The Interaction Of Spider-Verse’s Animation and Plot


by Tomi Kolapo

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a landmark in the evolution of mainstream superhero releases. It is both a superhero movie and an animated movie. It exists in the era of live-action superhero films. It proved to be a success by grossing over $375 million worldwide. The unique animation style that mimics comic book drawings resulted in widespread critical acclaim for its visual originality along with its box office success. 

The film is centered around the main character of Miles Morales. He is infected by a radioactive spider. However, unlike other iterations of Spider-Man, Miles is not the only Spider-Man that exists. Instead, he is another one of the multiple dimensions in the world. Miles is the main protagonist of the multiple spider-man. In Miles’s situation, he is given a flash drive by an older Spider-Man as he witnesses the previous Spider-Man get murdered by Green Goblin. The flash drive has the function of deactivating an accelerator that could destroy the city. Green Goblin works for Kingpin. As a result, the rest of the film serves as an adventure to defeat Kingpin and his intentions with the use of the flash drive. This adventure reveals itself to be interdenominational as a result of encounters with different versions of the hero.

The intricacy and complexity of multiple dimensions raise a concern about the plots form, which reveals itself as a strange but unitary piece. However, this singular piece is constructed of multiple ideas, cultures, and races represented by the concept of the multiverse. Thus, the narrative needs to be strong enough to hold these different strands together. However, this narrative, though meticulous in its plotting, has a complicated relationship to the normal three or five-act structure. This can be accounted for by its self-awareness, increased possibilities of animation and its comic structure. It culminates in a  more unique narrative than normal comic book structures. The typical structure allows for a movie more palatable to a wider audience. Even though Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has a complicated structure, it retains a wide appeal. This structure makes it harder to apply traditional act structures.

Five Act.jpg

The first part is the exposition (prologue). The exposition provides the background information for the characters and setting. The background information in the movie is more explicit than normal. The movie starts off with Peter Parker saying “All right let’s do this one last time.” From here the original Peter Parker explains his backstory leading to the current moment. However, by saying “All right let’s do this one last time” the movie conveys that its aware of the audience’s familiarity with Spider-man origin stories. Therefore, part of the burden of outlining the character’s inherent attributes is placed upon the audience. However, this prologue is in a way deceptive because there are multiple other spider-men from other dimensions. Each gets their own origin explained with a similar set up as the initial backstory. These backstories happen at different points that come after some plot points. Also, these characters prove to be more integral to the story than the original backstory. Therefore, it questions the chronological ordering of the traditional 5 act structure. This seeming lack of agreement with the 5 act structure on the order of the prologue is potentially made further clear by potentially viewing the entire movie as a prologue to Miles Morales’s story. He does not get the setup for explaining the backstory until the end of the movie.

Opening Scene and Peter Parker’s Backstory

The inciting incident occurs when Peter Parker dies and he hands Miles the flash drive to shut down the collider. He gives Miles a purpose to use his newly acquired powers. Also, it is the point in which he first encounters Kingpin and his henchmen. After this, there are many emotional points like the encounter, revelation, and death of Aaron. Also, there is the battle in which they try to infiltrate Kingpin’s facilities. This is while the characters and nature of the story’s world are being revealed to the audience by encountering characters from other dimensions, which is information fitting of a prologue. However, these appear as potential distractions from the real climax, which is the big battle like it is in most superhero movies. It ends with the defeat of Kingpin and the collider being shut down.

The falling action appears partly within the climax. The major supporting characters (the other Spider-men) get a resolution to their story while the battle is happening. It exemplifies how the ambitious nature of the storytelling alludes to the structure. The falling action includes other events like fixing his relationship with his father and capturing kingpin.

The denouement happens as Miles flings through the air and then he gets to explain his own backstory like the other spidermen. Thus, he now has his own prologue. Also, why he does this he explains the message of everyone having the ability to be a hero and that people are not alone when they choose to be one. This is signified by the message he receives from Gwen Stacy at the end.

The filmmakers and animators describe a filmmaking process that was well aware of its relative lack of limitations. One of the producers, Chris Miller stated in an interview “we’ll just push it as far as we can until it breaks” and he also states “so we crammed it with as much as we could” when speaking about the multiverse and other plot points (Kaye). As a result, it shows a willingness of the creators to experiment with the form since they were given the opportunity to. The filmmakers did not have the burden of carrying large financial and storytelling consequences. Avoiding strict adherence to normal plot structures is less worrying to executives because its funding is significantly less than its live-action counterparts. The movie cost less than 100 million, while most live-action Spider-man movies this century cost around 200 million. Also, the film did not have the pressure of continuity. For instance, Spider-Man: Far From Home had certain plot limitations since it fed into the larger entity of the Avengers and other stand-alone films. These live-action films have multiple mechanisms working at the same time so it is easier to resolve these potential problems by having films of the same structure. It leads to the avoidance of large disasters with the establishment of live-action movie plot templates.

Removal of these unnecessary burdens and expectations reveals awareness of the limitations of animation. This is an unintended example of applying the modernist perspective that Clement Greenberg describes in “Modernist Painting.” Modernism as Greenberg conceives of it, recognizes the limitations of a medium (Greenberg 5-10). In this instance, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse shows an appreciation for animation as a unique format.  Animation will always have an obstruction from completely mimicking reality since it is not real, but computer-generated. Spider-man recognizes this and embraces the absurdity of animation. It takes full use of animation’s ability to use a wide variety of colors and shapes that are rare, unusual or impossible in reality. As a result, ridiculous plot elements like a multiverse fits in without sticking out as unusual. The plot cannot escape the animation that creates it.

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