A Fresh Take on an Overdone Hero
Have you ever wanted to be Spider-Man? Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a stunning take on the Marvel superhero that knows you can — that everyone can. The great power always comes by accident; it is what you do with that power, that really counts. It is a hard lesson for 13-year-old Miles Morales to learn. After ten Spider-Man appearances in the last seventeen years, the audience has every right to be cautious about another Spider-Man origin story. Fortunately, Into the Spider-Verse makes a strong effort to differentiate itself from the typical superhero film. With the rising popularity of live-action superhero films in recent years, the animation side of things has been lacking. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an animated superhero movie that proves to be a change of paceby combining outstanding visuals with an interesting concept to create possibly the greatest Spider-Man movie yet.
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Unpacking the storyline can be a bit tricky because the film is so fast-paced, but it helps to keep the audience on their toes.The beginning introduces the audience to its unique characters and allows viewers to know that this movie is not going to be like anything done before. The middle of the movie progresses things along, putting new, exciting obstacles in front of Miles, as well as furthering the story, creating a truly entertaining ride. The ending of the movie proves to be everything the viewers could have hoped for and helps to fit in with the rest of the movie, which is just fantastic. The whole story flows from start to finish, and the movie manages to be cohesive, be entertaining, and reimagine the world’s idea of Spider-Man.
The movie follows Miles Morales, who is not the typical Peter Parker. Miles is an Afro-Latin American teenager trying to adjust to a new school and enjoys listening to music and doing graffiti. But everything changes when Miles gets bitten by a radioactive spider (side-effects include enhanced strength, walking up walls, and a “spider sense” that warns him of danger with a buzzing sensation in his head), but there is already a Spider-Man in this universe. While investigating how he got his powers, Miles stumbles onto a fight between Spider-Man and Kingpin, the “big bad” of the movie. Kingpin built a machine to merge multiple universes together, and Spider-Man is killed trying to stop him. Because of a glitch in the machine, five alternative Spider-heroes from different universe swing into Miles’ universe. All of them need to team up to stop Kingpin from messing up reality, and in the process, Miles learns the true meaning of what it means to be Spider-Man.
The Spider-heroes team-up unlike any other seen on screen, creating a fresh and exciting experience. “Wait, how many of us are there?” quips Miles (Keane). And he was not kidding. First he meets Peter B. Parker, unlike his counterpart in Miles’ world, is very much alive but not as successful in his personal life. Then he meets Spider-Woman, or Spider-Gwen; Spider-Noir, an angsty 1930s détective from a black and white world; anime-like Peni Parker who has an armored suit powered by a radioactive spider she is physically linked to; and Spider-Ham, a cartoon pig who was originally a spider that was bitten by a radioactive pig. The uniqueness of each character helps set them apart in a story with many things going on. Into the Spider-Verse uses a hilarious device to introduce all of the Spideys. At the film’s beginning, Peter Parker briefly explains his origin and career as Spider-Man in a voiceover which is repeated by each of the successive alternates as they are introduced. This is light-hearted and funny, however, it also glosses over the origins of these other characters and it is a little unfortunate. For instance, we do not get any kind of a feel for the home universes of Peni Parker and Spider-Ham, and similar treatment is given to the mysterious character of Spider-Man Noir. While these characters have some time to shine in action sequences, the brief introductions leave some of the alternate Spideys feeling a bit underdeveloped. In all fairness, the movie had a lot to accomplish: introducing many scene-stealing characters, with not enough time to show their full potential. Even then, with so many supporting players are thrown into the mix, the film never loses its focus on Miles’ coming-of-age story as he finds his own identity as the new Spider-Man. He has a youthful innocence, overwhelmed by responsibility and the peril, but always willing to learn. As the story repeats another Spider-Man origin story, it feels freshened by Miles’ insecurities of following up the past Spider-Man, making his journey wordlessly inspiring.
