"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse : A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A well-made and fun exploration of the Spider-Man mythos that is original and unique.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, written by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman and directed by Rothman, Peter Ramsey and Bob Perischetti, is an Academy Award winning animated film that tells the mind-bending story of Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales and his introduction into Spidey-dom. The voice actors starring in the film are Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Bryan Tyree Henry, John Mulaney and Nicolas Cage.

This past Friday, March 8th, was International Women’s Day, so to celebrate this momentous occasion I tried to get as far away from women as I could, so I went to the movies. Much to my chagrin, when I got to the theatre I discovered that the female powered Captain Marvel had 36 showings going on that day and would no doubt draw a multitude of feminist harpies. Not wanting to get caught up in a tidal wave of man-hating and menses I instead chose to make a stand and rebelliously vote with my wallet, so I went and saw… Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse! Take that Girl Power brigade!!

Ok…to be completely honest, not everything is the previous paragraph is true. Yes, it was International Women’s Day. No, I did not go to the movies to escape being near women. Yes, there were 36 showings of Captain Marvel on the day at the theatre. No, I didn’t see Spider-Man as a form of protest. The truth is I figured Captain Marvel would be packed since it was opening day and I greatly dislike seeing movies in crowded theatres…so I chose Spider-Man because it had been out a long time already and probably wasn’t going to be crowded or in theatres for much longer. Sure enough, I was the only person at my screening for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which I was extremely happy about.

As for the film itself, I don’t have anything against animated movies, it is just rare that I actually see one. For this reason i really had no expectations heading into the theatre, so it was a nice surprise to discover that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a really energetic and compelling bit of fun.

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Animation is very creatively freeing as it allows audiences to suspend their belief to a much greater degree than with live action which is a very useful tool with a superhero narrative and the directors use it to great effect in this movie. Animation also allows for interesting world-building and the New York City the film is set in is proof of that. The animated city is so vibrant and visceral it becomes a character all its own.

Animation is also useful when it comes to superhero movies in that it enables the action sequences to be much more “believable”. In Spider-Verse the filmmakers play this up by not just focusing on what their animated creations can do, but more importantly on what they can’t do. The world and characters of Spider-Verse have limitations, and that is what makes them so satisfying.

The lead character of the film is Miles Morales, a Latino teenager trying to navigate the perils of adolescence which in his case include a strict police officer father and a new and academically rigorous school. I am not a teenager, although absolutely EVERYONE says I look young enough to be one, but this film does a remarkable job of transporting the audience into the immediacy of Miles’ world. Miles feels like a very real kid trying to juggle all the demands placed upon him while hormones torment his body and the world barely acknowledges him.

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As I watched Miles Morales on screen I couldn’t help but think of my neighbor, who is also a Black Latino teenager named Miles. My neighbor Miles is just the nicest kid on the planet and is always very kind, patient and generous with my own toddler son even when he doesn’t have to be, and what I appreciated about this movie was that it gave me an impression of the world through his eyes.

Considering this is an animated movie I was stunned at how thorough and genuine the relationships were. The characters were all multi-dimensional, even the villains, and the world they inhabited felt entirely real. This dramatic foundation in human relationship is what allows the film to expand its narrative into more and more complex areas. The movie’s multi-dimensions and multiple realities colliding would seem like a muddled mess if it weren’t for the film’s grounding in genuine human emotion and its established reality.

To its credit, Spider-Verse does not ignore the oddity of its premise, and is also able to poke fun at the superhero genre and its formulas while also using them to its storytelling advantage. This is a delicate balancing act, but the filmmakers are able to acknowledge the absurdity of the superhero genre while also taking their subject matter entirely seriously.

The film has an undeniable charisma to it, which is a function of both the first rate artistry of the animators, as the film is beautiful to look at, and also the pulsating soundtrack which includes Juice WRLD, Post Malone, Swae Lee and Nicki Minaj among others. The popular music in the film is not my taste but it is undeniably infectious and extremely effective in developing Miles as a character and conveying his perspective.

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I hope the success of this film, it has made $366 million with a $90 million budget, will convince studios to create more high-end animated feature films of their superhero properties. The DC canon (Batman, Superman Etc.) has been flailing around in their most recent live action Justice League ventures, and it seems to me that Warner Bros. would be wise to try and package those characters in high end animated features like Spider-Verse. This would give Warner Bros. an opportunity to create dark live action films, like The Dark Knight Trilogy, and offset that darkness with animated features that are sophisticated yet fun and geared towards kids 10 and up.

Another idea would be to do the darker material in animated form and the lighter material in live action. For instance, the film Sin City was a very dark, neo-noir animated drama that made a solid $158 million in 2005. The market for high end animation geared either partially or in full towards adults exists, and the studios, be it Warner Bros. or Disney, would be wise to exploit it.

