Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


A gathering of Spiders.

(2018) Animated Feature (Columbia) Starring the voices of Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Lily Tomlin, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Zoe Kravitz, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage, Kathryn Hahn, Liev Schreiber, Chris Pine, Natalie Morales, Oscar Isaac, Jorma Taccone, Lake Bell. Directed by Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman

Spider-Man has been perhaps the most popular character in the history of Marvel Comics. So much so that the hero has progressed beyond Peter Parker; there are a number of iterations of the character in the comics; some serious, some not.

Miles Morales (Moore) is one of those characters. A young, African-American/Hispanic teen, he likes hanging out with his Uncle Aaron (Ali), and less so with his cop father (Henry). He’s a very smart kid, but not so interested in school and a little on the timid side. When he’s bitten by a radioactive spider, he gets the powers of Spider-Man. He relies on the comic books to kind of guide him through.

But then the Kingpin (Schreiber), a corpulent villain, opens up gateways to a multitude of parallel universes, threatening all of them. Spider-men from all around the multiverse begin to flood in, including a tired and nearly broken Peter Parker (Johnson), an iteration in which Gwen Stacy (Steinfeld) becomes Spider-Gwen, a black and white character from the 30s called Spider-Noir (Cage), a porcine cartoon pig named Spider-Ham (Mulaney) and a sprightly teen from the future named Peni Parker (Glenn). Together they will have to face down against the Kingpin and his scientific advisor Doc Octopus (Hahn) if they are to save the multi-verse.

Visually, this is a striking film that is meant to look more like a comic book than conventional animated features. It is certainly meant to appeal to Spider-Fans, with lots of little in-jokes and Easter Eggs for those who follow the character in the comics, but even for those unfamiliar with the various Spider-Man characters, there is some clever dialogue to keep the story moving, even though at just a hair under two hours long it might be too much for the attention-challenged. Still, this was the Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards and quite honestly, it deserved to be.

REASONS TO SEE: Wonderful animation. Plenty of Easter Eggs for fans. Clever dialogue.
REASONS TO AVOID: A bit too long.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some cartoon violence, mild profanity and thematic material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, the original creators of the Spider-Man comic, passed away during production of the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, FlixFling, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/12/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews, Metacritic: 87/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Incredibles
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Hope Gap

The Rundown


The Rock smells what this little guy is cooking.

The Rock smells what this little guy is cooking.

(2003) Action (Universal) Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Walken, William Lucking, Ewen Bremner, Jon Gries, Ernie Reyes Jr., Stuart F. Wilson, Dennis Keiffer, Garrett Warren, Toby Holguin, Paul Power, Stephen Bishop. Directed by Peter Berg

Hollywood is in short supply of action stars these days, with the usual suspects getting long in the tooth, short at the box office or departed to other careers. But the search for new blood netted a real find in The Rock. Wrestling star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a success in The Mummy Returns and its spin-off, The Scorpion King. Now he’s cast in a more mainstream action flick, and the Hollywood powers-that-be were anxious to see if The Rock could open a movie that doesn’t have a built-in audience.

With material this good, he sure can. Here he plays Beck, a beleaguered bounty hunter who really wants to be a chef. He does the bounty hunting gig to pay off a debt to Walker (Lucking), a shady character who arranges to clear Beck of all obligation and supply him with enough stake to open his dream restaurant if he can retrieve one last item: the gangster’s son Travis (Scott) from the Amazon. Beck agrees to the deal.

With an incomprehensible Irish pilot named Declan (Bremmer), Beck arrives in a pimple of an Amazon town that’s run by the nefarious Hatcher (Walken) as his own personal kingdom, brutally forcing imprisoned laborers to mine gold. Beck wants no part of this; he’s just there for his man. However, Travis has actually found the location of a priceless treasure called El Gato. The local rebels want it to finance their fight against Hatcher; Hatcher wants it because he’s greedy. Travis wants it to make his reputation.

The pair go into the jungle to find the item, accompanied by the beautiful bartender Mariana (Dawson). Along the way, they run into a pack of libidinous monkeys, combative men of tiny stature with a predilection for vines and kicking the Rock around like a bitch, and an interesting fruit that gives the consumer a unique viewpoint.

It’s hard to classify this; it could be a comedy with action, or an action film with comedy. Both sides of the equation work marvelously. The Rock is able to lampoon his own persona while enhancing it, and has plenty of acting chops. The time is not far off where he will be tackling roles that we wouldn’t ever have associated with a pro wrestler.

