Friday, June 28, 2019

Jumanji (1995) (Movie Review)

      Some movies are regarded as classic for their contribution to cinema, while others have simply held-up as great marvels over time. Then there’s what I like to refer to as “nostalgic classics”, movies that can’t really be regarded as meaningful cinematic achievements, but still left an impressionable impact on our childhoods. 1995’s “Jumanji” is a prime example, as it was one of my favorite movies to re-watch at home as a kid, and it even expanded my imagination in ways that phew other genuine classics have done. I’ll admit that “Jumanji” doesn’t exactly hold up as “high art”, and it’s a mostly derivative experience, but even with that said, I still have nothing but love, fondness and excitement for this film. Looking back, this was one of the most original movies of my child hood, as it wasn’t tied into any established franchise, and was insanely creative with its premise. It also stands as a great template of how to adapt a short picture-book into a cinematic adventure. Based on the 1981 children’s book of the same name, “Jumanji” is an adventure story revolving around kids who discover a mystical board game. It may seem like a plan and ordinary game on the surface, but once the game begins … a magical and exciting jungle adventure comes to life before their eyes. The house gradually begins to resemble a jungle, and the players encounter animals and other obstacles along the way, all ranging from silly monkeys, to stampedes of Rhino’s, to rainy weather, and even a hungry lion.

     The original book kept all its attention on two siblings named Judy and Peter, but the movie highlights how the game gets passed on through the ages, and it brings in additional game players. We begin with a cold-opening set in the 1800’s, in which two brothers have clearly gone through hell playing the game, and are trying to bury it underground in effort to spare anyone else from ever playing. It’s actually a chilling opening, and did a good job hooking my interest while showing very little. 

We then jump ahead to the 1960’s, and we meet a young boy named Alan Parrish, who’s currently having a difficult relation with his father. He accidentally unearths the game, and while playing with his girlfriend Sara, he unexpectedly gets transported to the mysterious jungle world of Jumanji. 26 years later, we meet the novels original siblings Judy and Peter, who have just moved into the abandoned parish house. It doesn’t take long for the two to discover the discarded game, and upon playing, they not only unleash all the dangerous jungle creatures on the quiet town, but they also bring back Alan Parish, who’s now a grown man. After Alan reunites with his grown-up girlfriend Sara, the four decide to beat the game once and for all, return all the animals back to the jungle, and all while avoiding the deadly aim of a ruthless hunter.   

     While the book kept all the excitement contained in the house, the movie wisely takes things outside, expands on the mayhem caused by the animals, and gives our heroes a lot more ground to cover. Yet, the house still remains the central playing ground four the characters to fall back on, and the house itself ends up feeling like a character. On a technical level, it’s just a lot of fun watching the setting of the house get unmade and transform all through the course of the movie. I especially love that there’s variety to the many obstacles that emerge from the game, whether it be animals or other dangerous jungle elements. The lion, monkeys, Rhino’s and in-door rain-storm were all lifted from the book, while other obstacles like the killer plants, giant bugs, quicksand, bats and crocodile were all original concepts for the movie. The main appeal of watching this movie as a kid was anticipating what kind of new and exciting obstacle may come from the game next. Both the lion and the man-eating plant were my two favorites, as they thrilled me the most, and led to some engaging action set pieces.     

     Let’s talk about Robin Williams in the lead role of Alan Parrish, as this is one of the key ingredients that allowed “Jumanji” to leave a memorable impression on us 90’s kids. Speaking personally, I was initially exposed to Robin Williams through various Disney films like “Aladdin” and “Flobber”, but it was his leading role in “Jumanji” that got me to put a face to the actor, and it’s here when I took note of his name. While not on par with his absolute greatest roles, I still find his portrayal of Alan Parrish to be an underrated performance on his filmography. As is typical with Robin Williams, he’s both consistently funny and charming, but he also adds subtle layers to the performance that take it a step above his other comedic roles. When Alan first returns to his present-day time, the movie wisely puts all the adventure elements with the animals on hold, and focuses solely on the emotions of the character as he returns to a home town, which has become a shadow of the life he knew as a child. It’s a lengthy sequence without any action, yet Robin Williams performance caries so much, to the point where I don’t even notice the lack of animals on screen. Of course, his witty remarks and animated personality likewise make the character all the more memorable and fun to watch.    

