Yes, that’s how it’s supposed to look. And no, Sony Animation should not have let “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” out its doors and onto big screens in this blurred, jerky, pixelated condition.
No kidding, six minutes into it, I go track down the studio’s representative at the screening, who had overseen other showings of the film in our market. No, that’s just how it looks, he assures me.
So did all those folks raving this up on Rottentomatoes watch it off screeners on their home systems? Because this plainly cut-rate or at least ill-advised enterprise, in which the dot matrix of characters’ CGI is plainly visible on an IMAX screen near you, the action as jerky as 1960s TV anime and action beats devolve into a “Transformers” blur, is ugly enough on the big screen to spoil a pretty good effort at redefining the comic book movie. They wanted to make it look like a comic book? They went too far.
As in, animate it. Make it look and feel like a comic, with thought balloons for narration, an embracing and a mocking of the entire on-page and onscreen history of the character. Throw in a cuter than usual Stan Lee cameo and the tone, at least, is spot on.
But choosing this “style” without realizing how problematic it would be? How’d that happen?
It is not, as one of the alternate universe Spider-Men (or woman or pig or teen girl), this one a black and white (“noir”) “Shadow” knockoff from the 1930s voiced by Nicolas Cage (perfect) growls, “pretty hard core for an origin story!”
A charter school kid of African American-Latino heritage (Shameik Moore) is bitten by a radioactive spider this time. But there’s already a Spider-Man who has the market cornered on all this crime-fighting and web slinging. It’s only on meeting Peter Parker (wiseacre Jake Johnson) that young Miles is pulled into the fight, against Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), who has a collider/particle accelerator that his minions (Kathryn Hahn is Doc Ock) will use to tear a hole in space-time and tap into alternate universes.
Kingpin? He has his reasons. But that means other Spider-Men break into Miles’ universe, and there are Spider-Man casualties.
Luckily for Miles, he’s got all these comic books to study on how the webslinger is supposed to behave, teach him Spidey’s ethos, all that. “Our family doesn’t run,” and “No matter how many times you get knocked down, it’s getting back up again that matters.”
Good stuff. If only the young teen was confident enough to live up to it. If only he was brave enough to take that first plunge off a big city high rise. That’s a clever touch, too. Bit of a fraidy-cat, this Spider-Man-Miles.
The main story is just recycled variations on generic comic book themes, and nothing special. It’s the flippant tone, the awkward adjustment of the kid to “changes” in his body (sticky hands and feet, etc.), changes he attributes to “puberty,” that give “Spiderverse” a lift.
“I don’t think you know what puberty is,” a sassy new student who calls herself “Wanda” (Hailee Steinfeld) suggests.
With each new alternate Spider-Man, the kid hears “You’re like ME,” which Miles is slow accepting.
“I don’t WANT to be.”
The long LONG animated film (which seems longer thanks to the poor aesthetic choice that gives it a direct-to-DVD animation feel) is front-loaded with a lot of laughs, which thin out just as the second hour is getting started. The visuals are even harder on the eyes than the junky looking (somewhat intentionally so) “Teen Titans Go!” movie of earlier this year.
These films were plainly put into production with “devices” other than movie theater projection in mind, as there is no Sony Animation, Pixar, Dreamworks or Blue Sky production that looks as unfinished as “Spider-verse.” I’ll bet it’s perfectly acceptable streaming or on home video where every flaw in motion, design and finish isn’t as obvious. As an aesthetic choice, it just doesn’t work. Was it MEANT to hurt the eyes and induce headaches?
Fans of the current TV series and “Spider-Man” completists may find more to chew on here. I was amused that Miles is using his mom’s last name (Morales) because his dad’s last name is Davis. Who wants to go by Miles Davis? His Dad (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry) is named Jefferson Davis, so clearly he knew the joke he was ruining on his kid’s birth certificate.
But a lot of recognizable (Lily Tomlin is Aunt May) voices, and unrecognizable ones (Chris Pine and Oscar Isaac are also in the cast), a lot of comic book touches (interior monologues in thought-boxes and the like) and the general jokiness don’t justify this “Spider-verse” making the trek to the big screen.
Direct. To. Video.
And if I’m the only one to say that, so be it. I can’t review anything but the headache-inducing blown-up TV (under) animated miasma I see before me. This is sloppy.
MPAA Rating: PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language
Credits: Directed by Bob Persicheti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, script by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman. A Marvel/Sony Animation release.
Running time: 1:57