Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is nominated in the Best Animated Feature Oscar category and it should, I believe, take the trophy. Its closest contender is Incredibles 2, which is also really enjoyable, but it does not quite match the love-letter to comic-books that is Spider-Verse, nor is it nearly as inventive.
When Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was announced, even hardcore Spidey fans, this scribe included, were perplexed. Sony, sans Marvel Studios’ intervention, did not have a good track record with some of the recent Spider-Man films. In fact, after 2004, there was not a single decent film that Spidey fans could really love. Tom Holland’s Homecoming was good, but it was made in association with Marvel Studios, a unit without a single failure to its name.
And now, it seemed, Sony was building a cinematic universe of its own with Spider-Man and its supporting characters. Although Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has lots of Spider-People (and a Spider-Animal), it is mainly the story of Miles Morales, a Latino-Afro teen that is a fairly recent addition to the Spider-Man canon.
I rarely see movies twice in theaters, unless they are truly exceptional. I went and saw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse four times. This movie is a staggering achievement, a rare film that is nearly without flaw.
First of all, the visual style is absolutely stunning. It is like psychedelia of Thor: Ragnarok multiplied by 10. There are intended imperfections (like the colour bleed in the skylines to mimic the classic CMYK printing process) that somehow work to enhance everything. Every single frame appears like it is handcrafted, every scene whether it is action-packed or sombre, has distinctive touches that make the visual experience unique. The action scenes in the movie are some of the most well-choreographed I have seen — animated or live-action.
2D marries 3D so seamlessly in this film that you will notice that only on subsequent viewings (or at least I did). Some of the dialogue appears in comic-book style and this is just one of the meta moments that give the viewer an impression that they are following this story panel by panel — just like a graphic novel.
Spider-Verse boasts of a phenomenally sharp script. Phil Lord, who along with his partner Christopher Miller is probably one of the most creative screenwriters today in Hollywood, has crafted a story with Rodney Rothman that is funny, heartfelt, poignant, and still the classic Spider-Man story. There are loving homages to earlier iterations of live-action Spider-Men (echoing Lord and Miller’s The Lego Batman Movie).
Multiple Spider-People from other dimensions enter Miles’ world, and everybody gets their due, even as the focus remains on Miles Morales. All this and the film’s blazing fast pace should have made the story over-stuffed, but the film clocks less than two hours. This is unbelievably impressive. Spider-Verse was not just the best animated movie of 2018, it was also the best superhero movie of the year.
Incredibles 2, another Oscar contender, is not nearly as good as The Incredibles, its predecessor, but it is still entertaining and a feast to the eyes with those action sequences that would either be too expensive or impossible to do in live-action. In this regard, it is like Spider-Verse in that it uses the medium’s strengths to its fullest. Pixar’s animation remains impeccable and improves considerably every year. Overall, Incredibles 2 is a very enjoyable animated family superhero film, but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse blows everything out of the water this year.