‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ – Our Friendly Neighborhood Web Slinger Thrills Us Yet Again

Just when I find myself getting increasingly weary of superhero/comic book movies, along comes another “Spider-Man’ installment. This friendly neighborhood web-slinger has succeeded in maintaining a high batting average on the silver screen, and this continues to be the case with “Spider-Man: Across the Spider Verse” which has as much heart, soul and endless creativity as do the best entries in this franchise. I figured this would be the case as the opening credits proved to be a kaleidoscope of crazy colors and images much like the ones Gaspar Noe used in the opening credits of “Enter the Void.” And when a certain character says, “Let’s do things differently this time,” you better believe many will.

We catch up with Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) who is ever so busy with his crime-fighting as his universe’s Spider-Man to where his parents keep wondering where he is most of the time. Never on time for his school counseling appointment or for the party celebrating his father’s promotion to police captain, he is still unable to tell mom and dad he really is Spider-Man as the truth of his alter-ego may put them in grave danger.

In addition, we meet up with Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld) who is going through some serious issues in her own universe. A tragedy has devastated her, leaving her antisocial among her peers and her dad believing Spider-Woman committed murder to where J. Jonah Jameson is calling for her head on a stick. Even if Gwen does have the time to give her dad a big hug, there is still a distance between them which needs to be dealt with.

Eventually, Gwen reunites with Miles in his world, and it proves to be one of the most heartfelt moments as these two can relate to one another in ways they cannot with anyone and everyone else. But their reunion coincides with the arrival of Dr. Jonathan Ohnn, a former scientist who has since been transformed into the supervillain known as The Spot. Voiced by Jonathan Schwartzman, he starts off as a comedic character who pursues a life of crime as his transformation cannot allow to pursue a regular job. Granted, putting down on your resume that your body is covered with interdimensional portals which allow you travel through space and time may not get you that first interview. But as this film goes on, we come to see The Spot will prove to be one of Spider-Man’s most dangerous foes as his power grows and grows and grows.

Like any “Spider-Man” motion picture, “Across the Spider-Verse” deals with those heavy themes of tragedy and responsibility. As with its predecessor, this installment reminds of the loses Spider-Man and the other Spider-Men in the multiverse have suffered and of responsibilities they are forced to live up to where it is inevitable that any and every web-slinger is destined to suffer an unavoidable tragedy. But when the possibility of this is explained to Miles Morales, he won’t accept any such fate for himself or those he loves, and this leads him on a spectacular mission which will have the audience wondering if free will can prevail over predestination, an argument which never gets old.

“Across the Spider-Verse” plays on our knowledge of Peter Parker and of what he has experienced in the live action films, and we know of the sacrifices and challenges Peter has had to endure while fighting crime through his secret identity. While this animated film could have simply trodden over familiar ground, it instead deals with variations on this character both literally and figuratively speaking. As you can expect, there will be an endless number of Spider-Man incarnations on display, and it all gets to where you have to wonder not who could be Spider-Man, but who couldn’t be him (or her, or they, or them, or it).

The animation here is incredible, and I swear there were moments where, if you look in the background, it seemed like live-action elements were added in to where it seems seamless. The visuals are also given a depth which shows in scenes with Miles and Gwen as they stand on top of tall buildings and structures overlooking the crazy city they live in. Seriously, I almost got a case of vertigo looking at these heights, and I never an animated movie to make me feel this way.

As for the action sequences, they are nothing short of spectacular and exciting as Miles is forced to fight off hundreds, maybe even thousands of Spider-Men while determined to make certain changes the multiverse will not easily allow. All of this is aided by the terrific and propulsive music score by Daniel Pemberton.

The entire voice cast is fantastic. Shameik Moore continues to do great work as Miles Morales, but the real standout for me was Hailee Steinfeld who continues to remind us what a wonderful talent she has proven to be following her star-making performance in “True Grit.” As Gwen Stacy, she gives the character’s animated form a true emotional depth which makes her actions and decisions all the more enthralling to take in. Schwartzman succeeds in taking The Spot from being a joke of a burglar to a infinitely dangerous villain who is determined to make Spider-Man suffer to his last breath. It is great fun to have Jake Johnson back as Peter B. Parker as his Spider-Man is now a dad and still a gas to be around. Issa Rae makes her Spider-Woman of Jessica Drew a rough and tough version of the web-slinger whose dedication to her job leaves no room for doubt or uncertainty. And when it comes to Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez, they have wonderful chemistry and many warm and funny scenes together as Miles’ parents, Jefferson and Rio.

