Review of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) is a high school kid starting in a new honors boarding school in his Brooklyn neighborhood. His father is Jefferson Davis (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry), a cop, and his mother is Rio Morales (voiced by Lauren Luna Velez), a nurse. They want the best for their son, but Miles would rather go back to his public high school. His uncle Aaron (voiced by Mahershala Ali) is on the outs with Jefferson, but Miles looks up to him. Aaron supports Miles’ artistic talents and takes him to an abandoned subway tunnel where he can paint a graffiti mural on a blank wall. While down there, a genetically modified spider from a nearby lab bites Miles, beginning his transformation into Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Wilson Fisk (voiced by Liev Schreiber), is in that lab attempting to fire up a particle collider and Spider-Man (voiced by Chris Pine) is trying to stop him. While looking for his Uncle Aaron, Miles stumbles into the fight between Spider-Man, Green Goblin (voiced by Jorma Toccone), Scorpion (voiced by Joaquin Cosio) and other of Fisk’s henchmen. Spider-Man senses Miles has powers as well and saves Miles when he nearly falls to his death. Spider-Man has a flash drive he needs to insert into a panel at the top of the collider to shut it down but never gets the chance before the device is turned on. The collider creates rifts in the fabric of reality, pulling several Spider-people from other realities. The collider explodes, injuring Spider-Man. He gives Miles the flash drive and tells him stopping Fisk from restarting the collider is the only thing that will save all of reality. Miles runs away, and Fisk kills Spider-Man. Miles visits Peter Parker’s grave, wondering what he’s going to do as he doesn’t know how to be Spider-Man. That’s when alternate universe Peter B. Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson) approaches Miles. This Parker is a little chubby and older than the Spider-Man Miles knows. He figures out the only way he can get back to his reality is to take the flash drive and turn the collider back on, but Miles needs to destroy the collider to fulfill his promise to his Spider-Man. Parker is reluctant but sees potential in Miles and agrees to train him. When a raid on Fisk’s laboratory goes wrong, Gwen Stacy, aka Spider-Woman (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) shows up to help. Then Peter, Miles and Gwen meet Spider-Man from the 1930’s (voiced by Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (voiced by Kimiko Glenn) from a future Tokyo where she operates a robot powered by a radioactive spider, and Spider-Ham (voiced by John Mulaney), a talking pig named Peter Porker. Together they team up to face off against Fisk and his henchmen. If they don’t get back to their respective realities, they will painfully die.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is probably the ultimate Spider-Man movie. Since it’s animation, anything can happen, and it does in this film. It takes versions of Spider-Man that have only been seen in comics and video games and brings them all together for an adventure that’s as much about growing up and finding your way in the world as it is about learning to use and control your newly acquired powers and stopping the bad guy’s evil plan.

The animation style of the film is a mixture of computer graphics, comic book wording popping up in the frame, color splashes and random geometric shapes, and simpler animation reminiscent of Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny cartoons of the 1940’s and 1950’s. All these styles combine to create a unique and visually stunning movie that always has something interesting to look at.

For a moment, I thought I had walked into a 3D showing of the film as characters appeared to have halos around them or they were split. It is the filmmaker’s way of making sure you focus on the right character. The person speaking, or the one we should be paying attention to, is in focus, while any secondary characters are slightly blurry. It doesn’t happen in every scene as there are often multiple characters we should be focused on, but it does happen often enough that I noticed it.

The story of Miles, his interactions with the various Spider-powered people (and pig) that show up, his lack of confidence in himself and his abilities and the stress of being a kid with superpowers is all part of this hero’s journey. It is a well-told origin story that manages to juggle nearly a dozen characters in a way a live-action film couldn’t handle. Perhaps it’s the actor’s voices are what’s on display instead of their faces that makes the difference. Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 3” was criticized for having too many villains. While “…Spider-Verse” actually has more bad guys taking an active role in the story, most of them are only henchmen we see for a couple of action scenes with the story focusing on three villainous characters. If you tried to have as many bad guys in a live-action film, you’d have egos flaring up over a lack of screen time. Here, some of the villains are only used to physically challenge our heroes and have very few lines. It’s a smart way to provide fan service, showing some of the better-known Spider-Man baddies while being able to focus on three primary villains. The same can be said for the Spider-Heroes as Miles, Peter and Gwen are the leads and Noir, Peni and Ham are used mostly for comic relief or as a diversion. It is a smart division of labor that allows for more characters and more for the fans to see and enjoy.

