Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) – The Best Spider-Man Film

       Sony has made so many crappy films recently. “The Emoji Movie,” the past “Amazing Spider-Man” films just got worse over time and felt like commercials for franchise management. The clips I’ve watched of “Venom” haven’t helped that as the writing I witnessed was just awful so I really don’t want to spend money to even rent that film, it makes “Suicide Squad” look like a work of amazing art. So Sony doesn’t have a good track record with Spider-Man outside of the first 2 Raimi films and their co-operation with Disney with “Homecoming,” until this film. This is my favorite Spider-Man film and easily one of my favorite films of the year, and is likely to end up in my Top 5 Films of 2018.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman who was one of the writers along with Phil Lord. Phil Lord is the writer behind “The Lego Movie” and he brings that same fun and surprising level of depth here.

The story follows Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) who is a young kid in Brooklyn is bit by a radioactive spider in an abandoned ally and witnesses Peter Parker facing off against foes. He soon realizes there are many other Spider-Men and must deal with the consequences of their plans as well as coming to terms with becoming Spider-Man himself.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is on it. It taps into the core emotions of Miles and the other characters and when they reach their highs it soars, and when there is a threat you can feel the tension eating at your skull. Daniel Pemberton did an amazing job. This music explores the full spectrum of what it means to live and is energizing at so many moments in the film. The impact of scenes would not have been the same without the power of this music.

The Animation -They started work on this film back in 2014, and I can see why. “Into the Spider-Verse” combines multiple animation styles (anime for Peni Parker, black and white for Spider-Noir, WB Cartoon for Spider-Ham and real life inspired for Gwen, Peter B. Parker, Peter Parker and Miles) and never stops being beautiful. From the Particle Accelerator being activated and the colliding of multiple dimensions, with the creation of a near black hole at the finale, to a forest with golden leaves contrasted with the red of Peter and Miles and the White of Gwen…this team knew how to use color and styles to make a seamless masterpiece. This film better win best animated when the Oscars role around.

The Villains – This is a film with some well designed and sometimes extremely compelling villains. I’ll cover 3 of them here. There is Liz Octavius who works for Kingpin and invented the Particle Accelerator that brought all the Spider-Men out of their universe in the first place. She is the passionate mad scientist and I love how she is never afraid of Kingpin even when we know he will kill anyone for failure.

Kingpin is the main baddie and his motivation is to bring back his wife Vanessa and their son as they died in a crash when he as about to kill Spider-Man years ago. You get his motivation as he is a man full of guilt who is ready to risk everything for another chance with the people he loves. This is no Netflix’s “Daredevil” Kingpin but he serves his purpose well. I wanted to see more of who he was and know more about his past, so he succeeded at keeping me interested.

Prowler is the best of the villains. Prowler we learn is Miles’s Uncle who has been supporting his art and is in deep with owing his life to the Kingpin. We see the threat of who he is as he helps Kingpin kill the original Peter Parker, but also his empathy as when he is given the choice to kill Miles, he saves him and admits he admires the person Miles is becoming. In the books Prowler is a black-mailing, gas-lighting bastard and inspires Miles to be better by how terrible he is. The complexity is still there, but I enjoyed this version so much more. Mahershala Ali is also one of my favorite actors and him voicing Prowler helped. I loved seeing his dynamic with Miles and that even though he was doing bad, he never stopped loving his nephew.

The Heroes – The heroes are easily the best part of this film and they do more in less time than Marvel’s MCU. Most of the characters of the MCU we love have had at least one film of development. These are character who don’t receive that but accomplish more, largely from the writing, acting and animation that is able to add a level of depth that is wholly unique to the film while still taking inspiration. If the Villains had been on this level chances are this film would be the best film of the year, they were great…but not as great as the heroes and I’m going to explore why.

Miles’s Parents are great in that his dad is a police officer who has so much suppressed masculinity he can’t talk to his own son and is showing him up early on until he is willing to open up after he is afraid he is going to what relationship he has.

