Saturday, December 22, 2018

"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse"


The basic premise of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse may be well-known to comic-book fans, but was completely new to me and seemed, based on the trailers, complex and vaguely off-putting. It is complex, but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is anything but off-putting. It's exhilarating. It's exciting. It's everything a super-hero movie should be but, if you ask me, rarely has been since 1978 when Superman: The Movie created and then seemingly broke the mold.

Who would have guessed that what super-hero movies needed to be was animated? I mean, when you get right down to it, they've basically been animated since the advent of CGI, but they've never embraced their roots as what are, in some ways, really just freeze frames of fantastically drawn animated stories in the first place.  It makes sense, so why has it taken so long?  No matter: It has taken as long as it has taken, but finally, finally super-hero movies make sense.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse feels both authentic and new, intimate and expansive, genuinely impressive in the way the overproduced computer-generated landscapes of the "live-action" movies never feel.  In those movies, no matter how persuasive the imagery tries to be, it can never completely fool the brain into believing that what's on screen is real.

This movie does something entirely different: It is a movie-sized comic book, and watching it is like being immersed into the frame that's on the page. Every frame is suffused with remarkable detail that straddles the line between movies and comics, with subtle half-tone dots and sharply drawn edges on the characters that are different than we're used to seeing in an animated movie, but that are nonetheless familiar. There's a depth to the images but also a welcome flatness -- don't get me wrong, this is about as far from a flat, two-dimensional movie as you can get, but artistically it welcomes any chance to be like a living comic book as it can get.  Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is genuinely artistic and genuinely innovative.

Since I am not well-versed in comic books, I won't embarrass myself by trying to recount the story. Instead, let me tell you the things I loved about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse:
  • Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) is real and charming, and his transformation into a hero is remarkable for the way he never feels entirely at home in his eventual self; this movie works best as a coming-of-age story, with a boy who gets a glimpse of the man he is to become, and learns just enough about adulthood to simultaneously excite and scare him.
  • Miles might be the very best super-hero character since Clark Kent. He's in awe of his own powers, doesn't entirely trust them, doesn't really even want them, but understands their importance. I left the movie wanting very much to know more about him.
  • The relationship between Miles and his father (Bryan Tyree Henry) is disarmingly affecting -- and not in the lush and romanticized way of classic Disney animated films, but in the way live-action movies always try to be about children and parents and almost never are.
  • Newcomers are treated with respect. While I can only assume the movie plays enormously well for those who know all the nuances of the story, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse goes out of its way to make those unfamiliar with Spider-Man feel welcome and comfortable; everything we need to know is up there on screen -- something that most definitely cannot be said for the most recent spate of super-hero movies.
  • The supporting cast is astonishingly good, from the intentionally silly Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) to the seen-it-all Aunt May (Lily Tomlin) to the alluring and clever "Gwanda"/Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) to the reluctant alternate Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), not to mention the villains, Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn) and Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) -- animated films have gone overboard on stunt casting to no real effect in recent years, but this cast is as good as any live-action film.
I could go on. Apart from some minor grumbles about the length of it all and fight scenes that go on too long. Even the astonishing visuals can't save those scenes from feeling like we've been here before.  But I guess a huge part of the reason I mildly resented these scenes is because aside from their beauty -- and this is a staggeringly beautiful movie -- they took precious time away from being with characters I grew to admire and love.

Still, the action is why movies like this exist, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse definitely gets the action right.  Not to mention everything else.

Viewed December 22, 2018 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


No comments:

Post a Comment