Since Marvel started their superhero movie series (Marvel Cinematic Universe, MCU) with Iron-Man in 2008, we have seen at least one superhero movie every year (with a notable exception of 2010) and the numbers just keep growing — with three superhero movies released just in 2018 and another three premiering this year. And that’s just Marvel, I’m not even including the new DC movies.
After so many of them, I’m just plainly bored and I stopped looking forward to them. They all seem so similar when it comes to script, type of humour or even the visual side (with a bit of an exception in The Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok). Most of all, they all have very bland characters, which don’t make me invested in their story and what happens to them. It’s kind of hard to empathise with Captain America (a super-soldier), Thor (a Norse god) or even Iron-Man (a super rich guy, a genius, flying around in a metal armour).
That’s probably the reason why I have always loved the character of Spider-Man. He was the only superhero character whose normal life was at least as important as their superhero exploits. No matter who was under the mask, they were always portrayed as young characters with enormous amount of responsibility suddenly placed on them. This makes Peter Parker, or lately — Miles Morales — a relatable, painfully human character struggling to balance his life with his duties and live up to the enormous responsibilities thrust onto him by the world. There’s always a struggle between their normal and superhero lives.
This human side of Spider-Man, including e.g. problems with paying rent, is what makes him such a popular character. He’s already been a subject of 6 feature films, nearly a dozen TV shows, 35 video games, thousands of comic book issues and countless internet memes. There’s even been several different Spider-Man breakfast cereals.
Because of all of that, before going to the cinema I was quite sceptic. I was afraid that it was going to be yet another movie which, in my opinion, was not going to do justice to the character. This was also supposed to be yet another ‘origin story’ of a character and most probably a beginning of a new franchise. But somehow the movie managed to exceed all my expectations at pretty much every turn and I started to wonder: what is it about this movie that makes it stand out so much among all the other superhero movies?
It being an animation makes some things so much easier of course, however at the same time it just nails so many different things about what a superhero film is, while all the other Marvel (and DC) films seem to just miss the point.
After seeing the trailers, I was pretty sure that the movie was going to be a wild ride, however probably one that completely doesn’t make any sense. Well, I was wrong. Somehow, even considering a Looney Tunes- and anime-based characters, which are drawn in a completely different style, the whole movie still makes quite a lot of sense (as far as superhero movies go, so don’t expect real science.)
I was worried that the whole Spider-Verse concept and the introduction of so many characters (both hero and villain) is going to make the movie confusing and, what’s worse, overshadow Miles Morales’, the main protagonist’s, story. However, it is first and foremost the story of how he became Spider-Man. With the exception of Spider-Man 2 there was no movie till now which embraced the character as deeply as the new Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Somehow the core ideas which were always behind the character have been pushed further than ever here and it turned out really great.
Humour and drama
A lot of movies, such as the new Star Wars trilogy, don’t seem to understand how to balance drama and humour, with funny scenes following a very dramatic ones and completely killing the tone set just a moment earlier. In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, there’s actually a lot of both, but it’s placed perfectly throughout the movie making the humour and drama support each other in all the perfect moments.
I’ve never seen an animation come so close to its comic book origins as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It looks like something half-way between a 3D and 2D animation, blended perfectly together and using graphic techniques known from comic books. It’s as if comic book panels were literally animated. They have even used a technique called “chromatic aberration”, which blurs the elements which are not in focus and makes the colours and edges drift over each other. It’s drawn from the imperfect comic-book printing techniques that give the illusion of blur. There are no computer generated blur effects, it’s all drawn from graphic techniques to create the illusion of space and distance. Overall, I’d say that this movie is a true definition of a “living” comic book and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets an Oscar for the best animation (I sincerely hope so, we need more movies like this one!)
Apart from the obvious art-style, I was amazed by the amount of thought placed into every single small element of this movie. The scene composition, framing, everything was just plainly beautiful and... meaningful. I could write a separate article just about this part of the movie. There was an amount of thought put into how some scenes were filmed that I haven’t seen in years. For example, there’s a very important scene showing one of the characters falling. However, the camera is rotated so it looks like they are actually rising. And they were. Rising and growing, as a character. There’s sooo many more of those, that for a person like me, who loves analysing films from the directing side, it was a constant search for the deeper meaning behind some filming choices.
As I wrote earlier, I was slightly afraid that the main character’s story is going to be overwhelmed by all the side characters. Again, nothing like that happens. Each side character has a role to play and they’re not just ‘flat’ — unless they’re supposed to be just that.
Marvel got us used to funny puns and one-liners but apart from that there’s not much good dialogue. In this movie, however, there’s something to the flow of simple conversations, which completely sets it apart from most animated films (and other superhero movies for that matter). This, together with superb voice-acting makes the dialogues feel so naturalistic that it feels like a real conversation.
In the genre of animation and superhero movies, I don’t think there was yet anything as good as the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie. This movie almost had no right to be as good as it is — trying to blend this many tones, with such a convoluted story. But somehow the movie manages to take advantage of all elements which could have been its downfall.
At the same time it’s interesting that this movie probably wouldn’t have worked so well 10 years ago. Luckily the over-saturation of superhero movies got us used to a certain dose of craziness, which this movie is full of. I sincerely hope that there’s going to be a sequel, however this one has set the bar extremely high for any followers in the genre.