Are there any problems with “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse?” Well, I didn’t catch all the dialogue being uttered to where I cannot wait for the 4K/Blu-ray release so I can rewatch the film with closed captions. Even with a running time of 140 minutes, I would have liked for things to slow down a bit so that I could take in more of the action and story. While movies these days tend to be longer than they should be, this one could have been even longer if it wanted to.

Also, there are scenes where we see Miles and Gwen standing upside down on very tall buildings. Now I know Spider-Man has special webs on their hands and feet which allows them to climb buildings, but these two are wearing shoes which makes their ability to hang out upside down rather impossible. I mean, can their webbings penetrate the soles of their designer shoes? Besides, Miles has a pair of Air Jordans, and those shoes are never cheaply made.

There is a lot more I would love to tell you about “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” but I am not about to spoil any of its surprises. Besides, there are so many easter eggs to take in to where a second viewing is completely mandatory. Spider-Man has always been one of my very favorite comic book characters this side of Batman, and I am happy to say his adventures are still thrilling even as comic-book movies are starting suffer a bit. When it comes to Miles Morales and his alter-ego, however, there is no stopping him. It makes me very excited for what will come next, and there is still more to look forward to in the next year.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Spider-Man: Far from Home’ is a Fun Ride, and it May Be the Web Slinger’s Last in the MCU

Spider Man Far From Home Theatrical Poster

So, after a summer filled with an endless need to make ends meet, I finally got the chance to check out “Spider-Man: Far from Home.” Watching it at this point proves to be bittersweet as this may be the character’s last time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Disney and Sony are in a battle over profits. Spider-Man does whatever a spider can, but even a spider can fight only so much against greed and capitalism before he is undone or rebooted. It’s a crying shame because Peter Parker and his alter-ego were wonderfully reinvigorated thanks to Tom Holland who, ever since “Captain America: Civil War,” has proven to be the best Spider-Man yet. Here is hoping this will not be the last time we see Holland in this role as he keeps us invested in this teenager’s never-ending struggle between managing adolescence and being a superhero.

Eight months have passed since the events of “Avengers: Endgame” in which our heroes thwarted Thanos’ snap (everyone else calls it “the blip”) but did so at a great cost. Peter still mourns the death of Tony Stark as he tries to get back to being just a friendly neighborhood superhero, but Tony’s face is everywhere and it seems like everyone else expects Spider-Man to be the next Iron Man. It’s a lot to place on the shoulders of any one person, let alone those of a teenage boy eager to tell the girl he has a mad crush on how he truly feels about her.

A better title for this “Spider-Man” outing would have been “Spider-Man’s European Vacation” as Peter and his classmates which include his best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and love interest MJ (Zendaya), travel to Europe and some neighboring countries. Peter sees this as a much-needed opportunity to take a break from his Avenger duties and just be a kid, and Ned sees it as a chance for the two of them to be American bachelors in Europe because, or so he says, “Europeans love Americans.”

Of course, none of us can expect any Avenger to get much vacation time as the Water Elemental strikes with a vengeance in Venice, leaving our characters to run for their lives. Peter quickly springs into action, but he is aided by another superhero who goes by the name of Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), but we all come to know him as Mysterio. Even though the two of them save the day, Nick Fury (the always reliably bad ass Samuel L. Jackson) shows up to tell him his help is needed. Peter protests how he is not ready to extend his duties beyond Queens, New York, but Fury bluntly reminds him, “Bitch, you’ve been to space!”

“Spider-Man: Far from Home” works best when it focuses more on the human element than on the spectacle. Spider-Man has always proven to be one of the most human of superheroes in movies and literature as his personal problems are no different from the ones we experienced at his age. Deep down, we all wanted to seem normal to our fellow classmates, and so does Peter. Still, hormones and awkwardness among other things needlessly but inevitably complicate our lives to where we are left with a lot of emotional scars which take forever to heal, if at all. Peter Parker is the MCU’s prime example of this, and it makes you admire him all the more as his juggling act is made all the more challenging throughout.

