The screenplay for this century's best superhero movie reads like this: Just before the final act begins, when a Brooklyn teenager finally accepts his great power and great responsibility, he somersaults off a skyscraper — his fear making him cling so tight, he rips shards of glass from the windows when he jumps — and down to the city below. The onscreen image flips upside down.
"The camera is UPSIDE DOWN," reads the third-person narration of the screenplay. "Miles isn't falling through frame. He's RISING."
That teeny, tiny direction in the script encapsulates the wild, unbound genius of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, written by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, and produced by Lord and Christopher Miller, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn't just a great Marvel movie that manages to simplify multiverse theory for a mass moviegoing audience. It's simply one of the best movies, period, that illustrates the maturation of the superhero genre and why audiences will never tire of these stories ever. Not when they're this smart, this clever, and this good.
Now, two years after its release, the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the movie you need to watch before it leaves Netflix on Christmas Day, December 25.
You probably already know the story, but if you don't: Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) gets bit by a radioactive spider, which allows him to briefly meet the world-famous Spider-Man (Chris Pine). But when Spider-Man is killed by Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), another Spider-Man from another dimension, voiced by Jake Johnston, coaches Miles to become a superhero. Oh, and there are other "Spider-Heroes" from the multiverse who help Miles graduate from zero to hero.
The creation of Miles Morales is a bit of a funny one. Back in 2010, there was news that the Spider-Man films were getting a reboot, which would eventually become the 2012 movie The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield.
But during the casting process, Community star and rapper Donald Glover was caught up in the speculation as a popular choice to star. Glover's being a Black man predictably led to a venomous discourse that divided fandom, not unlike the kind we've seen over and over again. "That's when the world went crazy," Glover joked in his 2012 special Weirdo.
In the Season 2 premiere of Community, Glover appeared wearing Spider-Man pajamas as a reference to the internet frenzy he inspired. The scene caught the eye of Ultimate Spider-Man writer Brian Michael Bendis, who came up with Miles Morales as the successor to Spider-Man's mantle in the Ultimate Spider-Man series in 2011.
"I saw him in the costume and thought, 'I would like to read that book,'" Bendis told USA Today. Fast forward to 2018, and there is now Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and in 2020, the video game Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
Much about Spider-Verse's genius has already been celebrated, from its clever visual gags to mischievous comic tone without truly lampooning Spider-Man or the superhero genre as a farce. And yeah, it won ultimate bragging rights when it took home the Oscar for Best Animated Film, allowing Sony to beat out the category's heavyweights Disney and Pixar.
But the open secret to Spider-Verse is how well it captures Miles' Afro-Latino identity on the screen, which is a true left turn from other cinematic Spider-Men. From Miles' bilingual tongue to his love for Biggie and Air Jordans, there are touchstones to Miles that make him a different person, and a different hero, than Peter Parker — even when they live subway stops away.
Ex-journalist and Fat Man Beyond co-host Marc Bernardin (whose 2010 article on io9 about Spider-Man's race played a part in the creation of Miles Morales) once tweeted about the magic of Into the Spider-Verse. That it's a culturally specific film with universal ideas and emotions that resonate across experiences.
"I didn't know movies could do this," Bernardin wrote in January 2019. "Be so uniquely specific to what it's like in your own head when you read a comic book. Be so uniquely specific to the Black (and Afro-Latinx) experience without being about being Black."
In addition to the movie's grasp of time and setting, its animation also gives Spider-Verse an unmistakable identity. In 2018, senior character animator Nick Kondo spilled secrets about the film's animation in an interview with Inverse. The most interesting thing Kondo revealed was that each of the Spider-Heroes were animated differently than the other. Peter Porker/Spider-Ham was made in the style of Looney Tunes and cartoons of the '30s and '40s, while Peni Parker was styled after Japanese anime.
The unusual, "stop-motion" feeling is attributed to classic techniques Into the Spider-Verse adopted. “In animation terms, we call it animating on twos or one,” Kondo said. (The creators of the indie game Cuphead told us something similar in 2017.) “Animation is 24 frames per second. Sometimes we’re only moving the character every two frames."
He added: "It’s a lot harder than it looks. Even though we’re doing less frames, we’re doing motion blur. That means we have to look super closely at every single frame we’re doing. So in many cases, it took a lot longer to animate even though there’s less frames of animation.”
In the end, Spider-Verse is simply a powerful movie. Its arresting comic book-inspired animation, sharp humor, and inspiring superhero origin story that is paradoxically modern and timeless hold up now — even in the face of boundary-pushing media that came after it, like Avengers: Endgame, The Boys, and HBO's Watchmen. And whatever it is that makes it unforgettable to you, be it the significance of its central hero to its astonishing animation, or even just its banger soundtrack and casting of Nicholas Cage as Spider-Man Noir, one thing is for sure: You'll want to watch this movie again.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is streaming now on Netflix until December 25.