Monday, 7 January 2019

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

Does whatever a Spider-Man… Men… Woman… Pig… can…

Does whatever a Spider-Man… Men… Woman… Pig… can…

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018): ★★★½

Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, & Rodney Rothman

There hasn’t been a Spider-Man Movie (that I’ve seen) that quite so successfully encapsulates the sheer exuberance of swinging through a city as Spider-Man.

Much of that must be credited to the wondrous visual style of SMItSV. Most animated movies nowadays have one visual style, and the whole movie looks like it. But SMItSV has a very idiosyncratic and expressive range of styles; individual scenes are animated with different effects depending on the need of the scene. And indeed, later in the movie when a handful of characters are introduced, they’re all animated in their own individual style in addition to the style of the movie. It’s simply amazing to look at, and extreme care was taken to make sure each shot in the movie looks as gorgeous as possible.

I’ve seen some complaints (mostly from those who have only seen the trailer/commercials) about the jittery-looking framerate, but the whole movie from what I could tell never dips below 12fps (which is the same framerate as such beloved animated movies as, you know, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King), so it never bothered me in the least. It just made it look like an animated movie instead of a CGI movie trying to ape real life. And I for one really appreciated that.

But beyond the look of the film, SMItSV is an excellent, very well-told story. It’s mostly the origin story of the Miles Morales version of Spider-Man, who hails from an alternate dimension. The relationship at its emotional core is about Miles and his dad, the strangely-named policeman Jefferson Davis (what black mother would name their son Jefferson Davis!?!?). Some great story and emotional beats about fitting in and figuring out how to find your passion and also help others flow through the film. Miles is an endearingly awkward and scatterbrained teenager just trying to figure out who he is even before he gains spider powers. The sequence where he goes to his Uncle Aaron for advise about the ladies (the “shoulder touch”) and then disastrously tries to implement that advice is just so well done. Also hilarious is the fact that for most of the movie, Miles is dressed up in a cheap Spider-Man costume bought at a cheap costume shop.

There is also a plot that involves villains breaking through dimensional barriers that acts as an excuse to introduce a bunch of different versions of Spider-Man from alternate realities.

Of these, the past-his-prime Peter Parker and the Gwen Stacy Spider-Woman (commonly referred to as “Spider-Gwen” in this world) are the most well-developed. Gwen in particular is incredibly appealing, with a great characterization and fantastic design (including a great albeit unintentional hairstyle). There’s a great running gag that whenever a new spider-person is introduced we see a quick, comic-book-style flashback of their origin story so that we get the gist of the character very quickly. In a lesser movie all these characters would muddy the proceedings up and the movie would become scattershot, but SMItSV is so firmly focused Miles’s story that everything that everything these characters do is brought around to how it affects Miles. That does mean that the other spider-people (other than Peter and Gwen) kinda get the short shrift, especially Peni. But this never really was their story, so I was okay with it.

My only quibble about SMItSV is the relative weakness of the villains, mostly because they have almost no screen time at all due to this being solidly Miles’s story. Dock Ock had the most interesting characterization as a mad scientist who wasn’t evil so much as just thoroughly delighted by mad science. I thought that giving Kingpin an unbelievably thick New-York-thug accent was a huge mistake. Kingpin has always styled himself as a cultured Manhattanite, not a lowly thug from Brooklyn. He should have a cultured New York accent.

If you don’t believe me that SMItSV is great, it just last night won the Golden Globe for best animated feature, beating out The Incredibles 2 and Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs. So there.

Categories: Movie Reviews, Reviews.

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