Walken is, as always, worth the price of admission all by himself. A scene where he tries to explain the Tooth Fairy to a group of tribesmen is a classic. Scott, best known as Stifler in the American Pie movies, is satisfactory as a second banana. He’s smarmy and self-centered, but audiences can still empathize with him. Dawson has become a terrific leading lady; previous to this she had appeared in Men in Black 2 and had been intriguing there.

Director Peter Berg also did a wonderful black comedy called Very Bad Things which was in fact a very good thing. As with that film he deftly weaves the action and comedy elements into a cohesive whole, a very much more difficult task than it sounds. While best-known to the public as an actor on the Chicago Hope series, he’s also directed some fairly decent films since this one including Friday Night Lights and Hancock. However, in the interest of full disclosure he also directed the alien invasion film Battleship as well.

Had this been released during the summer, The Rundown would have been a massive hit. As it stands, it came in under the radar to a very large extent; it didn’t make my list of must-see fall films that year and as a matter of fact, a lot of critics wrote it off until they actually saw it. What it did turn out to be was the movie that was the bridge the summer blockbusters with the fall and winter hits in 2003. It’s safe to say we can all smell what The Rock is cooking: stardom and this was a very key ingredient in that dish.

WHY RENT THIS: The Rock’s charisma and charm is in full flower. Well-written, poking fun at the Rock’s image while enhancing it. Nice action sequences.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The Rock wasn’t as good an actor as he would later come to be and some of the scenes are a bit awkward. A bit cliché in places.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a bit of violence (although nothing too over-the-top) and some crude dialogue.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: There is a cameo by legendary action star Arnold Schwarzenegger as a patron in the bar scene. He happened on the set while filming an appearance as The Terminator for the Super Bowl. He was approached to do the shot and was agreeable. Fans have pointed to him saying “Have fun” to Johnson as a passing of the torch from one action legend to another.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a featurette on actor Christopher Walken and a parody feature on an E!-style channel about the monkeys.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $80.9M on an $85M production budget; the movie was unsuccessful on its theatrical run although I understand it has since become profitable on home video.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: Tamara Drewe

Daredevil


Daredevil

Matt Murdock and Elektra Natchios engage in a little foreplay.

(2003) Superhero (20th Century Fox) Ben Affleck, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Favreau, Scott Terra, Ellen Pompeo, Joe Pantoliano, Leland Orser, Lennie Loftin, Erick Avari, Derrick O’Connor, Paul Ben-Victor, David Keith, Kevin Smith. Directed by Mark Steven Johnson

It is a fact that every day, handicapped people show over and over again that they are capable of amazing things. Some are aided by technology but much of it is sheer willpower.

The young Matt Murdock (Terra), who has stood up for his father (David Keith) when neighborhood punks call him a washed-up boxer and a mob enforcer, is shocked one day to spot his loving dad thumping on someone who hadn’t been making his vig. Matt runs off, causing a traffic accident that ends with him being doused by toxic waste, right in the eyes. This leaves him blind for life. However, there is an interesting side effect: Matt wakes up to find he has outrageously acute hearing, including a kind of sonar sense, which allows him to “see” almost as well as any sighted person — better, in some ways.

He also spends time developing his body into a graceful, acrobatic, athletic machine. When his Dad refuses to throw a fight and is murdered, his son is left to seek revenge. The adult Matt Murdock (Affleck) becomes a lawyer. Justice being blind jokes aside, he has a particularly strong streak of wishing to do the right thing in him.

Not content at achieving justice through conventional means, Murdock adopts the persona of Daredevil, utilizing a red leather costume, and becoming a semi-urban legend in New York, one that reporter Ben Urich (Pantoliano) is hell-bent on tracking down. Those who have seen the first Batman movie will note the similarity. His day job allows Murdock to represent the downtrodden, much to the chagrin of partner “Foggy” Nelson (Favreau), who yearns for clients who pay in actual cash, rather than in foodstuffs. Murdock meets Elektra Natchios (Garner), the daughter of a wealthy industrialist (Avari) who is in bed with the corrupt Wilson Fisk (Duncan), the legendary Kingpin of Crime. When Natchios tries to get out of business with Fisk, the Kingpin brings in a psychopathic master of hurled objects, Bullseye (Farrell) to kill Natchios, which he does, framing Daredevil for the deed in the process. Elektra — who is falling in love with the blind lawyer, swears revenge, not knowing that it is his alter ego she has sworn to kill.

The New York City of Daredevil is a dark, gothic place, not unlike the Gotham City of Batman, and like the Caped Crusader, Daredevil inhabits the shadows and rooftops of a corrupt, dangerous city. The problem with casting Affleck in the role of Matt Murdock is that he is far too likable. Affleck doesn’t carry off the brooding vigilante as well as he does the wisecracking lawyer, so the dual personality of Murdock doesn’t mesh as nicely as it could.

