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Courtesy of Columbia and Sony Pictures

By Mike Kehoe

It’s that time of year again and awards season is upon us. All of the fantastic films from 2018 are being dissected as critics around the world try to decide which movies were the best of the best. Of course, nobody is really going to agree on that, and there will be howls across the internet about who got snubbed and who didn’t deserve to win. That’s just the way it goes in awards season. Yet there is one film in one category that I think most people might actually be able to see eye-to-eye on.

When you think of animated movies, you think of Disney and Pixar and family-friendly cookie-cutter cartoon movies. That might be a little cynical, but that doesn’t make it untrue. However, this year there is an animated film that transcends all of those stereotypes and simply put is one of the best movies of 2018. I am, of course, talking about “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse”. This movie, announced in 2014, had no business being as good as it was, and it shouldn’t just win the Oscar for best animated film. In an age where comic book movies are finally getting some love from the Academy, this film should’ve been nominated for best picture. That’s how good it is.

The first thing that will stand out to you in this movie is the completely unique animation style, unlike anything done before. It is a stunning combination of computer-generated animation along with traditional hand-drawn comic book style artwork. The result is beautiful, and I can honestly say that this movie is literally like watching a comic book come to life right in front of your eyes. Even the little techniques and tricks they use throughout the movie will immerse you in the world of comic books, such as a thought bubble over a character’s head or a sound effect spelled out on the screen.

If you are a comic book lover, then this film will hold a very special place in your heart. The voice acting in this movie is tremendous as well, despite lacking the big names that many other animated movies now boast. The script is fast-paced, and the dialogue is witty, as the characters move from scene to scene with the type of clever banter you would normally see in a Tarantino movie (though with a PG rating). More than any of all that, though, this movie is special because of its heartfelt and inclusive message.

“Anyone can wear the mask”. That is what an animated version of the late great Stan Lee tells a young Miles Morales at a pivotal part of this film. Such a simple line, but so powerful. Especially in today’s day and age where America seems so divided down the middle and injustices against people of different races, ages, and backgrounds are thrown in our faces each day on the nightly news. Anyone can wear the mask. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, or where you’re from: you can make a difference. You can be a hero. It is such an inclusive message at a time when society is becoming more and more exclusive.

Yes, we all love Peter Parker and his classic Spider-Man persona. And he’s a part of this movie also, he isn’t forgotten about or ignored. But, he’s not the only hero in this story, he’s not the only one who can do the amazing things that he does. The film uses over-the-top examples in some cases to make this point. There’s a Japanese anime girl with a robotic spider companion. She’s brave, she’s skilled, she’s a hero. There’s an older man drawn only in black-and-white who talks like he’s from the 1920’s. He’s bold, he’s just, he’s a hero. There’s even a talking pig who makes wisecracks. He’s smart, he’s creative, he’s a hero. That brings us to our main three Spider-people in this story.

There’s Gwen Stacy, a Spider-Woman who lost her best friend in the whole world at a young age and takes up the mantle to try to make the world a better place in his honor, all while trying to help others despite literally being jettisoned into a different dimension.

Next you have Peter B. Parker, a Spider-Man who has let himself go and has a bit of a gut, who is separated from his wife because he wasn’t sure if he wanted kids, who is suddenly thrust into the role of mentor that he never wanted in the first place.

And of course, we have Miles Morales. Miles is a half-black/half Puerto Rican teenager who, and stop me if you’ve heard this one before, gets bitten by a radioactive spider and quickly develops new powers that he doesn’t understand. It’s a classic tale, one that we’ve all read and watched before, but it still manages to differentiate itself from its predecessors.

Miles lives in a world where there’s already a Spider-Man, and suddenly there becomes a whole new crew of Spider-people. He is surrounded by capable, intelligent heroes who do the right thing and try to keep the world safe. Yet, Miles doesn’t sit back and let them handle things. He doesn’t let his inexperience, or his youth stand as excuses for why he should stay out of the fight and go home. Anyone can wear the mask. It’s not about who you are or what you are, it’s about a choice. Miles makes that choice, he takes a leap of faith.

That scene in particular is incredibly moving and powerful and Oscar-worthy. This film does a fantastic job of integrating its amazing soundtrack organically into the scenes and there is no better example than this one. As the song “What’s Up Danger” plays in the background, we see Miles make his choice, make his leap of faith. As he descends, the camera flips, all while the music blares, and we see Miles rise on the screen as he falls. The symbolism isn’t subtle, but it doesn’t make it any less powerful. This is the moment where Miles becomes his own Spider-Man, his own hero.

This movie tells a very important story about acceptance at a time when it is incredibly needed. Miles is used as the viewpoint for the audience, inexperienced and in awe of the heroes, until he makes his choice and becomes a hero all his own. It just goes to show to anyone watching that you don’t have to be born a certain color or have a certain amount of money in your bank account or look or talk a certain way. You just must make a choice. A choice to be a better person, to make a difference in the world, to help others and do the right thing. Take a leap of faith and believe in yourself. Anyone can wear the mask.