I have always carried an Olympics-size torch for animation. From a young age, animation deftly incepted the passion of adventurous storytelling in me. My largest motivator for writing story --- and you probably already guessed it --- was Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli (every sad-boy's Tinder-bio personality footnote). Yes, classics like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke are what my heart hearkens to when I embark upon my own storytelling pursuits.
Though, it is known that many people do not share this level of regard for animation. It is pretentiously seen as a juvenile, lesser form of storytelling. This is a prejudice that we grow into as we grow out of animation being the dominant form of storytelling we consume. (Which y'know, if we look deeper at that value-system, might say something about how we regard the experience of children, but that's not where this post is going).
I see where this generalized prejudice comes from, despite a considerable amount of adult comedies being adult cartoons (Rick & Morty, Archer, Bob's Burgers, etc.). But if we return to Miyazaki's stories, we see that his animation does not lean on comedy to be taken seriously. They are stories compelling enough to be taken at-value no matter what medium it embodies, wherein the medium is one that upholds and articulates the rules the story's world more appropriately than a live-action movie might. And it is at this crossroads that we find the new Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse.
Not to say that Spiderman is not riddled with its own jocularity. It's downright and literally upside-down riotous in its beguiling self-awareness of being another film in a superhero franchise. And in a market that is oversaturated with superhero movies, I walked out of the theatre with my sister, feeling Spiderman was really the only one we needed last year. In capacities that need refreshing --- from the writing to the visual language --- it listened to its roots, took notes, and broke the rules of animation. Its awareness of itself erodes not a fourth wall but traditional storytelling barriers for empathy. There are so many things I found thrilling about this film, so here's my go at speaking to it as limpidly as possible.
Visually, I thought it had the best cinematography of any movie I've seen come out this year. The way it fused elements of a comic-book retrofitted with glitches. It's a hybrid animation style that has come to mainstream fruition that takes 2D cues in 3D animation, messing with our sense of space without at all feeling unintentionally disoriented. It plays with different frame rate speeds, quite literally messing with our perception of the passage of time. Glitching, counter to their interruptive nature, was the sublime, smooth facilitator between the different visual styles. There is a stunning animated time lapse, which I've seen only one other time in the 2016 anime film Your Name (which I could not recommend more highly).
Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse utilized text with great attention. There were moments where we saw on-screen comic-book-style exclamations like "BOOM!" "AAAH!" "BAGEL!" "ZAP!". In a comic book, you obviously can't hear what you're reading, but the phenomenological effect of seeing "CRASH!" and hearing one? Clever game.
There is also the absence of text, re: lacking subtitles during Spanish-speaking moments. Our next-generation Spiderman is bi-racial --- Brooklyn-specific Afro-Puerto Rican with a Chance the Rapper poster on his dorm room wall --- and the conscious decision to ditch the subtitles was one that had me tearing up in the first act. To hear a language spoken in my home simultaneously validated and uneventful was, well, relaxing. I felt welcomed in a familiar setting. Peer-professional Roger Ebert Fellow and aspirational Latinx writer Carlos Aguilar wrote for Remezcla "Although brief, the Spanish phrases and words we hear connote the genuine colloquialisms that arise in bilingual homes as opposed to the artificiality that sometimes peppers US-produced movies and feels like the result of lines being fed through Google Translate." The actor who plays Miles' mother in the film, Luna Lauren Velez, says to Remezcla in regard to the lack of subtitles that “That was really bold, because if you use subtitles all of a sudden we are outside, and we are not part of this world anymore. It was brilliant that they just allowed for it to exist."
Another standard-breaker was shaking the adolescent Spiderman story's tropes around. The Spiderman character arc has been theorized as a metaphor for male adolescence, where there are some compelling lines to be drawn (or webs to be shot) between the newfound skills/body of a man going through puberty. Adding race into this identity cocktail is interesting, because we see that in the canon of all the previous (white) Spidermen ---- Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, Tom Holland --- they are fatherless. Their fathers figures are subbed-in evil uncles, etc. and often prove to be disappointing role models. Tough go. Meanwhile, Miles Morales gets to keep his cop father, and attains several other father figures (another uncle and the other Spidermen). I think it's important to point out that this is not usually the story we see produced for young, mixed boys.
The growing pains of adapting to write for an era with tireless releases of new phone models, user interfaces, and software updates has come bearing the consequence of stories that inherently become dated by whatever media implements into its story structure. But to encapsulate its omnipresence is necessary for modern storytellers to master because it has so omnipotently affected our day-to-day --- hour-to-hour, really --- narratives. One moment I felt Spiderman did this so naturally (spoilers ahead) was in the very beginning of the movie when we see his reality's Spiderman die. We all know the feeling of a push notification delivering the message that a celebrity has passed. For some celebrities, we are shaken. We remember where we were when it happened. The sinking chest feeling, all of it. And that is the feeling coherently evinced when within five minutes, we see the faces of seemingly all of New York City, illuminated via phone screen, finding out that Spiderman was dead. A chilling Stan Lee makes his first post-mortem cameo since the writer's death less than two months ago.
If you have seen the film, you know there is still so much more to go into about it. Clearly, there was a lot of innovation that this movie pushed for on many filmmaking fronts, and in a world where filmmaking has felt morally bankrupt, Spiderman writers, artists, and fans said "it's definitely broke, let's fix it."