At the very least, making quality animated superhero features helps to connect younger audiences with the characters and expands the life cycle of fandom. In addition, as Spider-Verse and the upcoming live action Spider-Man movie proves, you can have simultaneous story lines, one in live action and one in animation, that creates a scenario where studios can double dip into the wallets of superhero fans. As long as the movies are well-made, it is a win-win for everyone involved.

In conclusion, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is well-deserving of its Best Animated Feature Academy Award. While my son is far too young to go see a movie like this, when he gets older this is the type of film I’d want him to watch, not only because it is an example of well-made art, but also because it is a great myth for young adolescents to explore in order to help get them through the trials and tribulations of the teen years.

I don’t know how much longer this movie will be in theatres, but if you have a chance you should check it out, either at the cineplex or on Netflix/cable when it becomes available. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a joyous film that is perfect for kids 10 and up (your mileage for your kids may vary) that carries a message that even resonates with kids grown old…like me.

©2019

Spider-Man : Homecoming - A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 2.35 out of 5 stars.

My Recommendation : SKIP IT IN THE THEATRE. SEE IT ON CABLE OR NETFLIX.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, directed by Jon Watts, is the coming of age story of Peter Parker and his superhero alter-ego Spider-Man. The film stars Tom Holland as Spider-Man, with supporting nods from Michael Keaton, Marissa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the first installment of the second re-boot of the third Spider-Man series of films. If that sounds confusing to you, you are not alone. The original cinematic Spiderman was Tobey Maguire who starred in three films produced by Sony from 2002, 2004 and 2007. Sony then re-booted the series in 2012, with Andrew Garfield as the new Spiderman and Emma Stone his love interest. Garfield lasted for two films, the second coming out in 2014, then he ran afoul of Sony's studio head and was summarily exiled from Spideydom. Now, just three years later, Spidey is back, this time with Disney/Marvel producing after the two mega-studios made a deal to bring Spider-Man back into the Marvel fold, adding one more branch to their gargantuan money tree. Tom Holland dons the signature blue and red tights this time for his first star turn in the Spider-Man franchise. Holland has played the character once before in a supporting role in Captain America : Civil War

I enjoyed the first two Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films, they were solid, well-made movies with a distinct aesthetic and style and that I enjoyed. The third Maguire Spider-Man was an abomination that was so atrocious it stopped the franchise in its tracks. I admit I have never seen the Andrew Garfield Spidey films because at the time they seemed to be a gratuitous money-grab being that they were re-booting the franchise just five years after the last series ended. This time around they are re-booting after only three years, but it is a true re-boot where Spider-Man is absorbed into the Avenger's universe, so that somehow seems a bit less artistically bankrupt as the Garfield versions.

I am a fan of the Spider-Man character, so I had high expectations going to the theatre, but sadly I must report that Spider-Man: Homecoming is a very mixed bag of a movie. It isn't awful, but it certainly isn't great either. There are good elements and bad elements. In keeping with my optimistic nature…*please stop laughing*...I will get to the good points first. 

First off, Tom Holland does excellent work as Spider-Man. In this re-boot, Spider-Man is fourteen and fifteen years old, in other words he is a really annoying teenager. Holland does an exceedingly good job of capturing teenage angst and ennui, as well as the frustrations, social fragility and mental chaos that encompass adolescence. His voice even has a subtle crack to it that lets you know this is a boy thrust into a man's world. Holland seems to have a very bright future, and I hope he can use the monstrous success of this Spider-Man movie to spread his artistic wings and do more than carry water for the Disney money machine.

Holland is not the only bright spot in terms of acting. Michael Keaton plays the villain, Vulture, and he gives a terrific performance. There is an underlying menacing quality to Keaton in this film that he wears very well. It is great to see Keaton back in the game and crushing diverse, quality roles after his years of exile from the big stage. In some ways, Keaton's Vulture character is like his fictional alter ego in the movie Birdman, which can make for an ironically enjoyable perspective on his work in Spider-Man. 

Robert Downey Jr. reprises his iconic Iron Man role in the movie. Downey is the quintessential Iron Man. He is the perfect mix of charisma, charm and emotional fragility to bring a superhero to life on screen and he is uniquely qualified to never be overshadowed by all the pyrotechnics surrounding his performance. 

The film also does something very smart which a lot of television shows have started to do as well, namely, that they use music from earlier eras in order to conjure a sense of nostalgia in older audience members. Make no mistake about it, Spider-Man is a movie for teenagers, but the music in it is the music of the 70's and 80's, in other words the music from the teenage years of late baby boomers and generation X. Television shows like 13 Reasons Why and Stranger Things have used this musical technique to great effect in the last year. This is a brilliant device to bring older audiences into the story without alienating younger viewers. 

Another wise move by the filmmakers is that they do not try and do too much right out of the gate. Too many superhero films are unbalanced between superhero and villain, and superhero and task. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-man and Vulture are a pretty evenly matched, and Spider-man is not entrusted with having to save the world, just his little corner of it.

