Well folks, we’ve done it. This is the final installment of my Cinematic Century project. Over the past two years we’ve discussed one hundred films, one for every year between 1918 and 2018, and entire century of favorite films. We’ve seen the ebbs and flows of cinema, journeyed to several different countries (but embarrassingly not enough), and have taken a peak at virtually every genre. And, to close things off, we’re tackling my favorite film of 2018, something I actually ended up speaking about earlier this year. This January, when I tasked myself with making a list of my 15 favorite films of 2018, I found myself struggling, as I do every year. And, the biggest struggle I had with 2018 ended up being my biggest struggle with what I would highlight today. Because last year I felt like I had a lock. I saw Bad Times at the El Royale in October, and felt very confident that I had found my favorite film of the year. But then, at the tail end of the year, I went to see a movie that I assumed I would like, but didn’t anticipate to have a major impact on me. And that movie was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which hit me like a ton of bricks. At the time I struggled with it all, and decided to name El Royale as my favorite film of the year. So, when it came time to pick which movie to feature today, I had to reckon with all of that again. And, as you can see, things turned out differently. I still love El Royale, and it would probably be considered my number two now, but it’s frankly staggering how much Spider-Verse has grown in my estimation. I’ve seen the film six times already, and I find myself loving it more every single time. It’s an absolute masterpiece, and easily my favorite film of 2018. There were plenty of other terrific films of the year, as I discussed in my list from earlier this year. And, unlike some of my other lists, I still think that this one is pretty rock solid. It was a great year for movies, and I don’t have any anxiety or shame over any of the picks. Especially love for Into the Spider-Verse, a legitimately perfect film.
The backstory of this film is pretty ridiculous, and gets very bogged down in somewhat tedious legal disputes. As you probably know, the film rights to Spider-Man have become rather complicated recently. Sony had the rights for quite some time, but after two separate franchises crashed and burned around them, it became clear that things needed to change. They ended up making their famous deal with Disney where the Spider-Man film rights got to work with the MCU, but a strange side-effect was that Sony got to retain the rights to an animated film, and certain ancillary characters. And, because Sony seemed deadset to prove that they could also make something entertaining with the Spider-Man property, they decided to take advantage of their little loophole, and put all of their effort into an animated film. They decided to give the film to the producing team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, two experts at making bad ideas work. They began working on the premise of the film, borrowing from more recent comic books storylines. Specifically the creation of a new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, and an event story known as Spider-Verse which took several alternate versions of Spider-Man and put them together. They then got together a group of animation directors, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, and Bob Persichetti, helping bring the insane ideas of the script to life. This required some seriously innovative uses of animation, all to bring the look and feel of comic books to life. They utilized a combination of 3D and 2D animation, relied on very comic booky art design such as cross-hatching for shadows, Ben-Day Dots, and visual sound-effects. And all of that innovation came together to create one of the most unique and beautiful animated films of the decade, which really caught on with people. It was a success with critics and audiences, being widely considered one of the finest films of the year, and going on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. And, it’s easy to see why it garnered so much love, because it truly is a remarkable film.
Into the Spider-Verse is primarily the story of Miles Morales, a young boy living in New York with his parents Rio and Jeff, and attending an elite boarding school. He’s struggling to find his way in the world, trying to figure out who he is. And, after a particularly stressful day, he decides to blow off some steam with his uncle Aaron, the coolest guy he knows. Miles and Aaron hang out in Aaron’s bachelor pad, before Aaron decides to take Miles somewhere special. The two head to a hidden subway tunnel where Miles will be able to spray-paint a design he’s been working on. The two have a good time, and while Miles is hard at work a strange spider crawls up his arm, and bites his hand. He doesn’t think much of it, but the next day Miles starts to develop some strange powers. He has increased strength, the ability to cling to walls, and a special sense that alerts him to danger. Which immediately makes him think he’s gained the powers of Spider-Man, because in his world Spider-Man is the greatest hero around. So, to confirm his suspensions, Miles returns to that subway to examine the dead spider, realizing that it isn’t normal. And, while he starts to panic about the idea he’s been given spider powers, he stumbles upon a secret laboratory hidden in these abandoned subway tunnels. And, inside that laboratory is the Amazing Spider-Man, doing battle with a monstrous Green Goblin. Miles watches at the two fight, and slowly make their way into a massive room with a particle accelerator. It’s a project being run by Kingpin, attempting to open a void into new dimensions, and Spider-Man has arrived to destroy it. Miles watches as Spider-Man attempts to save the day, causing an explosion that almost destroys the whole accelerator. Miles attempts to save Spider-Man, who is gravely wounded. He realizes Miles has powers like him, and gives Miles a drive that will permanently destroy the accelerator, tasking him with saving the city. Miles then watches as Kingpin kills Spider-Man.
New York mourns the death of Spider-Man, revealing his identity as Peter Parker, and Miles struggles to find how he can fulfill his promise. But, on a night when he visits Peter’s grave, he encounters something strange. An older version of Peter Parker. Apparently when Spider-Man destroyed the accelerator he brought several alternate versions of himself into this reality, including this one, a Spider-Man whose life has fallen apart. Miles and Peter decide to work together to access the accelerator and send him home before Miles destroys it. And, as a bonus, Peter will teach Miles how to be a Spider-Man. The two then infiltrate Alchamex, the company Kingpin is using to build the accelerator, and end up finding that Kingpin in trying to find alternate versions of his wife and son after they were killed in this reality, and has hired Olivia Octavius, this reality’s Doctor Octopus to make it for him. Peter and Miles steal some information to build a drive to destroy the accelerator, and in the process encounter Gwen Stacy, a woman from another dimension who is the Spider-Woman of her world. Gwen, Peter, and Miles then return to New York and track down this reality’s Aunt May, figuring she’d know of a lab Peter might have had they can use. And, sure enough, May takes them to Peter’s secret base, where three more Spider-People are hiding. Spider-Man Noir, a Peter from a black and white noir dimension, Penni Parker, a young girl from an anime universe who pilots a spider mech, and Peter Porker the Spectacular Spider-Ham, a cartoon pig with Spider-Man powers. Together the group attempt to teach Miles how to be Spider-Man, and it doesn’t go very well.
