What better time to name my favorite film of 2018 than in the deep end of August 2019?
Okay, okay, you’re probably wondering “why even do this at this point?” and that’s fair. The reason I’m still bothering to write this is quite simple…
Because I want to.
You may now be wondering why I didn’t do it sooner, and the truth of the matter is, there is no particular reason other than I’ve just been busy (hence my slower updates over the last couple of months) and when I have had the chance to update this site, I’ve been preoccupied with other things, like reviews and such. And I would have got to this sooner, except there were still some 2018 films I had wanted to get around to seeing the past few months before I made anything “official” (at least, as official as things can be on a site where I can edit things later to reflect changing opinions). And well, it took me longer than expected.
While there are still a few 2018 movies on my list…I just really want to get this done. So, as of now, and after plenty of time for consideration, I now name my favorite film of 2018! Better late than never, eh?
Winner: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse
Runners-up: Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Avengers: Infinity War, Isle of Dogs, Mirai, Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Yes, the streak continues. That is to say, my personal streak of my favorite movie of the year being an animated film every year from (at least) 2013 onward. I swear, I don’t plan this ahead of time, it just so happens that the 2010s have been a kickass decade to be a fan of animated cinema.
Yeah yeah, plenty of people would say I’m just being biased for animated films, but again, this is not something I plan. All the right pieces have simply been falling into place for this streak to happen. I try to be fair and give every type a movie a chance. After all, if I think a movie is good, I think it’s good. Doesn’t matter the genre. Plus, If we were to travel back to the 1990s, I think most of my Best Films of the years would be live-action, with a couple of animated films taking the top spot in certain years. And in the 2000s, I think my selections might be split down the middle. But as far as I’m concerned, the 2010s have belonged to animation (at least where the best film of a particular year is involved).
So go ahead, mock me for my continued streak of animated winners. But hey, if the Academy Awards can pick Green Book as the best film of 2018, well, I see no reason why my selections should be mocked.
So yes, my favorite film of each year since Wizard Dojo’s inception – plus the year before – have been animated. If you want me to be more specific, “the streak” looks like this…
2014: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
2015: Inside Out
2016: Your Name
2018: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Eat your heart out, Oscar-bait dramas.
Now that we’ve got my unnecessary justification for my picks out of the way, let’s talk about why I’ve selected Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as my favorite film of 2018.
Admittedly, despite the film’s acclaim (and now its status as my movie of the year), I actually think Into the Spider-Verse had some hefty competition, especially in the form of (you guessed it) its fellow animated films. Incredibles 2 was a strong sequel, and much better than it often gets credit for, and while I’m not sure if I liked Ralph Breaks the Internet more than the first Wreck-It Ralph, I do think it delivered a bigger emotional punch, and even bests Spider-Verse and Incredibles 2 in that regard. And of course Avengers: Infinity War was the first half of the MCU’s grand crescendo up to this point (though it’s second half, Endgame, was even better, and the current frontrunner for the title of my favorite film of 2019).
But Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has an ace up it’s sleeve in that I’ve never seen another film quite like it. Sure, by this point we’ve all seen countless super hero films, but both visually and narratively, Into the Spider-Verse finds ways to make it a unique and refreshing take on the genre.
Of course, the visuals are the most obvious. Combining CG and traditional, hand-drawn animation in such a way that Spider-Verse successfully replicates the look of a comic book come to life. But even that description somehow doesn’t do it justice. It’s really just one of the most visually unique films I’ve ever seen.
As for the story, you may wonder how any movie can make a super hero story feel unique at this point. But Into the Spider-Verse does just that. As we follow the story of Miles Morales – a boy destined to become the next Spider-Man in his world – we also have other storylines weaved in on the sides, which perfectly mesh into the main plot without missing a beat.
Take, for example, Miles’ first encounter with Spider-Man. While the opening minute may let the audience know that the existing Spider-Man is Peter Parker and not yet Miles Morales, the film then leaves Peter Parker behind, to let the audience get to know Miles Morales for a while. It’s only after we learn who Miles is and what he’s about that Spider-Man and his rogues gallery come back into the picture. And when they do, we are re-introduced to them from Miles’ perspective. That is to say, Miles stumbles upon a battle between Spider-Man and the forces of the Kingpin, who are attempting to activate an inter dimensional portal that threatens the entire city. Most films would have introduced us to Kingpin and his plot earlier, while keeping Spider-Man in the picture, and switching between those stories and that of Miles before they all converge on each other.
It’s only after Miles’ character has been established that the super hero plot kicks in, and the audience is exposed to it as abruptly and with as much surprise as Miles himself experiences when he stumbles into the proceedings. The necessary exposition is there, but the film never dwells on it ahead of time. It all happens at once. Into the Spider-Verse, beautifully, expects its audience is smart enough to follow the plot without being spoon-fed the details ahead of time.
This unique attribute becomes a trend throughout the film, with characters, multiverses, plot details, and other Spider-Men being introduced as the story unfolds. Into the Spider-Verse is downright playful with its pacing and how it introduces many of its concepts.
It’s that trust in the audience that makes Into the Spider-Verse work so well, and why it becomes more than simply a showcase of fantastic visuals.
For an obscure example, Doc Oc (who is a woman in Miles’ universe. “Olivia” as opposed to “Otto”) mentions how her “enemies call her Doc Oc” and that her “friends call her ‘Liv’.” Later in the film, Peter Parker’s Aunt May, upon seeing the villainess, refers to her as ‘Liv’ in a passing line of dialogue. It’s a small detail that tells us the characters have a history. It’s never expanded on beyond that, and it doesn’t need to be. It’s simply an unnecessary (but greatly appreciated) detail that adds a little something to the film’s world, and wisely expects the audience to accept that without the need to explain whatever backstory the two characters have.
The film is filled with such moments, as well as strong character development for not only Miles, but also for Peter B. Parker (the Spider-Man from a separate dimension who becomes Miles’ reluctant mentor) and Gwen Stacey (the Spider-Woman from another, separate universe). Into the Spider-Verse also features terrific action set pieces, and some great surrealistic visuals.
Admittedly, the film isn’t perfect. The other half of the film’s team of Spider-People, Spider-Man Noir (a 1930s version of Spidey), Spider-Ham (a slapstick, cartoon pig version of the webslinger), and Penni Parker (an anime girl who pilots a ‘Spider-Mech’), kind of get shortchanged as comic relief. When you realize they bring the most out of the film’s unique art style (again, one’s monochromatic, one’s a cartoon and one’s an anime), you kind of wish they had more to do throughout the film. Similarly, a number of Spidey’s most iconic foes are written off rather unceremoniously (though I suppose the film has a trump card in that potential sequels can bring in alternate universe versions of these foes and do them better justice), and while Kingpin is given a sympathetic reason for wanting to make a destructive inter dimensional portal, his story only ends up going so far.
Still, these missteps are incredibly minimal. And when you remember the film’s many, many merits, these shortcomings are all the more forgivable.
Simply put, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is that rare film that feels one of a kind (which is all the more impressive when you remember how many Spider-Man movies there have been). I’m not sure it quite surpasses Spider-Man 2 (2004) in terms of what it accomplishes for its franchise and the greater super hero genre (which is really saying something, if my favorite film of 2018 might only be my second favorite film in its franchise), but it’s a close race. As was the race for 2018’s crown, with Incredibles 2, Avengers: Infinity War and Ralph Breaks the Internet also finding their place on the pedestal at the end of the finish line.
But if there’s any movie from 2018 that I can look back on, and want to watch again simply by thinking about it, and still be wowed by it every time, it surely has to be Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.