Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Making a Weakness into a Strength (Spoiler-Free)

A brand new Spider-Man debuts along with a host of other Spider-Beings in this amazing work of comic art.

SUMMARY

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is a teenage fan of Spider-Man (Chris Pine) who is dealing with his new life at a boarding school located in an elite area of Brooklyn. His father (Brian Tyree Henry) and his mother (Luna Lauren Velez) are both supportive, but also have high expectations of Miles due to his academic and athletic potential. After crushing hard on his classmate Wanda (Hailee Steinfeld), Miles goes to his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) for advice and ends up being bitten by a radioactive spider while painting a tunnel with his uncle. It turns out that Miles is now a new Spider-Man at a time when the world needs him most, because the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) is trying to open a portal to the multiverse which summons a number of parallel Spider-beings, including an older Spider-Man (Jake Johnson), Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), Peter Porker the amazing Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), SP//dr the Japanese mecha spider-woman (Kimiko Glenn), and Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage). Together, they have to save the multiverse from a cabal of supervillains.

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I wish this were a spoiler, but it was in the ads. Also, holy crap, I love this. 

END SUMMARY

Origin stories are hard. Even if we’re being introduced an original character or a character that isn’t well-known, like Darkman or Ant-Man, going through all of the steps of a character’s transformation from zero to hero is usually formulaic. Some movies mostly eschew the traditional origin story in favor of only showing a few flashbacks of the origin, like Tim Burton’s Batman, but if you’re doing an origin story, they’re usually going to contain the same beats. This movie is no exception, except in how exceptionally it does it. In fact, it doesn’t just do an origin story, it heavily leans into all of the good things that can come from watching an origin story, then ratchets that needle up to eleven by introducing, not one, not two, not three, but seven Spider-beings in the movie, with even more by cameo.

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Whereas, some movies can feature an already beloved character and a future superstar and still be garbage baked in hell’s own outhouse.

Part of it is that the film knows it can rely on the audience’s familiarity with the Spider-Man franchise. The first Spider-Man we meet is introduced using flashes from past Spider-Man movies, but with some twists to say “this is that Spider-Man, but not exactly, so don’t get worked up over continuity.” This movie doesn’t just rely on flashback origin stories, but it plays with the idea heavily by doing it multiple times, each time presenting it as an origin-story comic book in a different style resembling that character’s universe, including one humorous scene where they attempt to introduce three at the same time, overlapping their origins. Part of the reason why this works is that the characters are all variants on the same Spider-Man story, even though they don’t necessarily share gender, powers, or even species. It’s basically a movie dedicated to proving that even if there are only a handful of core stories in the world, the variations on those stories and the variations on the variations can provide us with an infinite amount of entertainment.

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Zombie Joseph Campbell attended the premiere. 

Despite the number of superpeople/superanimal in the movie, the film’s central story is that of Miles Morales coming to terms with not only being Spider-Man, but with the legacy that wearing a spider upon your chest brings with it. With every other Spider-character, they’re already at varying stages of being a superhero (i.e. brand-new, experienced, golden age, over-the-hill), which basically gives Miles an idea about all of the different ways that being Spider-Man can go. However, he also gets the benefit of all of them telling him the one thing that absolutely defines a Spider-Man: Always getting up when you’re knocked down. This isn’t a new theme, in fact it’s so overused it’s almost cliche, but the film actually gets to the implications of this statement, rather than just making it an empty platitude. A large part of this is that the art style in the film is very big on accentuating impacts. When a character gets knocked down, YOU FEEL IT. You know just how hurt they are right now and how hard it’s going to be to get up, which makes it actually feel like a heroic act when a hero, broken, bleeding, and beaten, still manages to continue.

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This is concept art that didn’t make it in, but see those impact lines? Yeah, that’s what you feel.

Another thing is that this movie knows one thing that so many movies forget: Even in superhero movies, we want heart. Most of this movie isn’t focused on just watching Miles be Spider-Man, but on how he feels. Yes, he’s dealing with new superpowers and interdimensional travelers, but he also is dealing with guilt over not being able to help people due to his inconsistent powers, feeling like he’s disappointing his parents and his mentor Spider-Man, and just dealing with the difficulties of being a teenager. Much like in Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man 2, Miles’ emotional instability makes his powers unstable, which culminates in a scene in the movie in which he finally finds emotional clarity and his powers at the same time. In most films, the “suddenly able to use your powers” moment is cliche and feels unearned (exception: “I’m always angry” due to Rule of Awesome). But, since the film tied his powers to his emotions, his emotional growth in that moment actually DOES justify the sudden use of his abilities, giving the audience a massive burst of catharsis right before leading us to the third-act ramp-up.

