Movie review: ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ is truly something special

By now, we’ve seen Spider-Man’s origin story on film multiple times. Like me, you probably feel that you don’t need to see it again. But trust me, you do — you really do.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is the most colorful, fun, and emotional animated movie — or superhero movie, frankly — that I’ve seen in a long time. It truly is a fresh take on Spider-Man’s classic origin story and expands the superhero genre in an inventive and exciting way. If you’ve heard the hype, it’s not an exaggeration; this really is one of the best movies of the year.

When I saw the first trailer for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” I remember thinking, “Hmm, this looks interesting.” What caught my attention was the unique computer animation style. It’s a bit tough to describe, but it’s definitely colorful, vibrant, and highly stylized, with certain animations that really make you feel like you’re watching a movie based on a comic book. You see panels, like the ones found in the pages of a comic book, and thought bubbles even pop up from time to time.

I had a hard time deciding what to put in this review, because I believe the best way to experience this movie is to just walk into the theater and let yourself be surprised by this film. I didn’t know exactly what characters were going to show up or what the plot was going to be, and I just went along for the ride. There are moments where the screen is bursting with a sense of joy and wonder, and I don’t want to spoil that for someone who hasn’t seen it.

Although I haven’t read the original comics, I already knew a little about the origin of teenager Miles Morales, who takes up the mantle of “Spider-Man” after Peter Parker. I love how Morales has some of the same traits/struggles as Parker (he’s a teenager trying to fit in), but he also has a unique personality and outlook.

While the superhero genre is getting better in terms of including diversity, there’s still a ways to go. Our favorite geek films need to be as diverse as the real world we live in, and Miles Morales — who is half-Puerto Rican and half-African American — is another important step forward.

I also loved Miles’ dynamic with his family. Unlike many superheroes, both his parents are still alive. And like all teenagers, he’s going through some growing pains, and he’s trying to figure out what his relationship with his parents will look like in the future (especially now that he’s become the next Spider-Man).

There are really two plots going on at the same time in this film — Miles Morales’ origin and coming of age story, and then the break in reality caused by famous Marvel crime lord Kingpin that unleashes a multitude of “Spider-heroes” from alternate dimensions. This film could have easily become too chaotic and unfocused, but it doesn’t; these two plots blend seamlessly together and complement each other perfectly.

The film is funny, but it also manages to be emotionally authentic, which can be a tricky dynamic to pull off. I enjoyed all the teasing references to past Spider-Man films, as well as the jokes about how many different versions of Spider-Man there are onscreen. Thanks to the introduction of the Spider-Verse, we get to see some new takes on the Spider-Man character. My favorite was probably world-weary, washed up Spider-Man (voiced by Jake Johnson). Of course, you’ll probably guess long before the ending that he’s going to be shaken out of his apathy and show up to save the day, but the ending doesn’t feel cliche or forced.

I’m still mulling it over (and I’ve got a few more movies left to see in 2018), but “Into the Spider-Verse” may well be my favorite movie of the year. Even if you think you’re tired of superhero origin stories, go see it anyway. It’s a genuinely special film, and I can’t wait to see it again.

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Movie review: ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ brings everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood superhero into the Marvel Cinematic Universe

maxresdefaultInitially, I was more than a little skeptical about Sony’s new Spider-Man film. In the past 15 years, we have had six Spider-Man movies, two reboots, and three different actors playing the character. And it’s only been three years since the previous reboot fizzled out. However, seeing Spider-Man’s cameo in last summer’s “Captain America: Civil War” started to change my mind. Tom Holland’s lovably excitable Spidey was a highlight of that film, and I was curious to see if Sony could pull off a feature-length film with this re-envisioned character.

So, did we really need another Spider-Man reboot? After watching “Homecoming,” I say yes. It’s a joy to see the friendly neighborhood superhero officially join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Homecoming” hits all the right notes and is a genuinely fun film that captures the spirit of the character in a way we haven’t seen before.

