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Wednesday, Feb 1, 2023

Into the Spider-Verse: a new age of animation

“Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse” is one of the most ambitious animated films of the last decade, and it comes from a studio outside of Disney’s monopoly.

Watching “Into the Spider-Verse” is like seeing a comic book come to life in an adrenaline shot of frantic, fast-paced action. The execution is so flawless, it calls into question why any superhero movies are live action.

While Spiderman reboots are becoming as common as Super Bowls, “Spider-Verse” both sets itself apart from and uses the previous incarnations of Spiderman to propel itself forward. The film either assumes its audience has a working knowledge of Spiderman, or gives sparse background and quick, Sparknote-style asides in order to give more focus to the parts of the Spiderman mythology that haven’t gotten screen time yet-- most notable of those parts being Miles Morales.

While almost every comic book version of Spiderman/woman/pig makes an appearance, this film is very much about the origin story of Morales, a Brooklyn teen who’s still adjusting to his newfound spider powers when his would-be mentor, Peter Parker, dies.

Luckily for Miles, he runs into the Peter Parker of another universe, Peter B. Parker, who’s depressed, divorced and dimensionally displaced by crime boss Kingpin’s newest scheme. From there, more diasporic spider people arrive - Gwen Stacy’s Spider-Woman, the black-and-white detective Spider-Noir, the cartoonish Spider-Ham and the Japanese schoolgirl with her telepathic robot SP//DER. Naturally.

In any other franchise, this team-up of characters from such radically different source material would be visually jarring and thematically incohesive, but the writing and animation are so self-aware and intentional with it that nothing feels off.

The plot of the film is so closely tied to Miles’s development as a person and a superhero that most of the other Spider-heroes are there more as pressure -- expectations Miles feels he has to live up to -- rather than starring roles. Their characters’ arcs are either small enough to pull off with limited screen time or largely intertwined with Miles’s.

The animation is innovative, and coming from a studio unaffiliated with Disney, it has the potential to advance the medium as a whole. Instead of looking at the art form in terms of how it can be more lifelike, this film both asks and answers the question: What can animation do that live action can’t?

Any moderately-successful superhero movie has to spend quite a lot of money trying to make the gimmicky costumes of comic books a reality that can be taken seriously. So much work of the current superhero age is spent trying to sanitize and conform the outlandish and fantastical aspects of its source material, rather than embrace it.

“Into the Spider-Verse” embraces it so tightly I was afraid to blink for 116 minutes.


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