Jon Watts returns to the director’s chair after having done an excellent job with “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and he infuses this installment with the same amount of fun and excitement. Along with screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, he makes Spider-Man’s predicament parallel with the insane times we live in as “alternative facts” and “fake news” have been given far more power than they ever deserved. Whether or not our heroes win the day, we are left to wonder if they will ever be able to fully control the narrative. As one character points out late in the film, “People need to believe, and nowadays they’ll believe anything.” As much as I hate to quote Rudy Giuliani in this or any other review, his ridiculous statement of how “truth is not truth” is played to great effect throughout this movie and its post credit scenes.

The thin line between reality and fiction is put to the test in an amazing sequence in which Spider-Man is thrust into a simulated world which alters his perception of reality in the same frightening way Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law were in David Cronenberg’s “Existenz.” Just when Peter thinks he has a handle on things, so do we, and this proves to be our Achilles heel as reality is not at all what it used to be.

The climatic battle in “Spider-Man: Far from Home” ends up containing a bit too much in the way of CGI and suffers from overkill as a result. It is entertaining to sit through, but the overuse of visual effects ended up taking me out of the action more than I would have liked, and it makes this sequel pale in comparison to “Homecoming.” It always sucks when you watch a visual effect knowing it is a visual effect because there are many moments in this film which made me feel the exact opposite. Still, it failed to take away much of the enjoyment I had in watching these characters suffer through one of the best and worst field trips any of us could ever hope to have.

I also gotta say just how much I love this cast of actors. Aside from Holland, you have the great Martin Starr who is a deadpan delight as academic decathlon teacher Roger Harrington, “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau who gleefully returns as Harold “Happy” Hogan, Marisa Tomei who has long since proven to be the most alluring Aunt May of all, Cobie Smulders who remains an enticing and powerful presence as Maria Hill, and J.B. Smoove is a hoot to watch as science teacher Julius Dell. In addition, Tony Revolori returns as Peter’s classmate and YouTuber Eugene “Flash” Thompson as it allows us to see something many of us have wanted to see done to the most annoying YouTubers of all; get a swift kick in the balls.

It’s fascinating to watch Gyllenhaal here as he was almost cast as Spider-Man at one point. Seeing him making his first appearance in the MCU is a most welcome one as he has long since proven himself an actor to be reckoned with in movies like “Nightcrawler” and “Nocturnal Animals.” As Mysterio, he makes this character a complex one as he sympathizes with Peter’s plight while proving to be a bit of an enigma. When the truth of Mysterio is revealed to all, it made me respect Gyllenhaal’s performance all the more as it shows how he has to play not just with Peter’s mind, but the audience as well. Looks can be deceiving, and Gyllenhaal makes them especially deceiving here.

Like I said, watching “Spider-Man: Far from Home” proves to be very bittersweet as this may very well be the very last time we see this iconic character as part of the MCU. It’s a real shame as the first post credit scene we get foretells of a dark future for Peter Parker as his life is completely compromised through, among other things, doctored footage. Where can he go from here? It’s an infinitely interesting question.

Whatever happens from here, we will always have J. Jonah Jameson.

* * * out of * * * *


‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ Takes the Webslinger to New Heights

Spiderman Into The Spiderverse poster

Alongside Superman and Batman, Spider-Man is one of my most favorite comic book characters. Peter Parker was an ordinary teenager before he got bit by a genetically modified spider, and from there he was gifted with super powers anyone would be envious to have. But in the process, he learns that with great power comes great responsibility, and this includes leaving the love of his life, be it Mary Jane or Gwen Stacy, at a distance in order to keep her safe from his devious enemies. While it must be very cool to be Spider-Man, it is also a very lonely existence as he needs to keep the people he is closest to in the dark as their safety will always be at risk once his identity is revealed to all.

One of the real joys of watching “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is realizing Peter Parker’s existence is not as lonely as we believed it to be. While attempting to thwart the efforts of Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) who is using a particle accelerator to access parallel universes in an effort to bring back his deceased wife and son, we learn there are many different versions of Spider-Man here, there and everywhere, and there is something very reassuring about Peter realizing he is not the only one of his kind.

