Friday, July 19, 2019

Two Spider-Movies

Spider-Man: Far from Home – These Marvel Universe movies have been coming out so thick and fast that my reviews of them always seem to begin with a confession of how many of the previous installments I missed. So, to be as brief as possible, let me admit that I've only ever seen Tom Holland as Spider-Man before in the last two Avengers movies, in which (respectively) he died and came back from the dead. (That's nothing. I never saw any of Andrew Garfield's outings as Spidey, and I'm sure I missed at least one of the Tobey Maguire ones.) Anyway, it's a good thing that I saw those two Avengers flicks (to be sure, only those two) because this movie's taking-off point is the "blip" in which people whose existence was erased in Infinity War resumed existing several years later, at the end of Endgame. So when young Peter goes on a class trip to Europe, it's with a confused and confusing group including people, like him, who blipped and others who were five years younger before the blip and are now their age. Man, life in the Marvel Universe is tough.

Peter's trip to Europe is especially tough. I mean, do you think Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and SHIELD will let him just relax and enjoy himself? No. Their whole itinerary gets covertly hijacked so that Peter can try to maintain his cover while, at the same time, trying to stop a monster apocalypse from a parallel dimension. Luckily, there's a new superhero on the job – some guy from the other universe, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who (SPOILER ALERT!!!) is actually just some guy who wants to con Peter out of this thing that I've decided not to describe because this sentence is making me tired. Pant, pant. So, in this post-Iron Man and post-Capt. America age, Spider-Man has to step forward as a global hero. And he does a pretty good job. Also, he has some romantic moments with M.J., some comic moments with his chubby buddy, and a lot of opportunities to tear up some of the best scenery in the western world.

Three scenes that made it for me: (1) One that, in my opinion, played even better in the trailer: a mouthy member of Peter's class trip group is yakking about how much he respects Spider-Man, then spots Peter standing nearby and cracks, "What are you looking at, ass face?" (2) The scene in which Peter inadvertently calls down an airstrike on one of the kids on his tour bus – a piece of slapstick comedy-action-suspense that makes the most of high-school-age insecurities that even superheroes aren't spared. (3) J.K. Simmons returns as yellow journalist J. Jonah Jameson in a bonus scene in which he unmasks the web-slinger in front of the entire world.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – In this animated flick, multiple Spider-Men (or women, or pigs) from different realities merge into young Miles Morales' version of New York City and have to work together to stop a female Doc Ock and a rampaging Kingpin from opening a black hole under Brooklyn. I waited weeks to be able to borrow this movie on DVD from my local public library. Then I watched it twice back to back. I fell in love with it. It is one of the best movies I have seen all year – and I saw it during the same week as Yesterday. What a week!

So, I'm not going to give you a synopsis on this one. Great cast, though, with vocal turns by Liev Schreiber, Lily Tomlin, Lake Bell, Zoë Kravitz, Nicolas Cage and Mahershala Ali. Gifted comedians Kathryn Hahn and John Mulaney both do good work here. Hailee Steinfeld, whom I loved in the Jeff Bridges version of True Grit, provides a romantic foil for Miles as Gwen "Spider-Woman" Stacy. And the character of Peter Parker gets a win-win, with Chris Pine playing a heroic 20-something version of him and Jake Johnson as a 30s slob Peter. At the center of the movie is a beautiful trio of performances by Shameik Moore, Bryan Tyree Henry and Luna Vélez as the ethnically mixed young hero who picks up the mantle of his world's Peter Parker in a moment of great danger, and his loving parents. The boy's voyage of self-discovery, combined with a terrifying and exhilarating adventure, is beautifully depicted in animated artwork of tremendous energy and originality. The story, the dialogue, the interplay between characters, thrilled me as well as making me laugh and cry.

OK? Enough about that. Let's get quickly to Three Scenes That Made It For Me, because I've been dying to get them off my chest since I saw this movie. (1) Miles first encounters Peter "B." Parker (Johnson) and mayhem ensues. In an extended sequence involving web-slinging mishaps and collisions with various vehicles, I never stopped laughing – although, at one point, I had to stop the playback so I could catch my breath. (2) After studying a Spider-Man comic, Miles sets off to emulate his web-swinging learning curve by climbing the stairs to the roof of a high-rise building. In mid-phrase of a musical buildup as he prepares to launch himself out into space, the music cuts out and we see (and hear) the boy running back down the stairs, sneakers squeaking. He then chooses a lower-rise building and, as a result, survives his hilarious fall. (Later, when the web is spinning the other way for him, the imagery of this scene is triumphantly reversed.) (3) The emotional scene in which Miles cradles his dying Uncle Aaron. The acting in that scene is incredible, considering that most of it was being done by animated characters.

See this movie. This is the film that animated features should be trying to top from now on. I mean, in style AND in substance. Not in the magnitude of the numbers at the end of their titles or the number of kicks a dead horse can endure while remaining dead. I don't know how else to say it except that this is a breathtakingly excellent movie and I want everyone to experience it.

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