypes in places.
The idea that the minority black kid at the private, predominantly white school (a theme in the film), who’s out at night drawing graffiti and listening to hip-hop with his criminal uncle, was arguably a bit of a lazy stereotype. It’s a double-edged sword I guess: because on one hand the film undoubtedly wants to appeal to those living in poorer and less advantaged communities, traditionally plagued by lack of opportunity, but it also simultaneously plays slightly to those stereotypes.
But mostly, I was just concerned because messing with the source material is as likely to annoy fans as enthral them.
I needn’t have worried. Spider-man: Into The Spider-verse is a truly beautiful film. Incredibly entertaining, moving in places, displaying an inescapable reverence for the original Spider-Man legacy – and it even gives a tribute to the late Stan Lee. Just a tip: as with all Marvel films, it’s DEFINITELY worth waiting around for the very end of the credits.
But more than anything, the film is genuinely witty and very funny – evoking more than a few big belly laughs… the introduction of “Spider-Pig”, a nod to 2007’s The Simpson’s Movie is just one of them.