The case for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse for 2018’s Best Animated Feature, a film that redefines what a reboot is capable of…
by: Michael Shields
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, the first animated feature film in the Spider-Man franchise, is one of the more delightful cinematic surprises in recent years. Not only is the film a fantastical, joyous ride for adventure lovers of all ages, but a progressive superhero reboot that defies convention in avoiding the tropes that threaten to bog down the genre while redefining exactly who can be a caped crusader. Spider-Verse brings to light the idea that Spider-Man is a symbol, an emblem whose identity is as permutable as the red and blue (and now black!) suit that the iconic hero dons. For decades, fans of the costume clad web-slinger have grown accustomed to a standard set of character traits which have seemingly defined the role, but this approach has rendered itself stale and not representative of the world in which we live. Enter Spider-Verse, where Spidey compellingly comes to life in all their diversified glory through the Brooklyn teens Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy, a hardened black-and-white Spider-Man Noir, a rotund older Peter Parker, a Japanese anime-inspired schoolgirl named Peni Parker, and even an anthropomorphic pig aptly named Peter Porker.
Brought into existence by the producers of The Lego Movie (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller), and directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, Spider-Verse is an exceedingly collaborative achievement featuring a star-studded cast including the likes of Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage, and Liev Schreiber. Beyond the bounteous, gifted artists working behind the curtain, Spider-Verse is brimming in various other ways. The film is jam-packed with as many villains as there are heroes, and all the central character’s motivations and backstories are explored with care. The film’s aesthetics, too, are layered, complex, and riveting to behold. Throughout Spider-Verse there is a retro-impression to the film’s style, achieved fusing the look of a four-color printing process (including thought balloons!) with 3D computer-animated characters. “From the beginning,” producer Christopher Miller told the New York Times, “we wanted someone to be able to freeze any frame of the movie and have it look so good, they’d want to frame it and hang it on the wall” — a goal that was triumphantly achieved.
Spider-Verse is a game-changer. In under two hours, it expanded the universe and possibilities for Spider-Man moving forward. Miles Morales, the central figure of the film, the son of an African American father and a Puerto Rican mother, serves as a significant step forward in regard to diversity and inclusivity in mainstream superhero films. With him morphing into one of the most iconic superheroes of modern times, the door opens up to people of any age, gender, or ethnicity to become what they never before imagined. It turns out, Spider-Man was never about the Peter Parker we have known for decades, but about everybody, including each of us watching, and what we hope we can be — and Spider-Verse drives this home emphatically.
Acclaimed writer Victor LaValle took part in a project where a grouping of authors was asked to compose a love letter (of sorts) to an actor or fictional character who has been nominated for an Academy Award. LaValle (who recently co-edited the anthology “A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers”) decided upon Miles Morales as his subject, and penned a deeply affecting letter to the young Spider-Man that commenced, “My kids think you’re great, but I’m the one who loves you.” While the reasons LaValle and I are so taken with Miles’ journey vary, I share his enthusiasm with Spider-Verse and his letter really hit home. While my seven year old daughter was affected profoundly by the thrill ride that is Spider-Verse, it is I who has begged her time and again for a return theatrical viewing. I needed more. I wanted to experience all that riveting eye candy again and again. I yearned to ponder, once more, the social importance and impact of this young, vulnerable, but strong as fuck black Spider-Man and what it means to so many. In retrospect, and in contemplation of the major achievement this film persists as, Spider-Verse is more than just an inspiring film to so many, and a shot in the arm to a time-worn franchise, but a wake up call to the film industry in general about the payoffs of inclusivity and of thinking outside the box. It’s just that special of a film.