By Aditya Tandon
Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse hit cinemas with a storm in late 2018 as movie-goers of all ages came together to watch a new kind of Spider-Man film; not just because of the biracial protagonist, the presence of multiple spider-(wo)men, or the flawless comic-book styled animation, but because of how seamlessly all these pieces came together. It was a movie of many firsts, and it surpassed all expectations, later going on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Film. I must confess, however, the first time I heard about the film and all the fanfare around it, I assumed it was just another super-hero movie being propped up by a loyal fanbase. It was only upon finally watching it that I realized how grossly mistaken I was; I noticed the enormous detail that went into both the animation as well as the plot, and how much the film was able to achieve through the intersection of animation and sound. All of this comes together in what is perhaps one of the most iconic scenes of the film, Miles’ “Leap of Faith,” embedded in full below.
There are so many aspects being brought together to make this scene what it is; the voices in the background representing Miles’ growth and arrival, the upbeat music broken up by moments of silence, the palpable fear and uncertainty in the air, the symbolism of his gliding over the same building he fell from before, and finally, the intersection of all of it incredible beauty of the animation itself.
The scene begins with Miles sitting on the ledge of a building, lighting striking in the background matching the tempo of the music, both the animation and the music being dexterously used by the creators. The audience immediately gets a sense of what Miles is feeling in this scene, the adrenaline created by the music, the doubt in his mind conveyed by the height of the building, the enormous expanse of the city behind him, and the wariness in his face. We feel entirely in touch with Miles here and without a single word being spoken, which only serves to illustrate the enormous power of animation and music, and perhaps less expectedly here, the shot of the frame in moving from the bottom to the top of the building.
Immediately following this, the scene cuts to a flashback of the journey Miles made from Peter’s home to the ledge that he was sitting on, and the internal growth that the audience is able to witness. Here, the editors beautifully created a montage of things people have said to Miles that push away the doubt we previously saw. Rather than flashing back to each individual moment, the editors chose to have the voices in the background and this tool further allowed the audience to put themselves in Miles’ shoes; to watch as Miles’ confidence grew with each voice that we heard.
“I see this spark in you…it’s amazing.”
“Whatever you choose to do, you’ll be great.”
“Our family doesn’t run from things.”
“You’re the best of all of us, Miles. You’re on your way.”
In addition to this, visually, this growth is also apparent in Miles looking at his reflection in Peter’s suit. While this scene alone (Figure 2) could have conveyed that Miles was finally ready for the battle that was waiting for him, what makes it far more poetic is the scene of Miles unable to see his reflection in Peter’s suit earlier in the film (Figure 1). In drawing back to that first scene, the film is able to highlight Miles overcoming his self-doubt and his development in finally becoming worthy of the suit. All of this is brought together, the music, the flashbacks, the voices in Miles’ head, his journey to the building he first attempted to leap from, in less than 1 minute, and yet it packs an enormous amount of tension and emotion into one short scene.
Music: Blackway and Black Caviar’s “What’s Up Danger”
The use of music in this clip is especially apt on several different levels, not only in the lyrics of the song itself as Miles is getting ready to face his fears, but also in the pauses within it that let us appreciate Miles’ internal struggle and hear the sounds of his steps and the glass breaking. As the flashback scenes take place, we hear the music build up until it finally breaks for a moment as we hear Peter’s voice saying, “That’s all it is, Miles, a leap of faith.” This one moment, although it only lasts for three seconds, brings together Miles’ finally moments in which he realizes that he must trust himself; the audience does not actually hear him say this in any dialogue, but the music becoming increasingly quiet and the animation showing him take a deep breath are enough to tell the us everything.