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And they exaggerate the eyes just a little to make him more expressive. Love it.

The art style in the film is possibly the best I’ve ever seen in an animated film, including Disney and Pixar, mostly because it varies from character to character (based on universes) and looks like living comic book panels, complete with animated sound effects. SP//DR is drawn as an anime character, Spider-Man Noir has no color whatsoever, Spider-Gwen has power ballads (she’s a musician in her universe) and bright colors, and Spider-Ham is a Looney Tunes style pig. When they all work in concert, it somehow produces an unbelievable surge of beautiful images rather than being an overload of visuals.

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The script is comedic genius, as you’d expect from Phil Lord, but it contains a shocking amount of really dark moments. Death isn’t reserved for just Uncle Ben, because part of being Spider-Man is losing someone in the past, and we have a lot of Spider-Beings. This makes even the goofy parts of the movies feel like there are actual stakes to the fights.  Also, your villain gets a backstory that lasts maybe 45 seconds, but is so complete that it almost justifies all of his actions throughout the movie, something that continues the ambiguous Marvel villains series (Thanos was right-ish).

It also contains possibly the best Stan Lee cameo (R.I.P. you wonderful man).

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Not that one.

This isn’t just the best Spider-Man movie; this might be the best superhero film. If you can, see it in the theaters, because the visuals merit the big screen. If you can’t, see it anyway, because the script merits a small screen.

Ten Stars. Four thumbs up. 100% Fresh. Whatever you want to say, this movie is one of the best things I’ve seen in a while, maybe since How to Train Your Dragon. Even though it contains a heavy dose of every cliche in the origin story handbook, it manages to play all of them with just the right amount of variance and sincere love for the characters that it reminds us why all of those tropes get used in the first place. I love this film.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

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Mandy: Nicolas Cage’s Awesomely Nicolas-Cage-iest Movie

Leaving Las Vegas. Raising Arizona. Con Air. National Treasure. The Wicker Man. The Weather Man. Lord of War. Adaptation. Face/Off. Gone in 60 Seconds (and a cameo in its porn version: Bone in 69 Sexconds). Vampire’s Kiss. The Rock. Next. Knowing. Bangkok Dangerous. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Kick-Ass. Peggy Sue Got Married. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Ghost Rider. Mom and Dad. Looking Glass. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies.

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Those were just the ones I could name in 30 seconds.


Nicolas Cage has done some stuff. Some of it has been amazing, like Leaving Las Vegas and Raising Arizona. Some of it has been terrible, like USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage and Windtalkers. But a lot of it has just been Nicolas Cage-y, which is to say so insane and entertaining that things like “good” and “bad” seem to be irrelevant. Con Air might make movie critics vomit with rage, but I’ll yell at random strangers to “Put the Bunny Back in the Box.” Vampire’s Kiss is literally an internet meme now, but there’s no one who can tell me that they have watched it and thought that any other actor could do that movie. Cage has been great, he’s been terrible, but mostly he’s just been Cage.

 

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Yes, I do say.

With that in mind, I can say the following: This is the most Cage that he has ever been, but this movie was clearly written to bring out as much Cage as he could bring. AND IT IS AMAZING. This isn’t a “So bad it’s good” movie or a “So insane I can’t look away” movie. This is a great movie that has all the trappings of a bad movie done in such a beautiful and insane way that can only be captured by the crazy talented mind that is Nicolas Cage.

Mini-Summary (for the impatient)

Red Miller’s girlfriend Mandy gets abducted by a cult. He goes on a roaring rampage of revenge with an axe, a crossbow, and a chainsaw.

SUMMARY

It’s the 80s, because everything was more fun back then. Red Miller (Cage) lives with his girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) in the Shadow Mountains in Eastern California. Red works as a logger while Mandy is an artist that does elaborate fantasy pieces (Think stuff that would be awesome airbrushed on a van). While they don’t say anything directly, both of them show signs of having trauma in their pasts that have led them to having a stronger bond to help each other.

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They’re adorable.

Mandy is on her way to her day job at a gas station when she walks past a van carrying cult members of the Children of the New Dawn. The leader of the cult, Jeremiah Sand (Linus “You know who I am, but probably wouldn’t recognize me here” Roache), immediately becomes obsessed with Mandy. He orders his lieutenant, Brother Swan (Ned Dennehy), to kidnap her. Swan enlists the help of the Black Skulls, a possibly-semi-magical demon-themed biker gang who are also LSD-tripping cannibals. The Skulls require a sacrifice for their help, resulting in Swan giving them one of the low-ranking cult members.

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Arguably the least-insane of the biker outfits.

