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.

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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.

Denouement

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.

 

Presentation of Cinematic Pleasure

By Hasnat Ahmad

Singer mentions in her paper Toward a Phenomenology of Cinematic Scopophilia that she believes that cinema is a product of capitalism, that it’s a pleasure we treat ourselves to only due to technological advancements we have been able to make as a society. She mentions that psychoanalytic theory is the study of personality organization and the dynamics of personality development. She argues that instead of focusing so much on how our mind reacts to what we see as psychoanalytical theorists have done in the past, we should focus more on the pleasure we get from simply going to see a movie, no matter how good it ends up being, truly “pleasure emerges as a surplus of process over product.”

Singer goes on to explain that movie theaters put is in a certain mindset which prepares us to completely focus on what’s being shown, an “atmosphere of perceptual quietism, serenity, and comfort.” She also argues that we don’t receive pleasure as voyeurs when we watch a movie, but instead due to the contagion effect of being in a room filled with other strangers who laugh when we laugh

I’m going to focus on what Singer calls the “Presentation of Cinematic Pleasure” and the three different films which she mentions in this section of her argument.

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Inspect-’em-Ups: Genre Core and Periphery

One last post for September: I did indeed succeed in getting the second part of my new series on detective games out of the door by the end of the month. And it’s a long one, too! Long enough that I don’t feel bad about the dry spell that’s inevitably going to set in in October.

I’ve written about most of the games in this video on the blog before, mostly for things like capsule reviews and walkthroughs. This is the only time I’ve done any sort of analysis of them, though. (Excepting maybe Gone Home.) In addition to being long, it’s also mostly brand-new material, which is not something I can say about most of my videos.

Script below the jump.

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The Detective’s Gaze

I’ve inaugurated a new video series, on detective games. The inaugural video is an extended version of this old conference presentation, buffed up with new examples and more extensive sources. The second video will be arriving shortly—I knew I’d be super busy as soon as all three of my current jobs kicked in, so I planned ahead and worked on two videos simultaneously during the summer months, both of which I’m hoping to get out the door in September.

Script below the jump.

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3-Year Anniversary of the Blog

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When I’ve done these little “anniversary of the blog” posts in the past, I’ve focused on quantifying everything I’ve posted over the past year. This year, however, I’m going to use the space for a couple of announcements relating to my day job that I have been putting off until things finally solidified.

My time at Ci3 has come to an end, and at the moment I am juggling multiple part-time positions, putting my gamut of skills to the test. As a grant writer, I am joining the team at Storycatchers Theatre, where I will be advancing their mission of using the theatrical arts to help youth dealing with trauma related to time spent in the juvenile justice system. I officially started at Storycatchers yesterday, and I am honored to join their team, and their mission.

In addition to my position at Storycatchers, I am also teaching again, at both DePaul and the University of Chicago. This is a welcome development for me, and for the blog it will probably mean the return of things like lesson plans and student work to the mix of things that gets posted. Expect to see more video work over the coming year (I have a series on detective games I’ve been working on that’s nearly ready to debut), as well as more course-related content.

Published: “Special Effectivities”

Over the past couple of years I have embedded literally dozens of general-audience video essays I have made and posted on my YouTube page. I am very pleased to announce the online publication of my first peer-reviewed academic video essay at the [in]Transition Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies.

The appearance of this video at [in]Transition has been a long time coming. (I actually first obliquely referred to it way back in October 2018, when I began by “Let’s Study Horror Games” series.) This is actually the first time that [in]Transition has published a piece on videogames, and so it took them awhile to seek out appropriate peer reviewers. I couldn’t have asked for better ones: the reviewer comments, available online (as is [in]Transition‘s style), are thorough, thoughtful, and engaged. Despite the delay, I am seriously impressed by the journal’s dedication to expanding their horizons, and making good on that “and Moving Image Studies” bit of their title. I’m honored to have had a role in their expanding purview, and I hope it is a harbinger of things to come.

This video is densely packed with game examples, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the years’ worth of work I’ve done on these themes, with the help and input of too many people to count. If you are interested in written versions of the material leading to the creation of this video, which has evolved a lot throughout the years, I would recommend this conference paper (by the same title) I presented at the 2013 Philosophy of Computer Games conference, and this conference paper I presented at the 2015 Society for Phenomenology and Media conference.

Walkthrough: Kona

kona_main_menu_logo

The analysis I’ve been working on has again resulted in me writing a full-on game walkthrough, this time to Parabole’s 2017 game Kona. Again, I have decided that I might as well just post the results here, as a gesture of goodwill to the world.

There are some useful walkthroughs to Kona out there already, each with its own limitations. The most thorough walkthoughs explaining how to get 100% completion are videos, a format that I really dislike when it comes to games of this style. On the other hand, the written walkthroughs all exclude certain useful details, or sometimes have out-of-date details because they were written while the game was still in early access.

This walkthrough was written with the following goals in mind: thoroughly exploring and retrieving all documents from the game’s principle locations, and fully filling out the game’s journal. If you want to do those things, this is the guide for you. It’s not going to cover some other things, like where you can find all of the talismans and treasure hunt locations. If you want that sort of thing, you should check out another walkthrough (like this one here, which has a great map).  

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