The voice performances are all great, but I must confess my favorite was John Mulaney. While Spider-Ham doesn’t get much screen time, Mulaney always delivers a strong line reading and a punchline delivered with the polish one would expect from a popular touring standup comic. I wouldn’t have minded getting more Spider-Ham in the film, but this wasn’t his story; however, spin-off films are being discussed at Sony Animation and my vote is for Peter Porker to get a movie, even direct to Blu-Ray or VOD, about his reality where animals talk and some have superpowers.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language. While the death of Peter Parker isn’t shown, it is obvious what happens to him. There are several fight scenes with bizarre villains and the Spider-People. We also see Miles try out his spider powers and fail spectacularly with his falling from a great height. Miles is threatened with death from a bad guy, but the bad guy refuses to kill him and the bad guy is then shot by Wilson Fisk. In all the deaths we don’t see any blood. Foul language is limited to the use of the world “Hell.”

Stan Lee has a cameo in the film as the clerk at a costume shop where Miles buys a Spider-Man costume. His lines speak to loss, making it all the more touching since his death in November. There is also a tribute card in the credits to both Lee and Steve Ditko. Without these two visionaries, both of whom died this year, we wouldn’t have this amazing and thrilling cinematic world filled with flawed heroes given extraordinary gifts and the wonderous deeds they perform. This version of the web head (or heads) is a refreshing take on a character that has had too many reboots over the last several years. Perhaps the best way for Sony to continue to make money with Spider-Man is to keep him in the animated realm. As long as they keep making films as good as this one, I will keep giving them my money.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” gets five stars.

For my review of “The Mule” starring Clint Eastwood, click below:

The Mule

It’s a busy week at your local multiplex as the holiday releases are all hoping to capture your pocket jingle. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Opening Wednesday:
Mary Poppins Returns—

Opening Friday:
Aquaman—

Bumblebee—

Second Act—

Welcome to Marwen—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for movie, TV and streaming news available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Widows”

A crew of armed robbers led by Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) conduct big money heists in and around Chicago. They are very good at what they do, but one night their luck runs out. A shootout in a garage with police causes an explosion of compressed gas canisters, killing Rawlings and his three accomplices. Rawlings wife Veronica (Viola Davis) is left to grieve her loss, but she also has a much bigger problem. The target of Rawlings last job was gangster turned aspiring politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry). Rawlings and his crew stole $2-million and Manning wants it back to use in his campaign for a seat on the Chicago Board of Aldermen. Manning give Veronica one month to come up with the money or he’ll kill her. Manning’s opponent for the seat is Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), the son of long-time alderman Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall). Jack is reluctantly following in his father’s footsteps but is just as corrupt and bigoted as him. Manning and Mulligan are in a tight race and that $2-million could be important in the final push to election day. Rawlings kept a notebook of all his jobs, including his next one that has a potential take of $5-million. Veronica recruits the widows of Harry’s crew: Linda Perelli (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice Gunner (Elizabeth Debicki). The fourth widow Amanda Nunn (Carrie Coon) has a newborn baby and doesn’t want to be involved in the plan. Each woman has their strengths and weaknesses and Veronica is the leader despite rubbing her partners the wrong way. A fourth woman, Belle (Cynthia Erivo), who babysits for Linda and works at a hair salon that’s being shaken down by Jack Mulligan, joins the crew as a driver. The group of inexperienced robbers have just a few days left before the one-month deadline passes and must learn to work together as a team to pull off a complicated plan to save their lives.

