23 January 2019
Friends, critics, mortal enemies and comrades in arms – this wasn’t just the best Spider-Man movie ever.
Into the Spider-Verse is the best movie of 2018.
Shocking, yes, I know. Unsurprising it comes from MyEntWorld’s resident comic book geek, but shocking because right now, you’re turning that side-to-side head shake into an up-down, hell-yeah head-banging nod. Look into your cobwebby heart. It’s true and you know it.
Yes, we hit an amazing high for black cinema this year. Yes, Lanthimos and Cuarón showed us the weird and artsy side of cinema is alive and well. Yes, we laughed maniacally at Deadpool 2, we screamed at A Quiet Place and Hereditary, we gave a Golden Globe to Bohemian Rhapsody and we gave the role of Dick Cheney to Christian Bale. 2018 was a completely wild year in film, there’s no doubt about it. Taking a look at the Academy’s nominations, it might be the most diverse year for awards, too (emphasis on might, here’s hoping it’s not just lip service).
But let me say it again. Into the Spide-Verse. Best. 2018.
Let’s break it down, right? First and foremost, the best movie of 2018 has to have a good story, no doubt. It’s easy to guess that an animated feature like Into the Spider-Verse isn’t going to tell a good story because, at face value, it’s an animated comic book superhero movie for kids. At FACE value. But if you watched it, you can recognize a myriad of tropes and themes and archetypes all at play, all interwoven. The base model is the core narrative – the Spider-people of different universes have found themselves in this place, this not-New York, and have to find a way home. Blending noir and slapstick and anime tropes together and not having it come off as cheap or pastiche is no mean feat, but Into the Spider-Verse does it and forces you to confront your own biases and preferences for the characters. Spider-Gwen, despite presenting such a plucky, positive outlook, has a dark, lonely brooding sense about her. Spiderman Noir, for all his 50s panache and pulp power, knows it’s a sham and carries around more ennui than the French aristocracy. Peter Porker and Peni Parker explore the nature of what a cartoon is, for America and for Japan, and their sense of character is pushed and pursued with the coursing of the film.
Right along with a great story is a great villain. Olivia Octavius is vivacious, smart, hilarious and a serious threat for Spiderman in all his incarnations. The Prowler is a darker, meaner Black Panther with no compunction, with a concrete jungle for a hunting ground and a sweet motorcycle. On their own, as standalone bad guys, they do the movie justice. But Kingpin is what makes the movie human.
We should have known from the start, at least by Netflix’s Daredevil, that Kingpin is one of the top three Marvel villains ever made. Wilson Fisk is a large, angry man, with the brains to run a megacriminal empire and the money to build a supercollider under Brooklyn. He can fight, he can schmooze and most importantly, probably the keystone of the movie, he can love. Truth be told, his hate for Spiderman and his love for his family are two sides of the same coin, the coin that is himself. Kingpin loses his wife and child at the apex of his triumph over the costumed crimefighter. The moment where he, the bad guy, is at his most defined stage, and he doesn’t lose to the hero. He loses in the grander, cosmic scheme of things. The loss of love, of his family is what gets the movie moving from the outset. Kingpin is the reason this movie tugs our hearts so hard, because none of us are different from him. Given the means and opportunity, we would all try to get our loved ones back, no matter the cost.
I almost wrote, “the reason this movie exists” up there, and as big as he is, Kingpin isn’t the star. No, the hero that the best movie of 2018 needs isn’t a hero at all. It’s a Dominican teenager from the Bronx, who mumbles along to Post Malone and keeps one shoelace untied on his Air Force 1s. Miles Morales is the reason this movie exists, and he’s probably the biggest reason I’m writing so much about Into the Spider-Verse.
As human as Kingpin is, he’s also the bad guy, gigantic, powerful and pretty settled into his role. Miles starts the movie off unsettled in the way that everyone in the audience can be familiar with – being late to school. There are more layers the movie adds to this – a new, fancier school for smart kids, his policeman father dropping him off, feeling overwhelmed while performing well, meeting a new girl and trying to express feelings – but it all starts with this core layer, this lateness. Lateness quickly defines Miles as a character. He’s late to figure out what the spider-bite means. He’s late to draw the connection between him and the comic books about Spiderman. He’s late to the first (and final) battle at the supercollider, because it takes him the greater part of the movie to understand and fully put to use his powerset (a late bloomer, if you will).
But being the hero in the best movie of 2018 is more than being relatable to your audience with a universal worry, like being late. It’s about being more real than reality, representing something that we should aspire to, work towards, build upon. And there are a million things we can draw inspiration from. The notion of “great expectations/no expectations” we’re introduced to early on in the film becomes the core notion of Into the Spider-Verse. The passion for and pursuit of a creative endeavour, like slapping “Hello, I’m:” stickers to STOP signs, might just be a hobby for Miles, but it’s an important reminder to fans that Spiderman isn’t just a superhero, he knows how to have fun, too. Lightheartedness isn’t all there is to inspire us, though. When Uncle Aaron is dying in the alley, the shots pan back and forth between Miles’ father in pursuit and Aaron’s last words. We get the sense that as much as the older man is speaking to Spiderman, he’s really speaking to his brother, the policeman. He’s reminding him to keep going, he was the best of the two, and he shouldn’t give in to his fear, his despair. It’s a powerful moment, to be reminded that despite the gulf between the brothers, the love they had for each other was more real.
Personally, I can think of no better inspiration than watching him, in the black Spidersuit, fly around New York at night. Hoodie rippling as the air rushes around him, Jordans slapping the pavement as he runs alongside a yellow cab, and then his webslingers let loose, and he’s high above the streets, in the night sky, truly, really flying for the most beautiful moment there is. It’s an important reminder of how much representation matters. Peter Parker was a teenager when being nerdy, geeky or academically-motivated got you beat up. Miles Morales is a teenaged nerd when being a nerd is cool, when comic books are retro, when caring about school and art and self-exploration aren’t just cool – they’re life-affirming.
But let’s take race a little deeper. Miles isn’t black or brown, he’s both. He’s voiced by Shameik Moore and has almost as much talent and rythym as his voice actor. He occupies a beautiful space of Afro-American and Latin-American culture. Peter Parker could never do that. Moreover, that was never the aegis of the character. Miles Morales’ Spiderman represents a shift in purpose, a new sense of possibility and power for Spiderman and what he stands for. The notion of responsibility and power are still there, elegantly displayed with the ‘rest in power’ mural at the close. But Spiderman’s power is not his alone anymore. The closing words of the film remind us that we are all capable of heroic acts, of living up to Stan Lee’s promise: “That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero.”
Does the best film of 2018 have to be inspirational? You bet your ass it does. And that’s why Into the Spider-Verse is the best movie of 2018.