Good film, see it.
Okay, maybe not that quick and dirty. But first, as always….
Okay, full disclosure– as a Marvel fan(atic) I am embarrassed to admit that this film wasn’t really even on my radar until about two weeks ago, when I finally noticed the trailer on YouTube. I vaguely remember hearing something about it back when, but I don’t pay attention to a lot of animation these days because so much of it is dreadful. The upshot is that I was trundling along, mostly minding my own misery, in what I thought was the gray wasteland between Infinity War and Captain Marvel, when suddenly, boom!, this trailer smacks me right between the eyes– and suddenly the wasteland looked a little less gray.
Okay, a lot less.
Another disclosure– I have not kept up very well with the ever-expanding Marvel comic book multiverse in recent years. In fact, the only comic I have purchased with regularity since about 2000 has been Rat Queens, and even that has tailed off lately. I was vaguely aware of Miles Morales as an alternate Spider-man, but I was totally unaware that Gwen Stacy had been given her own turn as Spider-woman, and the idea caught me by surprise and thrilled me to death. Yeah, I’m one of those romantic cupcakes who never got over Gwen’s death in the comic book, blah, blah, blah, so sue me. It’s enough to say that the moment I saw the trailer, quite aside from all the other fascinating tidbits it offered, I was instantly on-board and ready to investigate this movie.
And, boy, am I glad I did. Basically Miles Morales’ origin story as Spider-man in his reality, the movie also manages to weld together other Spideys from other realities into a coherent story about loss, friendship, love and becoming who you need to become, all in the face of a villain (a version of Kingpin far removed from Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of the character in Netflix’s Daredevil) who is maniacal, but possessed of an understandable, if misguided, motivation. I often feel animated films skimp characterization, but this time, nope. This movie is chiefly about character, and it is so very well written that I don’t think I detected a false note anywhere.
At the same time, on another level, it leaves me flummoxed. How can one film be so serious and silly at the same time, often with the same characters in the same scene? I mean, it has a cartoon (think Looney Tunes) Spidey pig hitting villains over the head with a giant mallet, and not only does it work in the midst of a completely intense battle, people in the theater I was in cheered. Somehow the writers (Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman) manage to blend pathos, off-the-wall humor, asides that very nearly break the fourth wall, intense struggle and loss and battles in which it is not at all clear all the good guys are going to survive, into a seamless whole in which the contrasting tones not only do not jar us out of our suspension of disbelief, they reinforce and invigorate each other. It leaves me scratching my head. I don’t know how they did it, but I like it.
Part of that off-the-wall/serious hybridization is the sheer look of the movie, which is bright, highly-colored, sharp and full of elements drawn directly from comic-books, such as little (or not so little) internal dialogue balloons, which might have seemed pretentious, or flat-out stupid, in other hands, but which work here. I usually prefer my movies straight-forward and realistic, even my animation, but somehow this time around the comic-book elements worked. Again, it is a mystery to me how, but I’m just going to go with it.
Other online reviewers have already pointed out that Spider-verse accomplishes what Justice League could not do last year– kick-start a superhero franchise in one fell swoop, and I won’t belabor a point that’s not original with me. More incisive observers than I will have to parse out why one super-hero kick-start works, and another doesn’t. All I know is, me like Spider-verse. Justice League, ugh.
And now, in no particular order, some random notes–
- One of the big reveals in the movie, not at all hinted at in the trailer, was this universe’s Doc Ock, who is a woman, Dr. Oliva Octavius. Her gender does nothing to reduce her menace.
- Having said that, I’m worried that I find this Doc Ock kinda, well, hot. I guess I like intellectual women…?
- I like this universe’s Aunt May, too, although not for the same reasons. All-too-often the Aunt May of the comic-books was Peter’s supportive mother figure. This Aunt May is that, but a damn sight more, too.
- When Gwen Stacy is on the screen I can’t take my eyes off her. Not because the character is pretty (although she is– and, no, I’m not being creepy), but because I get pretty badly verklempt about Gwen most days (Emma Stone in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, by the way, broke my heart all over again), and so I can’t get enough of a Gwen Stacy who is alive and kicking ass. I will stand in line for her movie, if and when it comes out. And I don’t think I’m the only one.
- The only downside of this film for me is perhaps the fact that I have now had the theme song of the original animated series stuck in my head for five days. Ow….
- I mentioned that all the characters are well-drawn, but Miles, of course, takes center-stage, and I have hand out kudos again to the writers who crafted a kid who is utterly believable as a particular kid, with all the usual kid worries, suddenly caught up in things that grown men and women would have trouble dealing with. This, of course, has been the whole theme of Spider-man since its inception, and Lord and Rothman’s take on it is excellent.
I don’t think I’m going to say much more, although there are things I haven’t revealed about the story, despite my spoiler warnings. I will sum up by saying that I am pleased to discover, in an age of over-hype and media campaigns that would put the planning for D-Day to shame, we can still be surprised by a film that comes out of nowhere and knocks us on our butts. And, yeah, the wait for Captain Marvel and Avengers: End Game is now just a little more tolerable.
See this movie.