Farrell carries the movie, enthusiastically chewing the scenery and spitting it out so he can chew more. Favreau and Duncan are excellent as they nearly always are; Favreau would go on to direct the Iron Man movies but his association with the Marvel studios began here. His chemistry with Affleck is pretty keen.

The Elektra of the comics is far more threatening than the Elektra of the big screen. Garner, who on paper is an excellent choice to play her, is dispatched with near-comic ease in nearly every fight she takes part in. This compares unfavorably to the character in the four-color version (who is kickus assus maximus to the nth degree) and herein lies the problem with any adaptation of any comic.

Those who love the comic book will inevitably measure the movie against the comic, and in most aspects will find it wanting. Daredevil has always been one of the consistently best-written and innovative of story in Marvel’s arsenal. The movie’s writing denigrates it to an unsophisticated Batman knockoff. Yet, there are moments of poetry, such as when Murdock asks Elektra to stand in the rain, which allows him to see her face using his radar sense. That’s one of the best moments of any Marvel superhero film, ever.

A nice little aside – many of the characters here are named after comic book writers and artists, many of whom who worked on the Daredevil book itself. There are also several people associated with Daredevil’s long run at Marvel (including Smith, Stan Lee and Frank Miller) who make cameos in the movie. In addition, something must be said about the soundtrack which is one of the best for any movie in the last ten years. The tracks from Evanescence are particularly haunting. Also, The final confrontation between Fisk and Daredevil is very nicely done, visually speaking although the whole thing of the little water conduits running below the floor are head scratch-inducing.

Overall, this isn’t a bad movie. There are some deficiencies, true, but there is a large number of things the movie does well. Affleck would have been an excellent Daredevil had he another movie or two under his belt. The most important thing here however is to take the movie on its own merits. Try not to see it as a note-perfect portrayal of the comic hero, because you’ll only wind up disappointed. Judge it for what it is; a better-than-average action-adventure movie, and you’ll enjoy it a lot more.

WHY RENT THIS: Better than average action movie. Fine supporting performances from Farrell, Duncan and Favreau.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit of a Batman knock-off. Affleck carries off Murdock better than Daredevil. Elektra a bit too wimpy here.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some violence and a bit of sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This was the first American movie in which Farrell uses his native Irish brogue.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: The DVD features a featurette on the comic book series, a comparison of the “Shadow World” as visually realized in the movie vs. the comic book, three music videos and an enhanced viewing feature which, when an icon appears onscreen, allows viewers to see the same scene from different points of view. There is also a Directors Cut DVD edition which restores 30 minutes of footage to the film, cut initially to bring the movie from an R rating to PG-13.  However, oddly enough, the Directors Cut edition has almost no special features, merely a commentary track and a 15 minute making-of featurette. The Blu-Ray contains both the Directors Cut and all the features from the initial DVD release and as such is the best bet for those interested in the movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $179.2M on a $78M production budget; the movie broke even.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Tower Heist

Daredevil


Daredevil

The man without fear...of red leather.

(20th Century Fox) Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Favreau, Scott Terra, Ellen Pompeo, Joe Pantoliano, David Keith, Leland Orser, Erick Avari, Derrick O’Connor. Directed by Mark Steven Johnson

In the wake of the success of X-Men and Spider-Man, the rights to a boatload of Marvel superheroes were sold to several studios eager to cash in on the superhero craze. This led to a glut of hero movies in the middle pat of the last decade wth some of the releases being better than others.

Matt Murdock (Affleck) is a lawyer who was blinded in an accident as a young boy (Terra). His father Jack “The Devil” Murdock (Keith) is an ex-prize fighter trying to raise his boy as best he can on his own, desperately hoping he won’t make the same mistakes he did and elevate himself from a Hells Kitchen he could never escape himself.

Matt is bright enough although he gets picked on by the local bullies because he won’t fight, at the behest of his father. Young Matt believes his father to be an honest dockworker, but Jack has been picking up extra cash working as hired muscle for a local crime boss. When Matt accidentally witnesses his father’s other line of work, he runs blindly away, and winds up being dowsed in the face by the proverbial toxic liquid.

The result is that the boy is blinded for life, but the compensation is that his other senses sharpen significantly. As a matter of fact, he uses sound as a kind of “sonar” to allow him to “see” images. Tired of being picked on, he begins to work out, train himself to fight. In the meantime, Jack is shocked into going back on the straight and narrow and takes up fighting again and does pretty well. However, when he refuses to throw a fight, he is murdered.

