Movie Review — Into the blurred murk of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

 

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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 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 that 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.

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.

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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 direct-to-DVD quality of the animation) 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-erse.” I’ll bet it’s perfectly acceptable streaming or on home video where every flaw in motion, design and finish isn’t obvious. As an aesthetic choice, it just doesn’t work. Was it MEANT to hurt the eyes? 

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 “Spiderverse” making the trek to the big screen.

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.

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MPAA Rating: PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language

Cast: The voices of  Shameik Moore, Jake JohnsonHailee Steinfeld, Lily Tomlin, Nicolas Cage, Zoe Kravitz, Kimiko Glenn, Kathryn Hahn

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

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8 Responses to Movie Review — Into the blurred murk of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

  1. Dan Jones says:

    I can’t tell if you’re joking about the animation. It’s an extreme look for a studio movie and may not be to your taste, but it’s hardly cutrate. If this is pixelated, so is a Lichstenstein painting. It looks and moves like a comic book, sometimes isolating poses and letting us see each part of the movement individually, sometimes more fluid. It is textured like a printed comic book page. I assume this is trolling or satire because it is so self-evident that an enormous amount of craft and intention went into the film’s visual style, whether or not it works. (It did for me, and I saw it in IMAX.)

    • It looked ugly with blurry action and it went on FOREVER like that, and yes, I considered “Maybe they’re pushing for a printed on the page look.” Still ass-ugly and headache inducing. I liken it to “Spy Kids 3D,” where the 3D genuinely (pre-Real D) did not work and many complained.

  2. senryo says:

    I respect your opinion and look forward to discovering if this animation style works or feels cheap and sloppy. It did feel a bit off during the action scenes in the trailers. Perhaps the pixelation is meant to simulate the granular printing of a classic comic, but the comics this is based on are no longer printed in that fashion – so I suspect the rough edges are a stylistic choice that masks some of the choppiness of the animation.

    Do you genuinely think that the intent was to reduce costs by prioritizing viewing on a phone/tablet screen over the theater experience? I wouldn’t put it past Sony, but it also feels as though cutting straight to the key frames and skipping the inbetweens is consistent with the modern “give me the good stuff and give it to me right now,” on demand, instant gratification culture. Of course, the surface intent was to mimic the experience of reading comics as you state in the review, but I’ll be curious to see if this style resonates more strongly with younger viewers, and if the long, complex, and serious second half can hold their attention.

    Brace yourself for the swarm of angry fanboys and girls who shall shortly drop from the bowels of Rotten Tomatoes and pelt you with ad hominem for committing the highest crime known to capitalism – popping the sacred hype bubble. Thank you for your honest opinion – they’re becoming rarer in these days when the line between review and advertisement is more and more blurred.

  3. Come On Now. says:

    You really had to be the *one* negative review, huh? *cough* clickbait.

  4. Pad88 says:

    Congrats to you. You finally dropped the movie’s perfect 100% rating down to 99%. You gave a mediocre rating to such an amazing movie, and that’s completely ludicrous. The animation was great in my opinion. Initially I was as negative as you are, and the choppiness was a little off-putting. But as the movie went along, not only did it no longer bother me… but it made sense. We’re not looking at Disney, or Dreamworks, or the styles of other major animated studios… Sony Animation created something new here. It’s a brand new comic book-styled animation, kinda like “motion comics 2.0” as I call it. So if you wanna compare this animation style to something else you’ve seen before, don’t refer to Disney and co., but perhaps WB’s ‘The Lego Movie’, or Laika’s various claymation films if you’d like. But I wouldn’t compare it to anything else. ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ has a new style of its own making. And it may not be appealing to everyone (although it already is for 99% of the critics on RT, and for myself), but if it isn’t, you have to learn to understand that it’s not that the animation itself was sloppy… it just wasn’t catered to your taste. Kinda like spicy Indian cuisine, not everyone likes it (I do), but it doesn’t mean that it’s crappy food… it’s just not for them, plain and simple. I thought the movie was great, and that the animation was truly something special.

    • A staggering number of Bill Maher fans have been freaking out that “the rating” isn’t “perfect.” Adorable foul-mouthed lemmings, they are. Go to Metacritic for a minute, whydoncha? Yes, it’s the New ‘Citizen Kane,’ and I am enjoying the witty put downs of a New Algonquin Round Table. A few critics I talked to noted “I thought they’d forgotten to hand out 3D glasses” re: the animation, but didn’t have the guts to say so. One warned the studio to expect “seizures.” But again, didn’t pan the movie. But enough of this, 99% of these tirades are from wits who haven’t seen the movie, a select hardcore group of fanatics. I write in warning for those NOT so inclined, and as these verbose anonymous tantrums serve no purpose, over and out on this movie.

  5. Hannah Braddock says:

    I think you should learn more about animation before talking about it, because it really feels like you think Pixar smoothness is indicative of quality animation. And no self-respecting movie goer over the age of 13 would believe that

    • Dear Hannah, I have spent more time in animation workpits, visited more animated films in production, from big time studios and local start ups (Orlando had a Disney Animation studio for years, but you’re probably too young to know that), have profiled legends of the profession including the last of the “Nine Old Men,” (look them up, dear). Chuck Jones, Henry Selick and Tim Burton and Lord and Laika legends in the making and have more studio animators on my Facebook feed and have forgotten more about animation than you will ever learn.

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