2023 is setting up to be a great year for animation fans. With indie triumphs like the Lackadaisy short, and box office blockbusters like Puss In Boots: The Last Wish, we have been spoiled by so many marvels, with more to come in the holiday season. In June, theaters were graced with Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse by Sony Animation, the sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Across the Spider-Verse has already raked in $240 million at the US box offices (and $87.9 million internationally), recouping its $100 million dollar budget. Its sister release, Beyond the Spider-Verse is optimistically set for 2024, but the directors aren’t tied to the date. This is now officially the longest animation film from a US studio, with a runtime of two hours and twenty minutes.
The Spider-Verse trilogy follows Miles Morales, a 15 year old kid who has been saddled with the mantle of Spider-Man after being bitten by a radioactive spider, as he tries to rise to the occasion and not only do what’s right for the world, but for himself. His adversaries seem to be following the internal, external, and (eventually) spiritual conflict through each movie. The first movie followed Miles on an internal conflict as he struggled to become Spider-Man, not feeling worthy of the title and overwhelmed at the gravity of the new destiny thrust on him. The ending of the first movie saw Miles rise to the occasion and triumph over Kingpin and his self doubt.
This second movie now has two external conflicts, one known as The Spot, and the other as Miguel O’Hara, or Spider-Man 2099. To avoid spoilers, all you need to know is that The Spot has some beef with Miles, to the point where he has formulated a possibly universe-disintegrating vendetta against our hero. Because of the events of the first movie, where a hole into other realities and other dimensions was ripped open, villains and people from other universes have been falling through the cracks to places where they don’t belong. Miguel O’Hara deems them anomalies, and has created a task force of other Spider-People to subdue and return the anomalies to their proper dimensions.
A task force that Miles hasn’t been invited to.
Miguel and Miles come head to head, as Miles struggles against mysterious rules and predestined events known as The Canon. Miguel and his Spider-Team are hell-bent on making sure certain events happen, no matter if someone suffers or not. Miles refuses to believe in a predetermined destiny or allow it to shape him, and fights hard to keep his independence and to prevent unnecessary suffering. As you can imagine, this doesn’t make him very popular with the Spider-Team. The themes and storytelling are nothing short of spectacular, and the team behind it really knows their comics and characters, as the dedication to the Spider-Man lore is super prominent with deep cuts to specific comic runs and funny offshoots (like Spider-Car, a Spider-Cat, a Lego, or Spider-Rex, a T-Rex).
The music and visuals are a buffet of spectacular talent and you can see how much the people working on this project loved it. I urge you, dear reader, please see this movie yourself. I refuse to give too much away here as I feel we should all be supporting this movie and the outstanding team behind it, by voting with our wallets at the box office so they can continue to tell amazing stories!
When Wall Street took an interest in animation, they decided that taking chances on action based, mature and teen content was too dangerous, and that family friendly movies were the way to go because of the bank they made through tickets, merchandise and toys. So movies from the 2000’s onwards became heavily sanitized and ‘safe’ and appealed to specific demographics. But things are thankfully changing behind the screen for the better, we’re getting more diverse writer rooms and hearing more voices from people who’ve been shut out for decades. They’re finally able to tell their stories, and we can all see just how talented, dedicated, and amazing they are.
To say this movie and its predecessor changed the face of animation is an understatement. When Into the Spider-Verse first hit, it rocked the animation industry to its core. For the first time in a long time, a mature and action based animated movie focused on a teenage audience not only smashed the box office, but completely wiped the floor at the Oscars, the Emmys, and the Annies (the Annies are the animation equivalent to the Oscars).
Sony Animation has been the dark horse of animation studios for decades, releasing movies like Surf’s Up, Hotel Transylvania, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, Mitchell’s vs The Machines, and Open Season. While they weren’t terrible movies, they weren’t eye melting, heart racing, wonders of creative beauty like Into the Spider-Verse is. Spider-Verse forced the animation industry to reevaluate its movies, its audience, and how it could change. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is one of the first ripple effects that things are changing rapidly; its painterly stylized animation, its witty dialogue, and its low frame rate anime inspired action sequences, all of which are a product of Spider-Verse’s influence. You can even see the influence in upcoming movies like the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.
Across the Spider-Verse took everything it had done right in the first movie and improved on it. It’s more complex, the technology is broader, the animation is unique and the story is so much more rich and filled with a brilliant cast. You don’t feel like you’re in a movie; the characters feel alive and their personalities mesh and clash in realistic ways. They have two villains in the movie, and neither of them are the hand rubbing, shady schemer we often see, or the overtly and poorly executed sad sap that has to make a statement. *cough* Raya and the Last Dragon *cough* Incredibles 2 *cough* Wreck It Ralph 2 *cough* Lightyear *cough, hack, wheeze, coughs up lungs*.
Our villains are broken people who have beef with Miles. That’s it. They were normal people, and something happened that Miles was kinda involved with, and unjustly pinned all of their woes on the poor kid. You get where they’re coming from, you know they’re wrong, but you also understand they’re not monsters for conflict’s sake *cough cough*. They are reactions to actions committed by Miles, our main character, and that’s what a villain should be. They should be tied to the character, the foil, the mirror, a reflection of what could happen if one facet of their personality took over.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish‘s villain, for example, is a direct reaction to Puss’ flagrant irresponsibility with his lives: he exists because of the character’s actions and is intimately tied to the main character for the rest of the movie, reiterating a character’s flaw or shortcoming. The villain represented responsibility, appreciation, and consequence, while Puss represented the exact opposite: irresponsibility, carelessness, and impermanence. And that’s what good villains should be. Of course this isn’t the rule, but it’s better than what we’ve been getting, in my most humble opinion.
They are redefining the medium again, and I feel so incredibly grateful to be on this planet at this time to be able to witness this adventure of a movie, and the revolution of the animation industry. From here we can only hope studios will broaden their horizons and experiment with more mature movies and shows. Thinking about all the books I’ve read, all the comics I’ve seen, all the video games I’ve played, seeing animated adaptations of my favorite bits of media is amazing, and I’d love to see more; because animation is the only medium where anything is possible.