One of the first things “Homecoming” does right is skipping the origin story that audiences have already seen twice. The action picks up shortly after the events of “Civil War” (the film begins with a hilarious home video montage Peter Parker puts together highlighting his adventures in “Civil War”). Peter is thrilled to be working with Iron Man and can’t wait to take his place alongside the Avengers. Except, he keeps waiting and waiting for another call from Tony Stark, only to be disappointed. He wants to do more than retrieve stolen bikes and give directions to lost people on the streets. He thinks he’s found his big break when he stumbles upon a business scavenging alien equipment from the New York attack in “The Avengers” to manufacture illegal weapons. However, he quickly finds he’s in way over his head, and it will take some time without the high-tech suit given to him by Tony Stark to figure out what it really means to be a hero.

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As I mentioned before, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man was one of my favorite parts of “Civil War,” and he does a great job carrying his own movie. He’s now my favorite on-screen Spider-Man. Although previous Spidey actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield each brought something to the role, Holland’s version is the one that feels the most like a real teenager. I love how Holland brings so much joy to the character; his Peter Parker isn’t as weighed down by angst as some of the past versions. He genuinely loves being Spider-Man, though his eagerness occasionally gets him into trouble.

Sometimes Marvel movies are faulted for their lackluster villains, but that isn’t the case here. Michael Keaton does a great job as Adrian Toomes/Vulture. I appreciated the smaller scale of “Homecoming” and how the villain wasn’t out to take over the world. He felt like an appropriate villain for Spider-Man’s skill level; he was too powerful for local law enforcement but not enough of a threat to call in the Avengers. Keaton really humanizes the character, who starts the movie owning a salvage company and almost loses everything when the government takes back the contract they gave him to clean up the rubble following Loki’s attack on New York. He’s just a regular guy wanting to provide for his family, until he makes compromising choices that take him down a dark path. There’s also a gut-punch of a plot twist involving the relationship between Toomes and Peter — I won’t give it away, but it definitely ups the tension in the film’s final act.

There are several great supporting characters, including Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend Ned. It was nice for Peter to have an ally his own age who knew his secret, and their teenage awkwardness is adorable.

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It’s always the little moments that separate good movies from great ones, and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” includes several of those type of moments. Perhaps one of the most powerful is when Peter is trapped under a pile of rubble and panics because there’s no one to save him. Then he has to find the strength within himself to escape. The movie has plenty of humor and is probably the funniest Marvel movie since the underrated “Ant-Man.” I also enjoyed all the little references to the other MCU films. Captain America has several hilarious cameos in school inspirational videos, and I’m glad Sony and Marvel reached a deal to include Robert Downey Jr. in this film. I thought the film had just the right amount of Iron Man, similar to the use of Darth Vader in “Rogue One.” He made the film extra special but didn’t take away from the main characters or action. I enjoyed seeing him adjust to the role of mentor, and he actually had some important lessons to teach Peter.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

I also really appreciated the film’s ending battle between Spidey and the Vulture. Spidey has to go back to using his homemade suit after Iron Man takes away his high-tech one for being irresponsible. This helps Peter see that he’s more than just a suit. I also liked that Spider-Man didn’t end up killing Vulture. It wouldn’t have fit with the tone of the film, or with this version of Peter’s character. He was able to stop Vulture and bring him to justice without harming him.

End spoilers!

I really don’t have any complaints about this film, except that the trailers for the movie gave away a little more than they should. However, I had a blast watching this movie, and I left the theater with a big smile on my face. I hope Sony and Marvel can continue to work together to keep Spidey a part of the MCU — the MCU and Spider-Man are both better for it.

Swinging into action: Thoughts on Spider-Man joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Marvel Studios is — at least for now — the undisputed victor when it comes to superhero films. “The Avengers” remains the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time (and one of the all-time highest grossing movies, period), and even their “B-list” heroes have become major stars and major money-makers. At this point, they can even make a blockbuster out of a walking tree and a talking, gun-toting raccoon.

However, a fact that has complicated the expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that while there are a variety of Marvel comics films — Avengers spin-offs, Spider-Man, X-Men, etc. — Marvel Studios (and Disney) don’t have cinematic control of all the characters. Sony has the rights to Spider-Man, and Fox has the X-Men. Understandably, neither studio really wants to give up  those lucrative characters. A mash-up with X-Men and the Avengers, or a Spider-Man appearance in an Avengers film, seemed unlikely.