 

The bikers break into Red and Mandy’s home and capture the two. Two of the cult members, Mother Marlene and Sister Lucy (Olwen Fouéré and Line Pillet), drug Mandy with some liquid LSD and the venom of a specially bred wasp. At this point, the movie becomes significantly trippier, something that, admittedly, is tough to accomplish when you’ve already had demon bikers and a hippie cult.

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And yet, it somehow will…

Sand attempts to seduce Mandy with his music (having been a failed musician), claiming that he has divine providence and right over all things. Mandy responds by laughing at his small penis and generally pathetic nature. This causes Sand to consider for a moment that he is not, in fact, divine or special, so he becomes angry and orders Red to be tied up with barbed wire and stabbed. He then forces Red to watch as he sets Mandy on fire, burning her to ashes before leaving. Red frees himself, then passes out from blood-loss and shock. When he awakens, he drinks an entire bottle of vodka (his character is implied to be recovering alcoholic) and then gives one of the best performances on film.

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Admittedly, this part is great too.

I’m not kidding. I’ll go into it more down there, but Cage, in one unbroken take, goes from confused to sad to angry to accepting to vengeful. It’s one of the best scenes I’ve ever seen, and it stems entirely from the fact that Nicolas Cage, when given the right script, is one hell of a performer.

After swearing vengeance, Red goes to his old friend (and probably former comrade in arms) Caruthers (Bill “I was in Commando and Predator” F*cking Duke). Caruthers gives Red a run-down on the Black Skulls and gives him “the Reaper,” Red’s old crossbow. Red forges a battle-axe and proceeds to get captured by the Skulls. However, he escapes and goes on a rampage, killing all of the bikers and taking a bunch of cocaine and LSD that make the movie, again, TRIPPY AS F*CK.

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“As long as Arnold isn’t here, I’ll survive.”

Red heads to where he thinks the Cult is, only to find the Chemist (Richard Brake), a drug manufacturer who tells Red where the cult actually is. Red proceeds to the cult’s church and kills several members of the cult with an axe before getting in a CHAINSAW DUEL, BECAUSE WHY THE HELL NOT???? He eventually kills all the members before finding Sand, who is now openly a pathetic waste of a man. Sand begs for mercy, but Red opts to crush his skull with his bare hands instead. He burns the church down, gets in his car, and hallucinates that Mandy is with him again and that he’s driving away from an otherworldly landscape that resembles her paintings.

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I’m weeping with joy at this.

END SUMMARY

First off, this movie trips so much balls that the doses of LSD that the characters take pretty much are superfluous but, when they do take drugs, the film style starts to shift accordingly so that things are blurry or focused almost at random while the sound gets distorted and echo-y. The colors and style throughout the film, as well as the strange lingering cinematography, really do make this feel like what I imagine a good acid trip would be. Musically, this movie is fantastic. It’s very 80s with an appropriate amount of Synth, but also manages to keep everything feeling just a hair off at even the most normal times, then turns the crazy up to eleven when called upon.

Second, the film starts slow and peacefully, focused mostly on Red and Mandy, but manages to avoid actually being too expository, something that I WILL ALWAYS LAUD. If you can convey a character’s backstory without it feeling contrived, I think that’s amazing. This film does it with both of the leads, and later with the antagonist, and never does it feel like it’s just awkward, unnatural exposition.

Third, HOLY HELL IS NICOLAS CAGE AMAZING. Seriously, this is the best performance he’s given in years. I think that aside from Leaving Las Vegas and Raising Arizona, this is not just the best film he’s done, this is the best he’s ever been in a film. There’s one particular scene that I have to comment on. When Cage starts drinking again after seeing Mandy burned alive, it is one single, unbroken take in which Cage clearly improvises a ton, and all of it works. In this sequence, Cage perfectly embodies someone who has just experienced the kind of thing he has. For no reason whatsoever, he just had his best friend and lover abducted, tortured, and murdered while he was helpless to do anything. He nails it. I just regret that I can’t find it online to show you.

The only thing in the movie that’s better than that scene is the CHEDDAR GOBLIN. Yes, the Cheddar Goblin is a fake commercial which immediately precedes the above scene and was done by the crew that made the famous “Too Many Cooks” short for Adult Swim. It’s just as insane as the movie, but in a more grounded way, if you can understand. If you can’t, here’s the ad.

I cannot recommend this movie enough. If you can stand gore (because the third act is damned gory, although in a cartoonish way), you should watch this film. It’s the kind of movie that almost escapes definition, except that it’s what you would find on an 80s Heavy Metal album cover. If you ever wanted to see one of those come to life, then you need to see this movie. If you love Nicolas Cage, then you need to see this movie. If you have a lot of pot on hand, then you need to smoke it and see this movie.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.