The main character here is Miles Morales (“Dope” star Shameik Moore), an African-American teenager who is at ease in his inner-city neighborhood, but struggles to fit in at the elite boarding school he was enrolled in following a well-received essay he wrote. Miles wants to fulfill the expectations of his police officer father Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) and his nurse mother Rio Morales (Lauren Valez), but he looks to his beloved uncle Aaron Davis (Mahershala Ali) to encourage his creative side more than anyone else.

As you can expect, Miles also gets bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes the superhero he admires, Spider-Man, but he is of course not the least bit ready to take on such a part. Who would be anyway? But when the real Peter Parker is eliminated with extreme prejudice by Kingpin, Miles has no choice but to take his place even as he passes off the changes in his body as being a part of puberty. If such things were easily explainable, the realm of adolescence would be easier to live through.

Miles does however get help from Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), but being a Spider-Man from an alternate universe, he is not the equivalent of the one portrayed in previous movies by Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland. This Peter has gained a lot of weight and is hopelessly alone after a painful divorce from Mary Jane, and he is not quick to help Miles on the superhero journey he himself has taken, but he slowly becomes enamored at Miles’ spirit and determination to where he ends up helping him put an end to Kingpin’s evil and selfish reign.

With the many parallel universes exposed, we get introduced to the different incarnations of the webslinger which include Gwen Stacy and her spunky alter-ego Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), Peter Porker and the gleefully animated Spider-Ham (the hilarious John Mulaney), the young Japanese girl Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) who hails from an anime universe where she pilots a biochemical suit with a radioactive spider, and the dark and monochromatic Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage in a truly inspired voiceover). Seeing them all interact with one another here adds more heart and laughs to an already highly entertaining film.

The late Stan Lee, who does have an animated cameo here, once said Peter Parker should always be white, but that he wouldn’t have minded if the character were originally “black, a Latino, an Indian or anything else.” What this movie shows us is how anyone can be Spider-Man, and there’s something truly inspiring about that as superhero roles can at times feel ridiculously limited. It also helps that this animated movie comes on the heels of the brilliant “Black Panther” and “Wonder Woman” as the role of superhero is no longer, and never should have been, limited to one gender or ethnicity, and this was especially the case when it came to battling Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War.”

I was not sure what to expect when walking into “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” as the thought of an animated “Spider-Man” seemed a little far-fetched and seemed like another attempt by Sony and Columbia Pictures to create a cinematic universe a la “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” and we all know how that one turned out. In a way it is satirical as it plays around with many comic book tropes and has fun dealing with the web-slinger at his best and worst. The filmmakers even take a hilarious dig at the character’s emo-dance from “Spider-Man 3” which Peter Parker is quick to distance himself from (can you blame him?).

But what makes this movie so good is how deeply it invests us in this particular Spider-Man’s life. Miles Morales is not just another Peter Parker clone as he still has his mom and dad, and he is forced to live in two different worlds the same way Amandla Stenberg’s character had to in “The Hate U Give.” While I have long since grown tired of origin movies which deal with a superhero’s beginning as we know they will eventually accept their anointed role, this one rings true emotionally as we watch Miles be understandably hesitant about becoming the next Spider-Man, but his transition from someone blaming his body changes on puberty to a young man eager to save his universe from the devious acts of Kingpin is never less than compelling.

It really feels great to see Spider-Man on a roll right now. Following the much-too-soon reboot known as “The Amazing Spider-Man,” the webslinger made a terrific rebound in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and had one of the most achingly emotional moments in the “Empire Strikes Back” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Avengers: Infinity War.” In a time where the franchises of “Star Trek” and “Halloween” seek to alter the timelines of their iconic characters to take things in another direction, it’ll be interesting to see where Spider-Man will go from here. “Spider-Man: Far from Home” is arriving in theaters next year, and I imagine we will see him again in “Avengers: Endgame.” Whatever the case, it puts a smile on my face to see Peter Parker and his alter-ego continue to be infinitely popular in pop culture as this is a hero blessed with super powers as well as with the foresight of the importance of responsibilities. Regardless of whoever takes on the role of Spider-Man, we come out of this movie with the solid belief said person will take it seriously, and we have to be thankful for that.

And yes, there are post-credit scenes for you to enjoy and, like “Once Upon a Deadpool,” this one features a thoughtful tribute to Stan Lee. May his legacy never be forgotten.

* * * ½ out of * * * *