Aunt May is the heart of the film as she is the one who is carrying on Peter Parker’s legacy after he is killed by Kingpin. She is the mentor figure for all the different Spider-People and can hold up her own. Lily Tomlin gives so much gravitas and empathy to the role. I loved every scene she was in as each time it revealed something more about whatever Spider-Person she was interacting with.

Peni, Spider-Ham and Spider-Noir are the support characters and play off the core leads of Gwen, Peter B. Parker and Miles really well. You have Peni who is the young sincere anime girl, Spider-Ham as the classic cartoon  pig who jokes but works with cartoon physics so is quite powerful and the grim and gritty Spider-Noir (voiced by Nicolas Cage) who is the edgy private eye who spends his time fighting Nazis in his universe. The way they play off the villains the heroes is a lot of fun and I’d watch films from all of their universes. Spider-Noir I especially found intriguing.

Gwen Stacey / Spider-Woman is one of the core leads of the film as she is one of Miles’s teachers and saves him and Peter B. Parker after they steal from Kingpin in order to stop his plan. I’ve read the first “Spider-Gwen” comic and I like the world. The righting for Volume 0 isn’t the best but I’m willing to read on because I love the character, the art and the world. This version is not quite that Gwen Stacey (this one dances) but takes inspiration from it, just as Miles takes inspiration from the “Ultimate” comics universe he was created in. She is a character alone until her friendships with the other Spider-People and seeing her open up is a really cool arc. Hailee Steinfeld is wonderful in the role. I hope they do some spin-offs in her universe as I think she is the best character in the movie outside of Miles Morales.

Peter B. Parker is from a world where Spider-Man’s personal life falls apart. In his world he buried Aunt May, he ends up getting divorced from Mary Jane and is wholly Spider-Man. He has no life outside the character so is a perpetual child. He takes up the mentor role when the machine pulls him into Miles’s world and it is from this he grows up, discovering that he even wants kids. His arc is really cool as he has a death wish for most of the film because of how miserable his life is and it is only through Miles showing him there is another way that he finds a reason to live again. Jake Johnson does a fantastic job in the role and gives the character a lot of depth.

Peter Parker is voiced by Chris Pine and exists in Miles Morales’s universe (like in the “Ultimate” comics). He rescues Miles but is killed by Kingpin before he can teach Miles how to be Spider-Man. It is a powerful death that you feel through the entire film. Mary Jane makes a speech on how Parker shows anyone can be Spider-Man and Stan Lee as a comic book owner says the same thing. This Spider-Man is very much the Parker from the comics but with inspiration from the Sam Raimi films and it is wonderful how they blend those elements together (Spider-Man has a flashback of him doing the dance from “Spider-Man 3”) and it is because this Peter is at the top of his game and still so young (having married Mary Jane pretty recently it seems) has his life together, only for Kingpin to take it all away. It is a tragedy that matters and he doesn’t come back. Death matters in this world and it means everyone we lose during the film is felt.

Miles Morales is the main character of the film and his arc is taking responsibility for the role that was thrust upon him. He is full of so much fear (new fancy school, new powers by accident) and that is a difficult path for him. What makes things complicated as well is his relationship with his dad, who is a cop who doesn’t let anyone close. It is only in the death of Prowler (when Prowler chooses not to kill Miles) that healing finally happens. Miles was always closest to his Uncle Aaron (Prowler) and his dad regrets the relationship he lost with his brother. This motivates both Miles and his dad to try and make a relationship happen. It is beautiful and organic and I can’t wait to see how things develop further. Miles is also the rookie out of all the Spider-People and none of them take him seriously except for Peter B. Parker so he has to not only prove that he can be a hero to himself, but to those already excelling in their roles as heroes. I loved how it was executed. Miles is one of my favorite characters and I highly recommend Bendis’s “Ultimate Spider-Man” run where Miles is introduced to anyone. This one has more heart than that run (Prowler is handled better) but both are amazing and if you loved Miles in this film, you will love him in the comics. Shameik Moore gives this character so much heart.