Years later, Murdock works alongside his partner Foggy Nelson (Favreau) in a Hells Kitchen law firm that specializes in taking on the cases of the underdog against the corrupt and the untouchable. It doesn’t pay very well – often the poor clients pay in fish or some other form of barter – but Murdock is able to sleep nights. Well, he would if he were sleeping; instead, he goes out to exact justice that he can’t obtain as a lawyer as a costumed vigilante known as Daredevil. The police, predictably, pooh-pooh his existence but a lone reporter, Ben Urich (Pantoliano) pursues the story with the zeal of Woodward and Bernstein.

Murdock meets Elektra Natchios (Garner), the daughter of a billionaire, in a coffee shop and falls for her instantly. The attraction is mutual; she also has superb martial arts training and this is one of those rare courtships that take place by beating each other up. Elektra’s dad (Avari) is tied to the new crime boss, Wilson Fisk (Duncan) a.k.a. the Kingpin of Crime, and is anxious to get out and retire. Fisk doesn’t like people backing out on him and hires an Irish hit man named Bullseye (Farrell) to take care of business.

Bullseye has the uncanny knack of accuracy. Anything he throws hurls or shoots hits its target without fail. When Murdock discovers what’s going on, he immediately changes into his Daredevil guise and rushes out to protect the father of the woman he loves. Unfortunately, he gets there too late to prevent Natchios’ death, but just in time for Elektra to mistakenly believe him responsible. He also manages to avoid one of Bullseye’s projectiles, earning the obsessive enmity of Bullseye in the process.

Director Johnson was woefully inexperienced when he was given this project to direct and in many ways, it shows. What also shows is the reverence and respect in which he holds the source material. It becomes a two-edged sword; some of the elements he wants to bring from the comic book series (such as Daredevil’s uncanny agility) don’t translate well, although at the time it was released I thought it looked fine to be honest. After watching it at home recently, I found the wire work to look unnatural and there is quite a bit of it.

Affleck was uncomfortable playing a costumed superhero and it is very apparent. When he’s Matt Murdock, for the most part he’s fine. However, there are times as Murdock when he looks soulful and a bit sorry for himself; that just doesn’t jive too well with the costumed vigilante that Daredevil is and who Matt Murdock is on the comic book page. There, Murdock is stubborn and principled and prone to leaping where angels fear to tread – he is literally without fear. Here, Affleck plays him as stubborn and principled and a bit of a whiner. It’s not a bad performance but it isn’t the right one.

Garner was magnificent as Elektra here, which makes the spin-off film she did on the character all the more mystifying in how truly awful it was. She makes Elektra passionate and real, suspicious and lethal. The comic book character is one of the most compelling in the Marvel universe and while she doesn’t quite reach those standards, Garner does do a fine job in bringing her to life.

Duncan and Farrell both look like they’re having the time of their lives in the villain roles, with Farrell often looking up with a boyish smile like he just discovered its Christmas morning. Few actors today can play villains with the kind of relish that Farrell brings to the role. Duncan is far too jovial as a person to make Fisk as menacing as he is on the comic book pages, but he manages to make him memorable nonetheless.

Fox has had several of the Marvel properties under its banners (including the ongoing X-Men and the Fantastic Four) and while the movie was a success for the most part, it never achieved the popularity or acclaim to make a sequel likely – in fact, Affleck has stated flat-out that he would not consider playing the role again, or any other superhero role for that matter.

In any case, the movie is entertaining enough to recommend it and the soundtrack with its loud guitar-oriented rock is one of the better movie soundtracks of the last decade, and it made a star of Evanescence, which may or may not be a bad thing depending on your view of Evanescence (good thing in my book). If you’re looking for something to transcend the genre, keep on moving. If you’re looking for something that will keep you interested and invested for 90 minutes, you’ve found your movie.

WHY RENT THIS: There are times when Affleck is effective as Matt Murdock. The supporting cast is excellent. The filmmakers hold the source material in high regard and utilize a lot of elements that will make Daredevil fans smile. The soundtrack is great.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The overuse of wirework makes the fight scenes look just awful. Affleck spends too much time looking soulful and trying to evoke pathos; the Matt Murdock I know doesn’t feel nearly as sorry for himself.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of comic book violence and some sensuality, but nothing too graphic.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The budget for the movie was initially set at $50 million, but after the success of Spider-Man Fox upped the budget to $80 million.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray includes several music videos from the soundtrack, “Men Without Fear: Creating Daredevil” which focuses on the creative aspects of the comic series and “Beyond Hell’s Kitchen” which details the challenges and tribulations on getting the movie made.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Revolutionary Road