Arts and Entertainment

A Leap of Faith

The newest addition to the collection of Spider-Man movie is one of a kind with its fascinating use of animation, not so cliché plot, and trendy soundtrack.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Susu Tran

In the streets of Brooklyn, New York, Miles Morales is your typical high schooler. He spends most of his time in his messy room, listening to hip-hop hits like “Sunflower” (2018) by Post Malone and Swae Lee, reading superhero comic books, and procrastinating on packing his valuables for school. Miles has been accepted into a prestigious boarding school, yet he’s not ready to face the anxiety, pressure, and homesickness of living in the school dorms away from his family. Miles is a normal student; that’s all he’s known himself to be. But when a radioactive spider bites him one night, Miles must now deal with the consequences and responsibilities of being a superhero. And he’s definitely not ready to face that.

Directed by Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr., and Rodney Rothman and produced by Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation in partnership with Marvel, “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” is a two-hour long PG film released on December 14, 2018. Despite some worries that the animated movie might not receive as much attention and acclaim, given it isn’t a live-action film, the newest addition to Marvel’s collection of Spider-Man movies has been an instant success. With a 97 percent freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.7 out of 10 on IMDb, this sci-fi/fantasy motion picture was nominated for Best Animated Feature for the 24th Critics’ Choice Awards and won Best Animated Feature Film at the 76th Golden Global Awards. Even “Sunflower” from the movie soundtrack is trending as number three on the BillBoard Hot 100.

Yes, this Spider-Man film involves the typical structure of Spider-Man defeating the bad guy, who in this case is New York City’s crime overlord, Kingpin. Yes, there’s a slight romance element to the story. And yes, there are a couple of cliché plot points in the movie. But this is not your typical superhero film. The antagonist, Kingpin, devises a super powerful machine called the collider that can open portals to other dimensions. Instead of Peter Parker, Miles Morales is now our main character. On top of that, Miles isn't the only superhero. He's soon joined by many other Spider-Men from other universes. Still struggling to control his newfound, sticky powers, Miles must also work with everyone to defeat Kingpin and return each Spider-Man back to their world.

Because of the large number of characters the storyline brings together, the narrative lacks in character development. The movie provides thorough backstories for all the main characters—even Kingpin, allowing the audience to really know and understand the characters’ individual histories. But there are many more minor characters who are two-dimensional, leaving more to be desired. As for the predictable story, the producers were very much aware of this. The way they tackle these problems with meta-humor, coupled with the animation, pace, and music, allows the film to more than compensate for the slight dip in plot and development.

The animation is gorgeous. Period. The filmmakers somehow made this initially jarring change in medium incredible. It is hands down the best aspect of the movie. Previous works of the Spider-Man franchise were all live-action, with actors, stunt doubles, special effect explosions, and the whole shebang. But, the directors eased the audience into the new animation style quite well, starting with something classic and familiar. It pays homage to the original Spider-Man comics by adopting a similar art style: blurry backgrounds, comic speech bubbles, and the occasional slow motion. It’s a comic book in motion. Whenever a new Spider-Man from a different universe is introduced, his backstory is told in the style of comics. A comic with the Spider-Men drawn on the cover is tossed onto a pile of Miles’s Spider-Man comics, each on top of another. Moreover, many of the characters are drawn in distinct styles to further give the impression that they belong to a different reality. There's a black-and-white 1920s-styled Spider-Man who couldn't seem to comprehend the spectrum of colors of Miles’ world, an animal cartoon Spider-Man, and even some female Spider-Women.

A particular highlight of the film is the beautifully captured shots of New York City as the setting. One of the most memorable scenes is when Spider-Man leaps off of a skyscraper headfirst onto the bright streets of Times Square. The moving camera slows down, and the scene is shot upside down with Spider-Man upright, his eyes facing toward the city skyline, and the wind behind him. The music quiets for a moment, enabling the audience to take in the spectacular visuals. Such stylized fine art techniques really present a unique twist that will certainly make the film a highlight of the movies of this generation.

“Into The Spider-Verse” is also very well-balanced, with a nice mix of action scenes, montages, and surprisingly emotional moments. There are the casual, humorous scenes, some heartwarming familial love and friendship bits, and empowering let's-save-the-day scenes. It’s mostly lighthearted and energizing in tone, so it’s the perfect family movie. Yet there are some unexpected, dark, and poignant portions that tug the right heartstrings. And the music featuring modern hip-hop artists in the hip-hop genre like Post Malone, XXXTentacion, Nicki Minaj, Jaden Smith, and Lil Wayne comes in at the right moments. The movie uses upbeat rap songs to accompany the day-in-the-life-of-Miles-Morales scenes and soft pop ones for the heart-rending scenes.

A modern soundtrack, ingenious animation, steady pace, and homely setting made the Spider-Man movie an instant hit for me. It was a leap of faith; having shamefully never watched “Homecoming” (2017) or any Spider-Man or Marvel-associated film, I went into the theaters completely blind. Watching the movie in a theater, however, the experience was undeniably eye-opening and memorable, with the audience cheering, crying, and guffawing at the right times. Just as Miles is this young boy suddenly hit with the realization of responsibility and pressure from the other, more experienced Spider-Men to quickly learn the ropes to defeat Kingpin, we too can relate to his struggles and discover that there is a hero inside us all. Anyone can wear the mask. All it takes is a leap of faith.