Whether we see it or not, Miles’ uncertainty in this scene is palpable, and it is further highlighted by two shots. The first is of the moment right before he jumps, where he is at the very edge of the frame with the enormous skyscraper beside him (The very beginning of Figure 3). This framing, in addition to the near silence of the music, accentuates Miles’ self-doubt and allows us to once again empathize with him; we understand that Miles is doing what he thinks is right, but not necessarily what he wants to do. Jennifer Scheurle, a veteran game designer, described the shot, saying,
“The building is so much larger than he is and dominates the screen. His environment leaves almost no room for him. He’s crushed by the weight of where he is and what he has to do next.”
This sentiment continues in the beautiful animation of the next shot. As the music gets slightly louder and we hear the words, “Like what’s up danger?” Miles gracefully leaps off the building. We see Miles fingertips breaking the glass as he is unable to fully let go off the building, however, fear still clouding his mind as he pushes himself, nonetheless (Figure 4). It is in this moment that we are reminded of Miles’ age, that after all he is only a young boy afraid of the choices posed in front of him. Scheurle called this “the man infestation of his leap of faith: Miles is doing something necessary despite his fear, despite knowing how badly this could all go for him.” And as we arrive at one of the most beautiful shots of the scene, the extended silence allows us to take a moment and truly appreciate Miles’ feelings as well as the beauty of the animation.
As the silence continues and some form of serenity kicks in, the shot shows Miles rising even as he is falling. And in this moment, we do not question it, for Miles has indeed risen to the occasion. This does not last long, however, even as the silence continues, suddenly we are reminded that Miles is indeed falling as the grace of the scene disappears and we watch Miles flutter around. Rather than sustaining the serenity of the previous shot, the silence now serves to heighten the sound of the wind clashing against his clothes, until it finally returns, bringing only tension and worry back with it. In these scenes, by combining long periods of silence with short bursts of music, and even longer lengths of silence with sounds of the glass breaking or the wind, the film is able to create a reality even as we have already agreed to suspend our disbelief. Because of the use of the sound in combination with the expert animation, the audience is able to feel every sentiment of Miles’ without ever having leapt off a building – and this is the beauty of the intersection that one cannot stop appreciating while watching these scenes.
Although our logical minds keep telling us that Miles will survive the fall, the anticipation creates a certain uncertainty as the fall extends further and further. In this scene, as the music finally picks up and we hear the words, “Like what’s up danger?” again, we witness the animation that made this movie so notable in the first place – we see an accentuation of the comic-book style in the blocks breaking up Miles’ descent, and all of this comes together to build up more tension as the music gets faster and Miles gets closer to us.
Finally, we watch as the music becomes louder still and Miles launches his webs and glides across the city in triumph, highlighting what is possibly my favorite piece of symbolism in this scene, but something that I entirely missed initially. As Miles is swinging we a see a contrast in the red and orange lights on the ground and the lighter shades of blue around him in the sky. Scheurle suggested that this is representative of how Spider-Man views the world: “The sky is peaceful and blue. The ground is dangerous, metaphorically on fire. The floor is lava, and it’s better, safer, for him to be in the air.” I thought this, in addition to the more apparent symbolism and connections to earlier scenes, showed just how much thought clearly went into this short scene, and reminded me of what made the animation of this film so beautiful.
As we come to the end of the scene, we witness one last connection to an earlier scene that perfectly culminates Miles’ journey thus far. Swinging around, more sure of himself now, we see Miles glide across the building from which he first tried and failed to leap off from, and as the music beings to fade out, both Miles and the audience know that he has come full circle.
This entire scene is one that many recognize and many have expressed their opinion of, but I think more than anything, it represents how beautifully animation and sound can come together to create human sentiment. When one watches a scene like this, there is no question of animated films being secondary to live-action, for Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse shows just how much animation can push the boundaries of what we expect from films. By not only developing intricate animation, with 177 animators working on the film at one point, but by combing it with varying volumes and tempos and moments of silence, this film illustrated exactly how to build emotion and develop characters, often without even saying a single word. And while this may only be one clip of the scene – and, certainly, one of the scenes that I felt was packed most with symbolism, call-backs, and possibly the most beautiful animation – it is representative of the entire film and the practices used to create this masterpiece.