As a self-proclaimed “movie guy” — really, that’s in my Tinder bio — I’ve struggled over the past couple years to reconcile my own growing knowledge about the medium and the fact that I’m almost uniformly turned off by “good” movies (or, at least, those that typically take home Best Picture).
It’s not that I have anything against the movies that win Oscars (or whatever other awards show you subscribe to). I get it. There are, after all, a laundry list of reasons why movies like Moonlight (2016), The Shape of Water (2017) and Green Book (2018) win these awards, but it’s pretty easy to think of a couple movies from each of the last three years I enjoyed more: Star Trek Beyond, Baby Driver and Mission: Impossible – Fallout all come quickly to mind.
There are certainly exceptions to this — both No Country for Old Men (2007) and The Hurt Locker (2009) serve as good counterexamples that garnered exceptional amounts of critical praise but still kept me planted firmly in my seat — but even in those cases, I might opt for Superbad or Zombieland on any given night. And, if you’re noticing an action/comedy slant to my slate of “Oscar-killers,” that’s fair enough — those tend to be the sort of movies I like.
I’m Nick by the way. In writing movie reviews for The Sun over the last couple years, my bread and butter has been ripping into objectively flawed action movies and praising the ones that exceed even the lowest standards of mediocrity. In this column, my goal is to explore the intersection of the media I like (and don’t) and my own psychology.
Anyway, column number one’s spicy take is that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was the best movie released in 2018. Despite receiving a warm critical reception (it beat out Pixar’s Incredibles 2 for Best Animated Feature), the film is nonetheless doubly discounted from sitting at the “big kid’s table” on account of its being both a) animated and b) a superhero movie. But neither of those is bad.
While I myself am in no way discounting the tremendous amounts of work that more “conventional” filmmakers put into their art, Into the Spider-Verse creates beauty in a way no cameraman could ever hope to capture. Before it closed down, one of my favorite YouTube channels was “Every Frame a Painting,” where Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou broke down some of the more exceptional examples of common tropes in cinema. I reference them here because their channel’s title describes Into the Spider-Verse perfectly. Every pixel of every frame of every scene is incredibly and painstakingly detailed in a way unparalleled in any form of artistic expression.
Pause the film at any point and you’ll notice something that some animator spent hours researching and bringing to life from the fringes of Spider-Man lore knowing full well that only a few people would ever appreciate it. Animated movies like Into the Spider-Verse (of which I’m honestly not sure there are any) ooze joy and love for their source materials in ways traditional films simply cannot.
To my second point, I think superhero movies resonate with us in a very special way and that’s a statement I can back up with numbers. The way Marvel (and DC, to a lesser extent) movies have financially dominated the cinematic medium is unprecedented — people like this stuff.
I grew up going to the movies with my mom — it’s how I was socialized to enjoy cinema. She’d have had a long week of work and I’d have had a long week of . . . I don’t know . . . multiplication tables? Neither of us were ever in the mood to do anything but smile for a couple hours. And so what if none of the movies we liked were particularly profound? For me, going to the movies is one of the best forms of escapism. Life is taxing by itself so give me a little bit of fun with my $10 popcorn, damn it!
Beyond that, we don’t need black and white pictures and somber orchestral melodies to find substance and inspiration in film. In fact, it’s the accessibility of Into the Spider-Verse’s substance that makes it so important — it’s a film that takes the time to show historically underrepresented children that they too can wear the mask, that they can be the hero.
Spider-Man is a symbol for a new generation that no longer buys into Al Pacino and Clint Eastwood as the models of masculinity our fathers thought them to be — Spidey is quintessentially badass but he’s also kind in the moments it matters most.
What I’m trying to say is that I love this movie because I want to be Spider-Man.
I want to feel like I can swing around and save the day at the last minute, like no matter how bad things get, me and my web-shooters can fix it and we’ll still have time to get the girl at the end. Your cat’s in a tree? I got that shit. Someone’s going to blow up the city? I got that shit too and I’m still going to ace my math test tomorrow.
I want to tell that scared little kid who feels like his world is being torn apart that it’s all “okay” now — Spider-Man’s here. And he’s got this.
Exhale. Alright, in two weeks I’ll be back to tell you all why Avengers: Endgame could be not just the greatest movie of this year, but the greatest movie of all time. See you then.
Nick Smith is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected] Media Relations runs alternating Thursdays this semester.