The entire movie is a piece of art that captures the viewer’s attention and never lets go. Because Into the Spider-Verse is the first entirely animated Spider-Man movie, it allows the movie to stand out on its own as something new for viewers just as they are being introduced to a new Spider-Man in Miles Morales. The visuals take inspiration from Miles’ graffiti and also tremendous inspiration from comic book illustrations, which has never been done before. A challenge of many live-action superhero films is how to translate 2D comic book drawings into 3D live-action scenes. There are restrictions with a live action film: the physical appearances of the actors, how the sets can be built, how the effects will be rendered, etc. Many movies lose a critical component of the story because it could not be fully realized in live action. With animation, the only limit is the imagination. After Miles develops his abilities, scenes start unfolding like a comic book, with narration in text boxes and thought bubbles, transition that look like pages flipping, use of panels, written sound effects, and freeze frames. Wiggly lines show the tingling of spider senses, while electronic bursts show interdimensional static. The amazing visual effects are unworldly and allow the movie to have sharp transitions from one scene to the next. It also allows the movie to have a fast pace so that the movie never becomes boring or stale.
The spectacular special effects add to everything, including battles with villains and making all of the different versions of Spider-Man come to life, but it is most beneficial in following through with the concept of having different universes’ superheroes come into a single universe through a machine. Taking people from other realities and transporting them into one should look awesome to watch, and the visuals carry out this vision. Since each Spider-Man within the cast comes from a different universe, they were animated with different art styles. Due to the similar universes of Miles, Peter B. Parker (not to be confused with Miles’ Peter Parker) and Gwen Stacy are= animated similarly. However, they do have their own respective quirks. The other half of the Spider-Man cast — Peni Parker, SpiderNoir and SpiderHam — have very distinctive styles that show how different their universes are compared to Miles’: Peni Parker has a full anime design, while Spider-Man Noir is in a sleek, black and white art style, and Spider-Ham was hand drawn to resemble old-style cartoons. The reason for this decision, as well as the overall style of the movie, was a “[celebration of] its print origins with bold graphics and mainstays of comic-book style” as reported by The New York Times (Solomon). The movie looks like it was bitten by a radioactive comic book and is transforming right before our eyes.
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The animators also use animation to develop Miles’ character throughout the film, adding another way the movie tells a modern superhero story in an unparalleled way. To accomplish this, they used a number of different techniques that make Into the Spider-Verse a groundbreaking film. One of the most noticeable differences involves frame rate. They broke the typical rules of animation by animating much of the movie on twos (12 frames per second) as well as ones (24 frames per second) to remove the motion blur and get snappier poses (Snyder). The animators alternated between on twos and on ones depending on the nature of the scene. They could make Miles seem fast or skilled in some shots, on ones, and struggle in others, on twos. Sometimes he would be on twos while other characters were on ones. When they are swinging through a forest, Miles is on twos because he is clumsy while Peter B. Parker is on ones because he is more skilled. Simply the movements become exciting to watch. The producer Phil Lord explained: “Telling stories in sequential art is all about the key pose and going from pose to pose and frame to frame” (Hermes). This subtly helped illustrate how Miles was slowly becoming more comfortable with his powers.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse introduces the world to a new Spider-Man that completely changes the game. Using outstanding visuals and an interesting concept, this movie is unafraid of following up previous Spider-Man franchises and changes the game for superhero animations. With beautiful art, a fast pace, and a huge pool of characters, Into the Spider-Verse is fun for both the casual audience and the comic book nerds. While everyone might recognize the original Spider-Man, Miles Morales’ story of becoming Spider-Man is a must-see for anyone who enjoys dynamic visuals and character development in stories. It is truly a marvel.
- Hermes. “How Spider-Verse Animators Created an Original Look.” The Straits Times, 26 Dec. 2018, www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/how-spider-verse-animators-created-an-original-look.
- Keane, Sean. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — Who Are All These Spider-People?” CNET, 26 Mar. 2019, www.cnet.com/news/spider-man-into-the-spider-verse-movie-all-these-spider-people-explained/.
- Snyder, Chris. “How Oscar-Winning ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ Changed Comic Book Movies Forever.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 25 Feb. 2019, www.businessinsider.com/spiderman-spider-man-into-spider-verse-animated-frame-rate-marvel-stan-lee-2019-2.
- Solomon, Charles. “How the ‘Spider-Verse’ Animators Created That Trippy Look.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Dec. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/12/25/movies/spider-man-into-the-spider-verse-animation.html.
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