Over the past sixteen years, moviegoers have watched Spider-Man a lot. So much so, that many people had been sick of the character. Not only did we get a Sam Raimi trilogy, a failed “Amazing Spider-Man” franchise, and the reintroduction of the Tom Holland Spider-Man into the MCU (he’s already done three movies there). We even just received our first animated version of the character, and moviegoers went nuts. Topping the box office and receiving an A+ CinemaScore, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” became an instant phenomenon. A big reason that “Spider-Verse” works come from the long and troubled history of the character in cinema. With the steady hand of Phil Lord and Chris Miller penning the script, they found a way to make the eight-film franchise culminate in something special.
You can read the cinematic triumph that is “Spider-Verse” as a straightforward multi-verse story. At least as straightforward as a multi-verse can get. Yet introducing a half dozen new Spider-people to a culture that is already full of them allows audiences to get in on the joke. We live in meme-driven internet culture. One of the most popular memes remains the “Spider-Man Pointing at Spider-Man” meme. Miller and Lord took that joke to the extreme and knew that animation would let them to push boundaries. Building on the backs of the Raimi, Toby Maguire, Andrew Garfield, the MCU and even “The Simpsons” gave them the opportunity for something new.
The All-New, All-Different Spider-People
The fresh approach, rooted in the joke that a parade of white dudes already played Spider-Man, helped build the revolutionary animated film. Now, we’ve got a beautiful collage of Spider-people, representing Black (Shameik Moore), Asian (Kamiko Glenn), Latino (Oscar Isaac/Mile Morales), and Women (Hailee Steinfeld/Glenn) on the big screen. What’s even more exciting is that they all have unique power sets to differentiate them from the OG Spider-Man. There’s also space for a Looney Toon pig (John Mulaney) that drops anvils on villains. Lord and Miller wrote a narrative to support these new Spider-people. To fully complete the transformation, the look of Spider-Man had to be broken.
Enter Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, who innovated animation out of necessity. One of the more incredible things about “Spider-Verse” is that it feels like you’re reading a comic book. Ang Lee tried the same approach with “Hulk” in 2003, but a mixture of issues made that film bomb. The only feature that seemed to capture this spirit well fully was “Dick Tracy,” but the comic roots come through in matte paintings and makeup effects.
Occasionally comic book projects like “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” call back to their original medium. However, the release of “The Dark Knight” signaled a new emphasis was placed on realism. Even with the humor of the MCU, this principal drove the genre for the past decade. Persichetti, Ramsey, and Rothman reversed that trend and embraced the comic roots to Spider-Man. They pushed further into animating the film like a comic, and a big reason for that was because traditional CGI animation would not cut it.
The Ultimate (Animated) Spider-Man
According to CartoonBrew, the animators weren’t capturing the emotion they convey, and it looked “too smooth” to be realistic. To offset the issue, the trio chose to animate in 2s. For the laymen, most animation occurs in 1s, 2s, or 3s. 1s means you animate one unique image per frame. Rather than animate “Spider-Verse” like a Disney or Pixar film (which traditionally animates in 1s), they shot the majority of the film in 2s. This means they shot 12 unique frames per second instead of the traditional 24 frames per second. By doubling each image to simulate motion they achieve the slightly choppier look they desired.
The animators would then animate in 1s for more action-heavy scenes, and 3s to create a slow-motion effect (think anime fights where character’s pause after throwing a punch), “Spider-Verse” utilizes the strongest possible animation technique for each sequence, rather than forcing the film into an animation bubble. Afterward, the team then went back and looked at the comics, realizing that line work and subtle pencil marks could help sell emotion for characters. The team literally drew lines over the existing CG, and instantly characters gained emotion. Eventually, hatching techniques added gradient and shading. These tones throughout the film, make “Spider-Verse” a living comic unlike any film before it.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-People
In the end, “Spider-Verse” is a blend of both storytelling and craftsmanship. Building a meta-commentary on what it means to be Spider-Man through the story of the first Black and Latino Spidey matters. Willingly confronting the CGI heavy animation style and mixing up the formula could make it the first Animated Feature winner of its kind since 2005. The mixture and power of combining these elements make “Spider-Verse” a unique commentary on what is possible in the genre. Frankly, it should be on the table in sound mixing, editing, screenplay, and production design at Oscar.
Regardless, the best Spider-Man film of all-time came out in 2018. “Spider-Verse’s” ability to openly comment on the days of Spider-Man past makes it good. The willingness to innovate in animation makes it great. The storytelling and heart make it one of the very best of the year. As Miles says, at the end of the film, anyone can be Spider-Man. With that, cinema’s most popular character since the year 2000 has reinvented itself for the next generation on screen.