This was the perfect film and I hope it at least wins Best Animated Film at the Oscars. There is so much heart in all the characters who are each compelling, there is loss with the deaths our heroes experience and each action has consequences. This is a film that pays tribute to the creators (Ditko, Lee and Bendis) and truly shows that anyone can be a hero. If you enjoy great animation (seriously this is one of the most beautifully animated films I’ve ever watched) and amazing stories you owe it to yourself to see this film. Sony has put out a lot of crap and there hasn’t been a great Spider-Man film since “Spider-Man 2.” As a Spider-Man fan this was everything I could ever want in a film and I can’t wait to see it again.

Final Score: 10 / 10. Can’t wait to see what they do with the Spider-Verse in the future.

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The Lego Batman Movie (2017): A Wonderful Satire and Celebration of Batman

    “The Lego Batman” movie is hilarious, a great satire and celebration of Batman and a great addition to the Batmanverse if you are any sort of fan of the character. This is a film that finally makes Batman fun again and brings in just how important the Bat Family is, which is something many of the live action films have forgotten. Before I get into story spoilers, I highly recommend this film. Much like the “Lego Movie,” it never stops being fun.

    The film was directed by Chris McKay, written by Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna, Seth Grahame-Smith, Jared Stern and John Wittington while being produced by Dan Lin, Roy Lee, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

   The story involves Batman who after defeating Joker and his Rogues Gallery once again is alone but finds his life changed when Jim Gordon (Hector Elizondo) retires and his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) takes his place and wants to work with Batman (Will Arnett). Dick Grayson (Mchael Cera) is also accidentally adopted by Batman who must now deal with caring for others again as Joker sets a plan in motion to reach the enemies in the Phantom Zone, as he’s hurt that Batman doesn’t see him as his nemesis.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of Batman is fascinating and Lego’s take on it adds a lot of much needed humor as well as a recognition of the campy roots that have always been a part of Batman to some degree. We see a diverse array of Rogues, the Justice League of course the people of Gotham.

The Action – The action is fantastic, with my favorite parts being the opening fight where Batman faces off against his Rogues and the Phantom Zone enemies invading and pretty much destroying Gotham. The action is fluid and quick and remains focused even with so much going on.

The Joker – Zach Galifianakis was brilliant casting as the Joker. He brings so much snide and emotion to the role and I loved how he had a co-dependent relationship with Batman where all he wanted was to be the most hated and Batman’s nemesis aka have a special relationship. His Joker isn’t all bad either as at the end he helps save Gotham and in the Phantom Zone is freaked out by the mentality some of the villains have.

The Bat Family – The Bat Family is wonderful as see Alfred is Bruce’s surrogate father just as he becomes Dick Grayson’s (Michael Cera doing some great comedy) surrogate Dad. Batgirl (Rosario Dawson is once again fantastic) is the one who sees the big picture of them working together and that it is needed and Batman is the inventor whose inventions help save the day. It is Alfred calling Bruce to action that helps him grow (Fiennes does a wonderful job as the character), Robin’s usefulness, innocence and admiration and Batgirl’s accountability that help him complete his arc and finally grow out of the fear that was with him on the day his parent’s died.

Satire of Batman – Batman is trapped as a perpetual child who plays rock and roll is an ungrateful narcissist and this on display, from tantrums (a good satire of Bale and Affleck’s Batman at his most extreme), his strange villains from his early run (Condiment King, etc.) his strange rivalry with Superman (Batman v Superman, Dark Knight Returns) and how a lot of it comes from Batman’s childish need to one up and be extreme, and his isolation and just lonely that really is. The great thing is, a character arc comes out of it!

Batman’s Character Arc – In the end this satire is a celebration of the character because his anger and rage is mocked but it is also explored and it goes somewhere. Batman grows up and realizes he isn’t alone. Besides “Dark Knight Rises” I can’t think of a film that has really done this well (“Batman Returns” did it but not well).