Miles decides to give up, and heads to his uncle Aaron’s house for some help. However, when he gets there, and uses a latent ability of his to turn invisible, Miles finds that Aaron is actually a villain known as the Prowler who works for Kingpin, and who has been tasked with tracking him down. So, Miles returns to Aunt May’s and the rest of the Spider-People, accidentally drawing the villains there. A huge brawl between all the Spider-People and the Kingpin’s goons breaks out, destroying the house, and ending with the Kingpin killing Aaron after he realizes who Miles is and refuses to kill him. Aaron is then found by Jeff, who is a police officer, and Miles decides he can’t do this anymore. He attempts to give up, and the rest of the Spider-People agree. They don’t think he’s ready, and go off to destroy the accelerator themselves, with Peter deciding he’ll stay behind, even though it will kill him. But, after Jeff comes by and gives an impassioned speech about family and responsibility, Miles decides he has to get himself together. He goes to Aunt May again, makes himself a real costume, gets some web-spinners, and heads out to help the fight. And he shows up just in the nick of time, as the Kingpin’s army fights off the Spider-People. But, they’re eventually able to defeat them all, and Miles is able to gain access to the accelerator, letting all the Spider-People return to their own dimensions. Miles then pushes Peter into his world, deciding he needs to take care of Kingpin himself, to prove that he can be a hero. And, he does it. He defeats Kingpin, saves the day, and introduces himself to New York as a new Spider-Man, ready to begin his new life as New York’s favorite superhero.
It’s truly impossible to understate what a breath of fresh air this film is. I talk about superheroes a lot on this site, so I think I’ve proven my bona fides as a lover of superhero fiction. We talk about a lot of superhero movies, quite a few I truly love. But, this film is really unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Other movies manage to bring superheros to life in the context of movies, translating them to a different, more popular medium. But, this is a movie that manages to tell a superhero story that truly does feel like a comic book. From the Comics Code Authority gag, to the use of panels and thought bubbles, to the gorgeous animation, it really feels like bringing the comics to life, letting these character feels like themselves instead of people pretending to be them. Everyone in the film is absolutely phenomenal, bringing these characters to life in such beautiful ways that let them be hilarious and heartfelt. It’s full of amazing music, both the songs compiled for the film and the insane score from Daniel Pemberton, bringing Miles and the world of Brooklyn to the screen in a way that doesn’t feel like any other superhero movie you’ll ever see. It plays with visuals, gives us several different universes and denizens of them that feel unique and of their own piece, yet which can blend together in ways that shouldn’t be possible. It opens the Spider-Man mythos up, takes it to new levels and seems to promise that anything can happen from here on out. It’s a movie that makes me laugh, cry, and cheer, a perfect summation of everything that I love about comics in general, and Spider-Man in particular.
Ever since I was a kid, one of my absolute favorite superheroes has been Spider-Man. And, the reasoning for that has changed as I have changed. When I was a kid he was a fun character with a cool costume and some of the best villains. But, as I grew older, I found a character that had perhaps the strongest emotional backbone of any superhero. A character who stands up for what’s right, no matter what, no matter what it does to himself. He’s a character who will essentially self-sabotage his own life in order to do the right thing, to help people. Because that’s the type of person he is. He has the power, and thus the responsibility to to good. But, one of the most interesting things about Spider-Man that has started to grow over the years is the idea that Spider-Man would be the same type of hero regardless of the power. We all have the power to be do right. We could all be Spider-Man. And, that’s what this film gets so beautifully. We see a wide variety of heroes who share the same basic backstory and powers, all doing the right thing. Miles Morales on paper couldn’t be more different from Peter Parker. Except for one undeniable aspect. He’s a good person who wants to help people. And, when we get right down to it, that’s all you need to be Spider-Man. To be a hero. You need to stand up for what you believe in, get back up when you’re knocked down, and fight for the little guy. It’s what I love about superheroes, and it’s what I love about Spider-Man. The world is terrible, full of tragedy and indifference, and that certainly gets reminded to us every single day in our current world. So, a film like this, that’s so earnest and positive truly feels like a salve in this broken world. I’ve watched it so many times, whenever I’m in a bad mood, because it truly reminds me of everything I love in the world. It’s a beautiful film that shows what the medium of film can do, while serving as a reminder in the basic goodness of heroism and doing the right thing. It’s the simplest of pleasures, but it’s the most important kind. It’s why I love movies, and why I did this project in the first place, to talk about why movies matter, in all of their forms.
So, that’s it for the Cinematic Century. One hundred films that I love with all of my heart. I started this whole project because I felt like I wasn’t getting a chance to talk about older movies, the films that helped found the bedrock of my creative tastes. And, it fulfilled that. I got to revisit and examine a lot of amazing movies that mean quite a bit to me, and the act of trying to explain why I love them, to contextualize them in the history of film, has been an absolute joy. So, I’ll be taking a bit of a break, but I’ve already lined up a new and similar project coming sometime later in 2020 which will continue this beautiful and strange trip through the history of film. So, go see a movie, and embrace the power of the cinema.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was written by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsay, and Rodney Rothman, and released by Sony Pictures Releasing, 2018.
Categories: Cinematic Century