That is, until Sony recently announced a deal to allow Spider-Man to appear in a Marvel Studios film with characters like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, granting a long-time wish of many Marvel fans. According to the official press release from Marvel, Spider-Man will first make an appearance in an MCU film (possibly “Captain America: Civil War”?), then a solo film with help from the MCU team and a supposed “new creative direction.”

I really think this was a smart move on the part of Sony. Marvel Studios is the biggest power player in superhero movies, and allowing Spider-Man to appear in an MCU movie will only make the character more bankable. Bringing him into the same universe will offer new creative — and financial — opportunities.

4229836-1418955711-38972I am sad to see Andrew Garfield go as Spider-Man; although I haven’t seen a firm confirmation of this, it’s more than likely the role will be recast. Garfield brought a sense of lovably awkward earnestness to the role, and I don’t think we got a chance to see all he was capable of in the role, either. That being said, I think with this new direction it probably is a good call to go with a new actor, so that audiences’ perceptions of the character aren’t too tied to what’s been done before. What I’d actually like to see is, instead of recasting Peter Parker, having the movies features Miles Morales, a character from Marvel Comics who is Spider-Man in an alternative universe with no Peter Parker. Peter Parker already has been rebooted twice in a relatively short time, and using Miles Morales instead would give Spider-Man a genuine fresh start.

I’ve very curious to see how Spider-Man will be worked into the MCU. I’m guessing his first appearance will be more of a cameo, but Marvel Studios will certainly want to show off the new addition to the team. It will be interesting to see how the new Spider-Man interacts with the existing Marvel team. There’s already some big personalities in play, and general audiences are used to thinking of Spider-Man as operating on his own. Film makers will have to be careful about how he mixes with Iron Man, Thor, etc.

Overall, however, I think adding Spider-Man to the MCU is a good move, and positive news for Marvel fans (I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for an X-Men/Avengers mash-up). What do you hope to see from Spider-Man in the MCU?

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Shout-out of the week: This week’s blog shout-out goes to Sidekick Reviews, a great blog with movie and TV reviews, as well as entertainment news. Check out this recent post on past Spider-Man films: https://sidekickreviews.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/battle-of-the-movies-spider-man-2002-vs-the-amazing-spider-man-2012/.

Blockbuster season forecast: 2014 summer movie preview

296145 KS_New_spideyAlthough the summer movie season officially kicks off this weekend with the release of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” in theaters, in some ways it feels like blockbuster season has already started. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” served as an early kick-off on April 4, pulling in a huge $95 million opening weekend in the U.S. and earning praise from both critics and fans. However, there are plenty more big movies still to come (it will be interesting to see if they can top the Cap’s strong performance, though) — and there will be several wild cards, as well. Here are some of the movies getting the most buzz this summer:

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (May 2)

spidey2The 2012 Spider-Man reboot starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, “The Amazing Spider-Man,” proved to be somewhat polarizing among fans, and some argued the franchise didn’t really need a reboot. I personally enjoyed the movie, but I think the characters and performances were stronger than the actual plot. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone had great chemistry as Spider-Man/Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy.

The trailers released so far for the sequel are intense and action-packed. Spider-Man will face several new villains, including the electricity-manipulating Electro (Jamie Foxx) and his former friend Harry Osborn/Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan). There is some concern that too many villains and too many subplots could clutter the film, but hopefully director Marc Webb will be able to successfully balance all the elements while making time for meaningful character development.

Godzilla (May 16)

godzillaAlthough Godzilla has been a fixture in monster movies for decades, the most recent American Godzilla movie, released in 1998, wasn’t well received by critics and failed to launch a franchise. While it remains to be seen how well audiences respond to the new film, the film’s trailers appear promising, hinting at a gritty, exciting reboot.

