“Look, people can be terrible about things they don’t understand.”
This soft reboot of the Transformers franchise often feels like a cars-and-robots take on How To Train Your Dragon, similarly centred around an outsider bonding with a powerfully destructive but kind and damaged creature. Michael Bay’s films revelled in robotic carnage, whilst scenes featuring humans were generally an afterthought (it’s evident from Bay’s filmography that he doesn’t really get or care about humans). That is inverted here, with humanity at the core of the film. Between True Grit and The Edge of Seventeen, Hailee Steinfeld has swiftly become one of my favourite actors of her generation. She has less to work with here, but her warmth and charm routinely make us forget she is acting against a central character that wasn’t present; it is this, as much as ILM‘s wizardry, that brings Bumblebee to life. Bumblebee may be largely predictable family-friendly fare, but beneath the metallic sheen is humanity that the franchise has sorely lacked.
“So no matter how many hits I take, I always find a way to come back. Because the only thing standing between this city and oblivion is me. There’s only one Spider-Man. And you’re looking at him.”
Taking Deadpool’s self-awareness and applying it to a family-friendly Spider-Man movie has produced not just the best animated film of 2018, but the most joyous Spider-man film to date (some have suggested it is the best, but I think Spider-man 2 retains its crown). This is beautiful big-budget animation, more minimalist than the meticulous detail of a Pixar movie but with a more stylised artistic vision too. The only slight distraction is the blurred edging used to create depth of field, which can feel distractingly like a misplaced stereoscopic image from film’s 3D release. The Lego Movie‘s Phil Lord and Chris Miller have their fingerprints all over, though they did not direct. The inspired dimensional merging draws in alternate Spider-man variants from other universes, including divergent art styles that couldn’t work in any other medium. That the resulting story structure, which features half a dozen origin stories in broad strokes, is not only coherent but deftly interwoven with wit and a strong through line is an impressive achievement. The plot is light, but even Kingpin as the antagonist has a clearly established reason behind his single-minded, destructive dimensional manipulation. Above all, Spider-man adaptations work best when earnest and emotional, both of which Into the Spider-verse delivers in spades and neither of which loses any potency in the transition to animation.
“There are two types of people in the world: the people who naturally excel at life, and the people who hope all those people die in a big explosion.”
The best coming of age stories do not simply speak to those going through the transition, but allow adults to reconnect with that period of their youth. Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig’s wonderful debut demonstrates an ear for the naturalistic wit in sardonic teenage dialogue without the artifice of Juno. Socially awkward Nadine is self-involved, disagreeable and at times even casually cruel, but Craig still allows us to sympathise with her experience. This relies heavily on Hailee Steinfeld’s fantastic central performance, humanising Nadine’s positive and negative traits with warm humour, and granting an emotional weight to those teenage experiences that feel life-or-death at the time. I have not been closely following Steinfeld’s career since her arrival as the wilful young girl in True Grit, but I certainly will be now. Woody Harrelson is notable in a supporting role as that rare, patiently understanding teacher on whom any outsider relies. With the exception of Boyhood (which really is a different beast), The Edge of Seventeen is the best example of the genre for some time.