Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a perfectly good animated superhero movie. What is odd is that in my bubble of movie reception, that feels like a intentional contrarianism. I have seen this movie lauded as the best superhero movie ever made, animated or otherwise. I can’t join in that high praise. It is good, very good even. But there must be something I am missing that transforms this very good film into some sort of unforgettable experience that others seem to be seeing.

Into the Spider-Verse is about Miles Morales, a young kid who is bitten by a radioactive spider, just like Peter Parker was. After some events involving the Kingpin, several other Spider-Man villains, and an attempt to breach into other realities, Miles must team with a middle-aged Spider-Man to stop all of reality for shattering.

The visuals are amazing. Into the Spider-Verse does a magnificent job of portraying a comic book animated, taking more from the coloring than the panels and borders. The inhabitants of the various realities all have their own animation style, each is done with loving care. However, the combination of of the coloring and the movie’s use of focus make it more than a little distracting; as though I was watching a 3D movie without the glasses on. Most people do not seem to share my complaints, so it likely won’t bother most people.

The movie also shows a great love and understanding of Spider-Man. It introduces various versions of the character, and plays with the various elements of the character’s origins. Each of the origin retains the central message of “with great power must also come great responsibility.” Miles’s origin is along the same lines. There are certainly differences, for starters his parents are still alive. But by the time it reaches its conclusion, Miles has reached the same place a Peter. The various Spider-people are a lot of fun. Outside of the run down Peter who reluctantly works as Miles mentor, there is the confident and assured Gwen Stacy, who isn’t completely new like Miles or as beaten as Peter. Then there are the three more wild variations. The black and white Spider-Man Noir, the anime inspired Peni Parker and the looney tunes-esque Peter Porker, an anthropomorphic pig.

Into the Spider-Verse is fun. It is an origin story, but there is a lot more going on. However, that a lot more going on is where it kind of leaves me cold. Miles story almost gets enough time to develop, as does Peter’s, but every other character is underserved. Gwen gets a couple of scenes, but nothing resembling an arc. A few of the villains have vague motivations, but that is it. The other Spider-people are just there for flavor. Which is fine, but then the movie tries to get you to care about their struggles near the end and it just falls flat. Still, this are minor problems in what is largely a very good movie.

Maybe my problem is that I just don’t care all that much about Spider-Man. I had similar problems with Spider-Man Homecoming. I like Spider-Man just fine, but he is far from a favorite. Just like this movie; I like it just fine, but that’s about it.

****

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Mortal Engines Review

Mortal Engines is the kind of movie that comes along every few years; a completely excellent sci-fi or fantasy adventure that loses a lot of money and is dismissed by almost everyone despite being exactly what I want to see. A blu-ray copy of Mortal Engines will sit next to Willow and John Carter on my shelf and I will drive people crazy going on and on about how great it is. Because I loved Mortal Engines. The plot lacks any semblance of originality, but it just such a breathless adventure that I couldn’t help but love it anyway.

The opening exposition explains the concept of this movie. After an apocalypse, people built cities on tank treads and they roam the countryside devouring smaller cities for replacement parts and fuel. It is, of course, pure nonsense, but if you can simply buy into this initial premise the movie is sticks with its internal logic and is a heap of fun. It starts with a scarred young woman, Hester Shaw, sneaking aboard London to assassinate Valentine, an important official in the city. She is stopped, however, by a young historian named Tom. After Hester falls from the ship, Valentine throws Tom off as well. The two end up working together to get back to London, for their own reasons.

The plot is mostly Star Wars. Tom and Hester find themselves in many predicaments and eventually start to become an effective team. Hester learns to trust Tom and Tom learns how to survive as Hester has. Eventually they are joined by Fang, a mysterious woman with a bright red airship. She is essentially Han Solo, except she is the one with ties to those who oppose London and the superweapon Valentine is building. The trio are chased by Shrike, a undead cyborg who is after Hester for unknown reasons.

The movie just moves, never settling in one place for long. It does an amazing job of just keeping building. The problems and obligations faced by Tom and Hester mount and mount as they meet more and more colorful characters and learn more and more about what Valentine is up to.

It is a well put together movie. CHaracters have clear motivations and arcs, and are mostly well played by a cast of not precisely newcomers but also not big names. The visuals are amazing. The movie is filled with things that have never been seen in a live action movie before. The fanciful city and airship designs are delightful. Each place our heroes visit is strikingly different from the others. It all looks really good.

It is not shocking that this movie has not been successful. The only name in the cast is Hugo Weaving, and as good as he is, I doubt he is moving the needle much for a blockbuster movie. The books are not obscure, but they are also not extraordinarily well known. It is a big gamble on something original when original things really do not sell. It is also earnest and sincere in a time that is not particularly receptive to sincerity. I hope, however, that this movie manages to find its audience anyway. The movie is too much fun not to. I know I am going to be singing it praises to any faintly sympathetic ear for years to come.

****1/2