The new film stars Bryan Cranston (coming off a successful run on “Breaking Bad”) as a nuclear physicist and engineer. He is backed by a solid cast that includes Ken Watanabe and Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen (who will, coincidentally, also star together in another upcoming blockbuster: next summer’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron”). I like the look of the film so far, and early buzz seems to be good. Guillermo del Toro has expressed interest in a possible crossover between “Godzilla” and his own “Pacific Rim” film; I’d love to see the robot “Jaegers” from del Toro’s film battle Godzilla.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23)

X-Men“Days of Future Past” appears to be the X-Men version of “The Avengers,” bringing together numerous superheroes from the X-Men franchise and blending the story lines of the original X-Men trilogy and the prequel “First Class.” In “Days of Future Past,” the X-Men wage a war that jumps across time periods and try to change the past in order to save the future.

My favorite of the X-Men movies is the prequel “X-Men: First Class,” and at first I was a little disappointed “Days of Future Past” wasn’t a straight-up sequel to that film. However, I’m really excited about this film now, especially since it features both the older and younger versions of Professor X and Magneto — Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, and James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively. Hopefully director Bryan Singer will be able to handle the large cast of characters as well as Joss Whedon handled the multiple superheroes in “The Avengers.”

Maleficent (May 30)

maleficentLive-action adaptations of famous fairy tales have been hit-or-miss in Hollywood lately. The best of the recent batch — 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” — succeeded in turning the story of “Snow White” into a dark, gritty medieval fantasy with gorgeous visuals. While Disney’s new PG-rated live-action Sleeping Beauty retelling “Maleficent” certainly won’t be “Game of Thrones”-level gritty, the studio does appear to be presenting a darker version of one of its best-known animated films.

Angelina Jolie appears to be great choice to play the villain Maleficent, who in the original film curses Sleeping Beauty and tries to destroy the kingdom. However, I’m guessing the new film will be presenting a more nuanced version of the character, and we will likely learn how and why she decided to become a villain.

Edge of Tomorrow (June 6)

edge-of-tomorrowIn “Edge of Tomorrow,” Tom Cruise plays a soldier trapped in a seemingly never-ending nightmare: he’s caught in a time loop that causes him to return, over and over again, to a fatal battle against a race of aliens known as Mimics. He doesn’t understand how he came to be trapped in this cycle, and he’s forced to die again and again. However, each time he’s sent back to this battle, he learns more combat skills and receives more training from a Special Forces soldier (Emily Blunt). Together they try to find a way to defeat the alien enemy.

I’ve enjoyed the trailers released for this movie so far, and it’s exciting to see the Hollywood trend of more sci-fi movies continue. The action scenes look good and I’m intrigued by the plot concept; I haven’t read the book the film is based on but I’m wondering if perhaps the cause Cruise’s character is asked to fight for isn’t as noble as it seems, or if there’s a deeper mystery behind the time loop. The summer release schedule is always crowded, so sometimes it is difficult for films to stand out. Good reviews and strong word of mouth could make this one a break-out like last year’s “World War Z.”

Transformers: Age of Extinction (June 27)

transformersThe “Transformers” franchise has proven to be an interesting phenomenon. Although the series has taken quite a bit of flak from critics and viewers, it continues to pull in impressive amounts of money at the box office. The new film is a sort-of reboot, starring Mark Wahlberg as a struggling inventor and featuring the appearance of Dinobots, who transform into mechanical dinosaurs.

Although director Michael Bay has made some interesting casting choices for the film — including Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci — I am sensing some “franchise fatigue” by this point. While I don’t think this one will necessarily be a flop, it likely won’t be the biggest blockbuster of the summer, either.

Guardians of the Galaxy (Aug. 1)

guardiansOut of all the movies slated for release this summer, this one carries the biggest question mark. More of a sci-fi action movie with a heavy dose of humor than Marvel’s traditional superhero fare, this film will be a true test of how much power the Marvel brand really does carry. The film is about a ragtag crew of criminals and misfits who have to decide if they are willing to risk their lives to save the galaxy.

Based on the trailer, I think this movie will be a lot of fun with good action sequences and plenty of humor; however, my fear is that Marvel will have a tougher time selling this one to general audiences, due to some of its quirkier aspects. Still, this is one of my most anticipated movies for the summer, and I think it does have a chance to be a break-out hit.

So, what movies are you most looking forward to this summer? What will be the biggest hit? What will be the biggest flop?