And now for the bad news…as I stated earlier, Tom Holland is fantastic at portraying a teenage boy, in fact he does too good a job. Spending two and half hours with a teenager is not something anyone in their right mind would want to actually do…hell, not even a teenager would want to spend that much time with a teenager. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, we are stuck with an annoying, whiny teenage idiot who makes the same moronic decisions most every teenager would make. Teenagers will relate to him, but adults will want to slap him silly for being so continuously stupid.

Another issue is that the portions of the story that deal with Peter Parker's high school life and friends are pretty unbearable. All of the teenage characters are painfully one-dimensional and are numbingly predictable and corny as hell. Peter Parker and friends are a drag on the entire film.

The story also suffers from a lack of clarity because the film makes large jumps in time and doesn't fill in the gaps properly in order to flesh out the characters and drama. For instance, the movie open with crews cleaning up in the wake of the destruction created by the Avengers in their New York City brawl with aliens in the first Avengers film. Then the movie jumps eight years ahead and we never get to see the critical moments in the development of Keaton's Vulture character, which to me would have been the most interesting part of the film, and we never got see it. 

Spider-Man: Homecoming also suffers from two things that afflict the Marvel films in general, namely that they are visually flat and stale, and also that they are thematically much too paltry and light-hearted. In terms of the visuals of the film, director Jon Watts, whose resume isn't exactly inspiring, is in way over his head. This movie is aesthetically more akin to a made for television movie than it is a cinematic enterprise. To be fair to Watts, Disney/Marvel run a very tight ship and are not interested in artistic vision, only franchise conformity and box-office returns.

As for the light-hearted nature that permeates all of the Marvel films, Spider-Man: Homecoming is definitely no exception. Like all of the Marvel movies, there is a tsunami of zippy one-liners and a flippancy that seeps out of its every pore. I understand that "entertainment' is the goal with these movies, but that doesn't mean they have to be so shallow and frivolous. Christopher Nolan proved with his Dark Knight trilogy that superhero movies can be entertaining and also artistically and archetypally illuminating at the same time. Even Sam Raimi with the original two Spider-Man films was able to pull that off, as was Ang Lee with his much maligned, Jungian inspired, Hulk. Just this year we have seen the superhero game elevated to a much higher level with James Mangold's superior Logan and Patty Jenkin's well-crafted Wonder Woman. Spider-Man fails to live up to the standards set by these quality films, but the truth is the same can be said of all of the Marvel films and Disney doesn't care as long as the money train keeps rolling. 

The final issue I had with Spider-Man: Homecoming was that the rules of the cinematic universe were never clearly defined. What I mean by that is that superhero movies are pretty incredible to begin with, so you have to have a set of rules for the film that the movie sticks to or else the story loses much needed credibility. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, for instance, Spider-Man is knocked out by bumping his head on a roof, but when he gets punched by a super-arm or is in a car crash, he comes out entirely unscathed. It is a little thing, but sometimes the little things add up to a big thing. 

There was one thing that was both good and bad about the film. There is a B-story sub-text about class in the film that is pretty fascinating, which is the good thing, the bad thing is it is so minor as to be quickly forgotten. Spider-man is a local, working class hero, or as Iron Man tells him, he has a whole "Springsteen vibe" going on. I think if the film had fleshed out this idea it would have been a very rich topic to explore. Keaton's Vulture is the same as Spider-man, a blue collar local guy, whereas Iron Man and the Avengers are a globalist bunch of elitists trying to impose their values on the locals. Politically, this is a potent narrative that we have seen play out across the globe and even in our last election. A superhero movie can sometimes be the best place to hash out archetypal and mythic conflicts so that viewers can find nuance, or clarity, whichever they most need. Sadly, Spider-Man: Homecoming spent more time with adolescent pursuits and mostly turned a blind eye to the class struggle that was taking place at the heart of the story, and the film is lesser for it. 

The bottom line is this, Spider - Man: Homecoming is just…ok. It is an admittedly fun but basically mindless movie that will no doubt entertain millions and make billions. If you are a superhero fan you will see the film regardless of what I say, but if you are lukewarm on these types of films, I think you can skip it in the theatre and see it when it's on cable of Netflix. 

In conclusion I will share this, that over the years many readers have emailed me to tell me that they think I am a vicious misogynist, racist and xenophobe, and with my tepid review of Spider-Man: Homecoming, they will no doubt add "incorrigible arachnophobe" to the list of evils that afflict me. I will simply say this in my defense…I am not an arachnophobe (some of my best friends are spiders!!), I am just a cinephile who yearns for a bit more from the standard summertime popcorn movies that Hollywood continuously uses to separate fools like me from their hard earned money. My spidey-senses are telling me I'm going to need to lower my standards. 

©2017