After Peter Parker is killed, a device opens a portal between multiple dimensions, allowing multiple versions of Spider-Man into new Spider-Man Miles Morales’s version of New York.
There have been a lot of Spider-man movies.
Just within the past fifteen years we’ve had three separate Spider-men in three different franchises. Everyone knows his origin story- (bit by radioactive spider, uncle Ben, with great power, date Mary Jane or Gwen Stacy, bla bla bla). Everyone knows his enemies (Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Venom, Vulture, or the malicious Blue Man Group member that Jamie Foxx played in “Amazing Spiderman 2”…). As much as I like Spider-man (I’d say he’s probably my favorite superhero) I do think that Spider-man’s presence in pop culture has become a bit ubiquitous (all superheroes have, but Spidey seems to get the reboot treatment more than most). Before I went to go see this movie, I found myself asking the question: do we really need another version spider-man?
Apparently we did. We really did.
“Alright, here we go… one last time…”
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore, “Dope”), a teen living in New York, sneaks out late one night gets by a strange spider while exploring the underbelly of the city. Later, Miles begins to develop powers. He eventually stumbles upon Spider-man (Chris Pine, “Wonder Woman”) fighting Kingpin (Liev Schreiber, “The Painted Veil”) in the bowels of the city. Kingpin’s plan is somewhat successful, and it opens a rift in dimensions and also kills Spider-man. Shortly after a different Spider-man, whose alter ego is Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson, “Tag”) arrives in New York and explains that many spider-people have been called to this New York due to the fallout of Kingpin’s device. Miles must work with his fellow spider-people to stop Kingpin, and also accept the great responsibility that comes with his newfound power.
So, I think this is the first time I’ve given a superhero film 5/5 stars, but I’ll defend that rating tooth and nail. First and foremost: this film is revolutionary in terms of its animation style. The style used implemented both 2D and 3D animation techniques, and the result is simply astounding. This is easily one of the best looking animated movies I’ve ever seen in my life. The characters were almost always done in 3D but had shading and other details done in 2D, making the characters themselves look far more “Comic-Booky” (if you’ve ever played the video game Borderlands- it’s kind of like that). Taking this a step further, the directors chose what specific things in frame they’d like to highlight- so certain objects have very little detail and almost fade into the background, while others really pop out at you. As Miles develops his powers, the world becomes even more comic-y. We see word boxes pop up- there are action lines. Things explode and say “Bang!” or “Pow!” If you’ve ever wanted to see a comic book put to screen, this is probably the closest you will ever get.
Certain character designs fit with certain animation styles as well. There’s a character that comes from an anime-inspired world, and her character looks like anime the entire time, while still somehow seamlessly fitting into this world’s animation. There’s also a looney-tunes style character and a noir character and all of them seem simultaneously out of place and perfectly at home in the animation. I honestly have no idea how they blended so many unique styles of animation so seamlessly.
Another thing I loved about the animation was the sort of motion blur that they added to the whole film. The technique they used added enough motion blur to make everything look kinetic and fluid. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if in ten years this style of animation is the standard. It looks so much smoother, quicker, and the movement is much more realistic. It adds a whole different layer to the animation.
Really, I can tell you how great this movie looks all I want, but you’ve got to see it to believe it. The difference is staggering.
The Spider With A Thousand Faces
Okay, okay… I’ll shut up about how amazing this movie looks to talk a little bit about the story.
As I talked about above, Spidey gets the reboot treatment more than pretty much any other superhero. So what makes this spider-man any different than Toby McGuire, Andrew Garfield, or Tom Holland?
Miles Morales may have the same basic origin story as the spider-man we’re most familiar with, but his alter ego is vastly different. Miles’s character is half Latino half African American, and this movie takes time to address those differences in a way that makes Miles seem similar to Peter in some ways, but far different than Parker in a lot of ways. He’s his own kid, with his own interests, his own friends, and his own struggles.
The reason I really liked the story in this film though is because it encompasses everything we love about the superhero genre while still sort of poking fun at all of the clichéd tropes that come with the stories that come with the genre. All of the different spider-people we meet have remarkably similar back-stories and powers (though some have different special powers- Miles can turn invisible, for example). Peter B Parker, who works as a kind of narrator for the first half of the movie, and mentor for Morales, continuously pokes fun at these different clichés- bringing up the fact that so-and-sos dad died, and another person’s aunt died… He acknowledges that we’ve seen this all before, making references to the Goth dance in “Spider-Man 3”, and the various villains Spidey fought. In acknowledging that none of this is new, he casts the old material in a new light.
The phrase “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” is synonymous with Spider-man and it’s uttered plenty of times here. In this world, the phrase has almost becomes like a catch phrase for Spider-man; everyone that knows it and associates him with it, so much so, that it’s almost lost its meaning. But as Miles and Peter B Parker navigate the Spider-Verse that phrase is continuously repeated until it almost becomes like a mantra for them, and the worn out, tarnished phrase takes on a whole new meaning, once again becomes an incredibly powerful moment. It’s impressive, to say the least, to hear that phrase once again and feel it as powerfully as I did the first time I heard it uttered.
This movie does follow the same formula as all the other spider-man movies in a sense. Spider-man has “to stop a bad guy from doing a thing by stopping one thing with another thing.” (This is an actual line from the movie- Peter B Parker constantly refers to the catalyst item as ‘A goober.’) The formula really is just the scaffolding- it’s basic and the movie itself calls that out. The plot is the plain white mannequin on which the brilliant clothes (the flair and style that this movie really brings) can be displayed.
The Spider Ate a Microdot
I don’t read a ton of comics but every once in a while something will catch my eye and I’ll pick it up. A few years ago, I read Frank Miller’s Sin City, and there is a section in the final volume titled, Hell and Back, where the protagonist, Wallace, is injected with a large dose of hallucinogenic drugs. Frank Miller’s drawing style up until that point had been kind of reserved- frequently black and white with one or two colors accenting something important in the panel. After Wallace is given the drugs, his mind explodes into color and we’re thrust into an odyssey of the deranged- we see references to Hagar the Horrible, Rambo, Dirty Harry, Captain America, even Robocop… The sequence is incredibly jarring and undeniably one of the most memorable parts of the whole series.
This movie feels like that sequence. It’s the trippiest freaking thing you’ve ever seen. No lie. This movie feels like you start off watching a normal animated movie, but by the end you’ll feel like you’re Aldous Huxley on his deathbed, freshly injected with a liquid gram of LSD. This movie’s climax is a spiked concoction of a half dozen different dimensions, and it is freaking bananas.
Colors spill and slide and whirl about like they’re full of life themselves. The world spins and shifts and swirls and it never stops. It’s almost impossible for your eyes to focus on one thing at once because there is so much going on, but yet, somehow, the actions taken by the characters are easy to follow, and I could totally understand what happened in the fight scene. It was insane and I want to see it again.
I never expected to be so excited about this, but I was. Honestly, I loved it so much that I’d recommend this movie to everyone. While this movie follows the tried and true superhero formula it does it in a way that is so tongue in cheek that it still feels incredibly refreshing. Aside from that, this movie is groundbreaking in terms of animation- it’s worth seeing for that alone. It’s a brilliant superhero film; heck, it’s just a brilliant movie. This film dethrones “Incredibles 2” as my pick for Best Animated film of 2018.
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