Loving the Spider-Verse


Over the Christmas holiday I went to the theatre to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Almost from the first frame I knew this was a film I was going to own and watch over and over and over again. It’s brilliant.

Watching this movie is as close to reading a comic book as you can get in a film, it even opens with the old “Approved By The Comics Code Authority” that use to adorn comics back when I collected. Characters and environments are shaded by hatching, and text is used to accent on-screen actions. Seeing the distinctive Spider-Man “thwip” on screen as he fires his web-shooters made me giddy with delight. The film also uses the classic comic convention of splitting the page 1 into multiple panels. This allowed the film-makers to break up action into different windows, sometimes even showing the same character from different angles, which highlights the dramatic feel of those moments. It’s pretty amazing 2.

The animation style itself, however, is what makes this film shine. Films are typically shown at twenty-four frames per second 3. This gives the illusion of fluid motion and what’s typically called a “cinema feel.” In live action 24fps creates a blur to the movement, which looks natural to the human eye. In computer animation, however, this type of movement appears too smooth and unnatural 4. To compensate for this, a lot of computer animation adds motion blur to a frame – it helps people’s minds cope.

Spider-Verse, on the other hand, decided not to add motion blur to the film. Instead, they opted to animate a lot of the characters and action “on the twos.” The end result is, while the film is shown at 24fps, the effective frame-rate for the characters is 12fps. Movement, then, doesn’t look as fluid as a Pixar film – but that’s the point. At an effective 12fps a viewer’s brain has to insert the motion between frames. Everything looks crisp. In fact, any frame of film can be paused and what’s on screen will look like it was meant to be printed on the page of a comic book 5.

The other distinctive choice made by the animators was how they added accents to the characters. Instead of pinching the 3d models to create facial expressions, animators drew comic book style accent lines on to the frame. This blending of 3d and 2d space, along with the animation choice, creates something unique in animation. It’s beautiful.

I haven’t even touched on the story, because I don’t want to ruin the film for anyone who hasn’t managed to see it yet, but I can summarize it with one sentence.

This really is the best Spider-Man film ever made.

I loved Sam Rami’s first two films 6. I though Andrew Garfield did a good job with mediocre material. Tom Holland has been amazing in the MCU 7. But Spider-Verse isn’t a comic book adapted to film as much as it’s a comic book brought to life. Just see this film. It’s one of the best examples of comic book art I’ve seen, and is as unique a style as I’ve ever experienced.

  1. Or, in this case, the screen. 
  2. And something that completely annoys me with live action films. Some things just don’t translate well. 
  3. 24fps from here on out. 
  4. This is why the high frame rate release of The Hobbit appeared to look “like a video game” to a lot of people. The extra frames cut down on the blur our minds keep wanting to insert. 
  5. Really, try this out. 
  6. And Spider-Verse pokes fun at the third, which was classic. 
  7. See what I did there? Sometimes I impress myself.