 Okay: Batman’s Rogues – Batman’s rogues don’t much besides being minions of the Joker and function as one entity (which was a shame) some of the references are funny though, from Condiment King (actual rogue) to Bane having Tom Hardy’s Bane’s voice. As jokes and references they are fine but they don’t exist as characters, which would have raised this film higher.

The Phantom Zone Villains – Gremlins, The Eye of Sauron, King Kong and Lord Voldemort are some of the baddies in the Phantom Zone. They also largely exist as references too and as villains so powerful Batman’s Rogues and the Bat Family have to team up to defeat them.

The Cons: The Legoverse – Gotham is built over dirty laundry and the Phantom Zone has a talking Lego that sounds like a kid. I didn’t like either of these things. I get it is the Legoverse but these things took me out of the great Batman story that was taking place and was the worst part of the film and only real con.

   This was a film that was amazing as a Batman film, but brought down by the ties to the Legoverse. It was that aspect that took me out of the great Batman story that was being told. There is fantastic character arc that takes place with Batman finally growing up, from Gotham being built over dirty laundry and the Phantom Zone talking lego…I still highly recommend this film and consider it a favorite. I’m curious to see what the Lego Team comes up with next and hope that DC can take note of the fact that Batman can’t remain static. The great movies have him grow and change, it is when that is forgotten we are given the dramatic child who Will Arnett satires beautifully.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

The Lego Movie (2014): The Connection in Fun

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This movie was really good. I wouldn’t consider it a favorite, but as a story and comedy there was so much that is great here, this film would be impossible for me to dislike. There are lots of reasons for this but some of the major ones are the creativity of how it was done, the message and the fantastic cast of characters and the actors behind them. Which is saying a lot for a movie that arose out of a toy property.

“The Lego Movie,” was directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who also wrote the screenplay and were two of the writers for the story. It was produced by Dan Lin and Roy Lee and the last two writers of the story were Kevin and Dan Hageman.

The premise begins with Lord Business (Will Ferrell) seeking the “Kragle” which is being protected by the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman). He is defeated by Lord Business but makes a prophecy that “the Special” will find the Piece of Resistance that can stop “the Kragle” and save the Lego Universe. From here we pick up with our everyday guy Emmet (Chris Pratt) who stumbles on the Piece of Resistance and finds Lord Business and his men hunting him down. It is up to Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and others to protect him and try to stop Lord Business from destroying them all by using the “Kragle.” From here the story unfolds.

SPOILERS ahead.

Here is the assessment of the story:

The Pros: The World – The world is wonderful and extremely meta. It is akin to the word of Toy Story where the legos exist in two worlds. The world where they were made by “The Man Upstairs” and the world where they move and interact and are much more than toys. It is here that the reality of “The Man” and his child that leads to what makes the world real. There is also a richness in the sheer variety of universes, from the main one, to Lord Businesses Tower, to the Old West and many more. What can you make with legos? That is the essence of this universe and “The Builders” are leaders within it because of their creativity.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack reminded me a lot of “Wreck-it-Ralph” in how it was a mixture of electronic and orchestra. The theme song “Everything is Awesome” is one of the best illustrations of this. It fits with the childish theme and epicness of creating your own adventure with toys. Mark Mothersbaugh did great.

The Characters – The main cast has some pretty interesting characters, some of whom have some great arcs. I’ll give them both an individual section why, at least the ones I consider pros.

Vitruvius – Morgan Freeman plays the lead wizard who sacrifices himself to try and stop Lord Business. He invents the prophecy to show that the power and being a “Special” is in everyone. He doesn’t really have an arc, but it’s Morgan Freeman and he clearly had a lot of fun playing this mentor role for Wyldstyle and Emmet.

