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Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018 12:04 am

Vibrant, imaginative Spider-Verse a true delight


Sony Pictures has made more than a few questionable moves where the Spider-Man franchise is concerned.

After bringing the web head to the big screen with the trilogy directed by Sam Raimi, they stumbled badly with the Andrew Garfield-led reboot that consisted of two underperforming entries. (I suppose everything’s relative – the pair of films brought in more than $1.4 billion combined!?) Farming out the character to Marvel Films, Sony now gets a cut from any of the movies with Tom Holland in the lead, and while their effort to expand the franchise by focusing on supporting characters with Venom was a box office hit, it didn’t fare well with critics.

Their latest foray into the seminal Marvel character’s world, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, is likely to please all interested parties. Featuring all nature of spider characters, the film is the most dynamic and striking animated movie of the year, a work that combines a myriad of visual styles to create a distinctive vision with nods towards elements of old-school animation fused with the latest in digital technology. It’s a visually exciting approach that reflects the story’s post-modern yet progressive take on the oft-told tale of great power begetting great responsibility.

The screenplay by Phil Lord features not one Spider-Man, but rather seven (Count ‘em! Seven!) spider characters. This is all due to the nefarious plan by seminal spider foes the Green Goblin (voice by Jorma Taccone) and Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), who’ve created a dimension collider that collapses one reality into another until all will eventually be one.

During a practice run, five alternate worlds are combined with ours, bringing their respective Spider-Men to our world. There’s Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), a bit of a slacker with a gut; Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Parker’s girlfriend who runs afoul of the radioactive spider on her world; Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), an anime-rendered hero with a Spider-Robot; Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a pig who climbs walls and cracks wise; and Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), a Sam Spade-like private eye with arachnid powers. Their presence comes as quite a surprise to the newest Spider-Man, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a teen who’s just crossed paths with his fateful radioactive spider and is reeling from witnessing the death of the original web head, Peter Parker (Chris Pine).

You’d think you’d need a scorecard to keep all these spider characters straight, but Lord hits the pause button each time a new one is introduced to give viewers a quick review of their respective origins, each the same but a bit different. There’s a tongue-in-cheek, post-modern attitude towards all of this as if Lord and the film’s three directors are freely admitting the derivative nature of these characters yet embracing them all the same. Spider-Man Noir is the most inspired of these, what with him being rendered in black-and-white hues, personal gusts of wind and trench coat outfits, and an outrageous construct made all the more so by Cage’s manic dialogue delivery concerning existential angst and moral ambiguity.

As constructed by directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, the film is a pastiche of various visual styles that result in a distinctive vision as varied yet united as the spider characters themselves. Old-school style animation butts up against the newest digital techniques as thought bubbles, dialogue boxes and spelled-out sound effects punctuate the vibrant fluid action. There’s one constant visual delight after another to drink in as one scene after another begs to be frozen and analyzed. Spider-Verse is far and away the best animated feature of the year, containing a world of wonders I wouldn’t mind revisiting sometime soon.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.


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