“Widows” is a smart heist movie. It shows us almost all the parts of the plan but holds just enough back to allow for a few surprises. The film also drops personal nuggets about the main relationship in the story, between Harry and Veronica, that are mysteries at first. As the film moves along, we get explanations to these mysteries and reasons for moments of drama and sadness. Director Steve McQueen has taken what could have been a very average crime flick and turned it into a relationship drama between the four women and the ghosts of their husbands. The amazing thing is it works no matter what part of the story is the highlight at any given moment.

Viola Davis gives a masterpiece of a performance as Veronica. The grieving widow shows us flashbacks to better times with her and Harry. We also get a look at their darkest time during the loss of their son. It’s a tough and intense performance that was likely emotionally tiring for Davis. She is called upon to cry approximately a dozen times throughout the film. Veronica rarely smiles when she’s on screen. The one time she does, it looks like it takes all the strength she has. Davis is a warrior and a leader as Veronica. She isn’t always the most likable character, but her motivations are understandable. She is under the gun, literally, and has a plan in place to get Manning his money. She can’t waste time with weakness, mistakes and stupidity. Despite her own inexperience as a thief, Veronica must put on a brave face. In quiet times alone in her home, Veronica can barely get out of bed, but somehow finds the strength to lead her crew. While this may not be the kind of film that gets Oscar recognition, Davis deserves serious consideration for best actress.

The rest of the supporting cast is excellent. A standout is Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme Manning, the brother and bloodthirsty enforcer for Jamal Manning. He has a crazy look in his eye all the time. He gets in people’s faces to intimidate them and is quick to pull the trigger. Kaluuya doesn’t have many lines in the film, but his character doesn’t need many to get his point across. A simple wave, smile and wink have the opposite of those gestures usual meanings when Kaluuya’s character uses them. He’s a bully but can also back up his threats by carrying them out. You may have loved his character in “Get Out,” but you won’t be a big fan of Jatemme Manning in “Widows.”

The story of “Widows” doesn’t stick to one topic. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker that might have been a problem; however, Steve McQueen handles the various topics in the film with an even hand and laser focus. While the heist planning and execution is the focus, the story veers into politics and the corruption Chicago is famous for. The family dynasty at risk, the kickbacks, the payoffs, the quid pro quo, all is on display in the film. Embedded in the corruption is racism and misogyny. Davis delivers a line about no one believing the women have the balls to pull off the job and she’s right. Mulligan uses a group of women business owners as a prop during a campaign appearance but doesn’t let them speak. Mulligan has a female assistant that is frequently referred to in derogatory terms or ogled like a piece of meat. A couple of the wives are used and abused by their husbands. One of the wives becomes an escort to make ends meet. While her client appears to be a decent guy that can afford to pay for her company, he winds up treating her more as an employee than a partner. It’s a movie with many messages and most of them are powerful men suck.

“Widows” is rated R for some sexual content/nudity, language throughout and violence. There is a brief sex scene that shows a man’s bare backside and a woman’s breasts. There are some bloody shootings and a scene where stabbing is used as torture. There is also a scene showing the aftermath of domestic abuse. A mother slaps her adult daughter. Foul language is common.

“Widows” doesn’t waste time trying to convince us anyone in the film is a good guy or a bad guy. The real villains wear suits and the women commit a crime to save their lives. There is no black and white in “Widows” only varying shades of grey. It’s a tense film with the looming dread of death hanging over all the characters. Who lives and dies is always in doubt. While you may question whether a group of inexperienced people could pull off such a complicated robbery, you will be thrilled by all the planning, details and the execution. It’s a fantastic film and you should see it.

“Widows” gets five stars.

The holiday weekend sees most releases opening on Wednesday. I’ll see at least one of the following:

Creed 2—

Green Book—

Ralph Breaks the Internet—

Robin Hood—

The Front Runner—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news in TV, movies and streaming available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.