 

Summer movie review: Superheroes top the box office

With the release of “The Expendables 2” in theaters this past weekend, the summer blockbuster season draws, for all intents and purposes, to a close. It was quite a summer at the box office, with some record-breaking successes (“The Avengers”) and some box office bombs (“Battleship” and “Total Recall”).

Overall, I was pleased with the films that were released this summer. Although not every film I saw rose to cinematic greatness, the movies I was most looking forward to didn’t disappoint me, and there also were a few nice surprises.

The most successful film this summer was undoubtedly “The Avengers,” which so far has pulled in about $1.5 billion worldwide and currently ranks No. 3 on the list of all-time highest grossing films. I’d have to say that “The Avengers” was my favorite movie this summer, as well. It was a fun, rousing blockbuster with both humor and heart, and a nice mix of character development and action sequences. Much of the magic of this film came from seeing so many superheroes from successful solo films (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, etc.) band together and have to learn to function as a team. I thought director Joss Whedon knocked it out of the park with this one, and the day it’s released on DVD — Sept. 25 — can’t come soon enough for me. 🙂

Although “The Avengers” was the film I liked best this summer, “The Dark Knight Rises” was a very close second. This film was a little more polarizing than “The Avengers,” with some fans seeming to love it and others walking away disappointed. I personally loved it, and I also will be adding this one to my DVD collection when it comes out. It’s a gritty, powerful and emotionally moving film, and I think it was a perfect ending to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

The third superhero movie released this summer, “The Amazing Spider-Man,” also made my list of favorites. It wasn’t a flawless film, and it could have benefited from a stronger villain character. However, stars Andrew Garfield (Spider-Man) and Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy) really sell this movie. Garfield and Stone have great chemistry, and the scenes where their characters are interacting are the best parts of the movie. Despite the fact the Spider-Man film franchise didn’t really need to be rebooted this soon, I like the direction Marc Webb is going with the story and would like to see Garfield return for another go-around as Spider-Man.

I liked the “Alien” quasi-prequel “Prometheus,” though like “The Dark Knight Rises,” it was a little polarizing. I think those who walked into the theater expecting a straight-up “Alien” prequel left feeling a little disappointed, and I definitely respect those opinions. However, I found the movie to be dark and thought-provoking, and I liked the fact it raised more questions than it answered. Sometimes the best science fiction stories just ask a question and let it linger, forcing the audience to speculate and come to their own conclusions.

For me, the surprise hit of the summer was “Snow White and the Huntsman.” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this movie, but I enjoyed seeing a darker, grittier take on a classic fairy tale. Charlize Theron as the sorceress Ravenna was the standout in the cast, and Chris Hemsworth also was great as the Huntsman. It was a solid follow-up to his role in “The Avengers” earlier in the summer, and I think he’s certainly earned himself a place on the list of up-and-coming Hollywood stars to watch. And on a side note, “Snow White and the Huntsman” is a much better film than the other Snow White film released this year, “Mirror Mirror.” I tried watching “Mirror Mirror” but only got through the first 10 minutes before I had to turn it off. Skip it, and rent “Snow White and the Huntsman” instead.

There were a couple films this summer that I enjoyed but thought could have been just a little bit better, including “The Bourne Legacy” and “Dark Shadows.” Both these films featured great casts and good concepts, but I thought film makers didn’t quite take these movies to the next level. I also loved the beginning and ending of the film “Brave” but personally would have liked to see more work on the middle of the film. I’m still not quite sure how I feel about how the curse is handled (where the queen turns into a bear), and I wish film makers maybe would have done something just a little bit more creative here. Still, these are all definitely films I’d recommend catching on DVD if you haven’t seen them yet. The film that disappointed me most was probably “Total Recall.” Visually, it’s great, but the plot and character development fell flat for me.

Finally, the film that got the most critical flak this summer was probably “Battleship,” which performed quite poorly at the U.S. box office. Don’t judge me, but I actually liked this film. 😉 It’s not deep, but it’s mindless, summer blockbuster fun.

So, what were your favorite films this summer? What movie did you like the best? What did you like the least?