Well, it’s actually happening. Sony’s really making that animated Spider-Man movie it announced oh so long. We have visual proof now:
As produced by Phil Lord/Chris Miller and directed by Bob Persichetti/Peter Ramsey, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (please let that be a working title) will tell the story of Miles Morales, the half-black, half-Hispanic version of the web crawler first introduced by Brian Michael Bendis in Marvel’s “Ultimate” (translation: alternate continuity) line. When the “Ultimate” Peter Parker died in 2011, the similarly enhanced-by-spider-bite Morales took on the Spider-Man identity in his honor, instantly turning into a fan favorite and launching endless “Why Miles Morales deserves his own movie” think pieces.
Based on the film’s title and trailer, the story will plunge headlong into the inherently complicated multi-verse of Spidey lore, which is the type of thing Rick & Morty mocked/re-purposed with its notion of a trans-dimensional police force comprised of all the Rick’s from every universe. That’s going to get complicated, maybe needlessly so. On the bright side, there are moments of insane ingenuity and beauty in the trailer which makes this out to be unlike any animated superhero movie we’ve ever seen before. There are also moments which suggest they’ll definitely need the year to finish the animation.
Of course, the existence of Into the Spider-Verse is notable for multiple reasons, the most obvious of which is the inclusion of Morales. By choosing to focus the film on Miles instead of Peter, Sony has not only made a smart move to better differentiate its animated Spidey from its live-action one but also instantly upped the comically low number of superhero movies led by a person of color. This and Black Panther will give us two next year.
Beyond that, Into the Spider-Verse is notable because of what it is: an animated superhero movie. It seems strange to say it, but in the age of superhero saturation, we almost never get widely released superhero movies. Since Iron Man kicked off the new age of comic book cinema in 2008, there have only been four animated superhero movies to play in wide theatrical release: Megamind, Big Hero Six, The LEGO Batman Movie, and Captain Underpants, the latter two being meta reflections on the genre. The four films combined to gross a billion a worldwide, most of that coming from Megamind and Big Hero Six though.
In that same timespan, there have been dozens of animated superhero TV shows, with two new ones being announced quite recently, i.e., WB’s Harley Quinn series and Marvel’s Secret Warriors project. WB continues to crank out its direct-to-video DC movies, some of which (like The Killing Joke) have made it into theaters for a day or maybe a full week. So, it’s not like the studios are blind to the superhero genre’s potential in animation. They’ve just been reluctant to expand it beyond TV where higher episode counts equal more opportunities to hook kid audiences on the programming and funnel them to nearby toy stores. But with Disney, Fox, and Sony all stuck in an arms race over how best to carve up the live-action superhero movie space, the following was bound to occur to someone: Why should superhero movies be consigned to live action-only?
That’s how we’ve ended up with a 2018 which will give us three new animated superhero movies. In addition to Spider-Verse, we’re also getting Pixar’s Incredibles 2 (6/15) and WB’s Teen Titans Go to the Movies! (7/27), the latter of which is sure to be insane and probably fourth-wall breaking, based on the TV show:
The argument for all of this is pure animation affords the genre more freedom and opens up the space for more experimentation, like LEGO Batman’s brilliant dissection of the Batman mythos and history; the argument against is why do we need cartoon superhero movies when the live-action ones are more cartoon than live-action anyway? (Just watch this Thor: Ragnarok set video for proof of that). Plus, something, something, comic book movie fatigue, something, something.
Where do you fall on that divide? Do we already have enough superhero movies as it is without crossing over into pure animation? Or is this exactly the kind of timeline-extending move which might help keep things fresh and offer audiences the one thing they need to truly prevent comic book movie fatigue: variety? Let me know what you think in the comments.