Batman – Batman is Wyldstyle’s boyfriend and his arc is growing to respect Emmet who sees as boring and stupid. He’s an interesting character who is extremely self involved (goes to party during a crisis) but has a good heart as he supports Emmet and Wyldstyle and appreciates Emmet’s arc.

Good Cop/Bad Cop – Liam Neeson plays a cop with two personalities who serves Lord Business. At one point his good half is erased by Lord Business and he is nothing but a cruel weapon against the heroes…but he comes around after Lord Business turns on him and draws “Good Cop” back on his face so he is once more back to balance. His story is that quest for balance and I wish we’d had more character moments with him.

Lord Business – Lord Business is creative and an inventor who doesn’t feel appreciated so he wants everyone to be in order and keep things as they should be. This leads to him using the “Kragle” to freeze people in place and using his robots to set people up how he wants them. He is a clear bad guy but Emmet changes him when he recognizes him for his creativity in mirror of the son recognizing the dad’s creativity too. It’s a great scene and he becomes a good guy in the end. I didn’t mind this as he was cartoony so could go either way at the end. Will Ferrell does fantastic.

80’s Astronaut – Charlie Day is a wonderful actor! The first time I saw him was in “Pacific Rim” and in this his character brings the energy up to 11. He wants to build a spaceship and keeps getting shutdown but when he has the chance too he helps save the day and builds an awesome ship as well as hacking into Lord Businesses system since it’s 80’s technology.

Wyldstyle/Lucy – Elizabeth Banks plays a pretty cool character who is doing everything to be different but learns in the end that you don’t have to be different to be a hero. We see her recognize that after Emmet’s sacrifice and how she inspires the normal folks to rise up and fight against Lord Business. I liked her character except she never broke things off with Batman before almost sharing a moment with Emmet. That is one thing I would have changed. Though that defined their relationship pretty well, neither really listened to each other they just liked doing cool action adventures together.

Emmet – Emmet is the everyday guy who can build a Bunk-Couch for his friends. Chris Pratt was perfect for this role as he plays the overly excited nice guy really well. His arc is finding that who he is is okay and that he is special and everyone is special. This leads to his sacrifice, meeting the humans and saving their relationship in his action to save his world. It was done really well, though I wish his character had more depth. Lucy is probably the deepest character in the film. Emmet sort of becomes deep after but that is largely because he becomes active in his own life and no longer passive.

The Message – The message was great, there is beauty in chaos and sometimes it is important to follow directions…but most of all it’s in having fun with others that we make connections that count. Will Ferrell is a collector and businessman and when his son is playing with the toys he is the one using the “Kragle” to glue them into place. It is his son who is freeing them. In the end it is Emmet moving in reality that sparks the change and the father finally relates and begins to play with his son when he realizes how important imagination is and how distant he’s been. It’s a beautiful scene and great acting on Ferrell’s part.

Okay: Side characters – Most of the side characters are just gag characters. Whether it’s Metal Beard, the Green Lantern and Superman joke where Superman keeps trying to avoid Green Lantern while Lantern thinks he his best friend as well as the wizards like Dumbledore and Gandalf. They function more as pop culture references and in-jokes more than anything else.

The Cons: Nothing at Stake – My biggest issue is when it goes meta it feels like nothing is at stake. A father and son are playing with toys so in the end they can reset the world if they want too in the end making all of our characters’ sacrifices nothing. This is my biggest issue with the movie. The meta moments were sweet but they did cost the stakes.

Tone – The tone is kind of all over the place. At times it is funny and making fun of itself, other times it is serious and dramatic. This is another reason I can’t consider it a favorite film. It feels like it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be beyond a child playing with toys.

This film is worth checking out! It isn’t a favorite film and it isn’t a “Wreck-it Ralph” or “How to Train Your Dragon,” but for the sheer fun of it all and the great message it brings…it’s something you don’t see everyday. I’d watch it again and I’m curious if that if a sequel is made if it will become a favorite. Until then, this is really good as it is.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10