    Among the films many highlights is the villain, a deadly hunter called Van Pelt, who’s played with a lot of menace and charisma by Jonathan Hyde. Just like our main hero Alan, the villain Van Pelt was a completely original character created for the movie. 
He was intimidating, had a memorable look, and yet, was enjoyably hammy in a lot of his delivery. He forever changed the way I’d play hid and seek with my childhood friends, because I’d never say “Here I come, ready or not” like a normal boy … oh no, I’d always be channeling Van Pelt the way he malevolently says “coming, ready or not”. What really makes this character shine is that he parallels Alan’s relation with his father. Taking a page from “Peter Pan”, Jonathan Hyde plays both the hunter and Alan’s father, which was a brilliant idea. It’s especially effective how they mirror each-others words. In the past, Alan as a boy would get scolded by his father, telling him that “he’ll never be a man, until he starts acting like one”. Then during the climax, Alan finally stands up for himself, faces his fears head on, and Van Pelt responds with the chilling words “good lad … you’re finally acting like a man”. One of most mysterious moments is when the boy Peter first arrives in Alan's abandoned home and discovers the statue of an intimidating man, who also resembles the villain. That always had me speculating if Van Pelt was a long past decedent of Alan’s family, which would further explain why he bears a resemblance to his father. In short, this performance, laced with the duality of the character made Van Pelt one of my favorite childhood villains of the 90’s.   

    The remaining cast is all very likable, and even memorable in their own special ways. Bonnie Hunt plays our grown love interest Sarah Whittle, and she’s a perfect counter point to Robin Williams. It’s another committed performance brimming with personality, but she’s more closed-in, next to the lively Robin Williams, and yet they both convey a charming chemistry when on screen together. Bradley Pierce is the quiet boy Peter, who says little, but is always quick to think on his feet. Weather, it be using reverse psychology on a grown adult or climbing a log over a water fall to retrieve something valuable from going over, he’s always quick to adapt to a situation, and displays a great deal of courage during frightening situations. It was something that always inspired me at a young age, because I was also a quiet boy that didn’t socialize, yet I always felt that urge to break out of my comfort zone and do something exciting. One little detail I never cared for was the boy getting transformed into a half-child half-monkey hybrid. It isn’t exactly a bad addition to the film, it just doesn’t seem to serve much of a point.

     At last, we come to the young Kirsten Dunst as the older sister Judy, who is cute as a peach, and like Williams, she adds a lot to the film’s nostalgia factor. 
She was one of those young actresses I grew up watching through several movies from the decade like “Kiki's Delivery Service”, “Little Women”, “Interview with the Vampire”, “Small Soldiers”, and even a memorable episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. As I grew older, I found myself exposed to even more memorable films with her, all while she was growing from teenager into a young adult, and it’s one of those special cases in which I felt like I was making a connection with an actress through the ages. I bring this up because “Jumanji” was the movie that introduced me to Kirsten Dunst, and there’s something special about looking back at her in this film while in that mind set. Her performance has even held up fairly well, as she brings her own charisma to the table, and manages to stand out while sharing a scene with such big talents as Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt … that’s no small feat for a child actress. There is one small detail revolving her character that always felt a pinch off-putting, and it takes place during the films climax. While battling some nasty creatures in the attic, Kirsten Dunst’s character Judy encounters a deadly plant that spits venomous barbs into her neck. She collapses shortly after, and Alan states that “her only chance is if we finish the game”, which always suggested to me that she might have actually died. Obviously, Kirsten Dunst is no stranger to playing the pretty damsel, but seeing her die, even temporarily, might have been a bit much.

     A common criticism aimed at this movie is that it was far too scary and intense, which I can understand to a degree, but then again, I was about six years old when I first saw this, and I handled everything just fine. Truthfully, the only scene that actually scared me and kept me awake at night was that dooming monologue conveyed by Robin Williams on what it means to face real fear. Isn’t that interesting, the one scene that actually scared me is the only one that didn’t feature any monsters attacking the kids. 
I will admit that the animal attacks are far more menacing then “fun”, but for me, it was that element of real danger that elevated the excitement. Even when I was a kid, I never felt that an adventure would feel complete without facing something intimidating. In fact, the over-arching theme of the movie is about facing fear, and growing into another stage of adulthood when your stand-up to the things that terrify you. Whenever I watched this film as a little kid, I always felt that I was climbing a figurative latter into maturity, as I was able to face the menacing creatures on screen, and got a damn thrilling adventure in the process. I should also note that the director of the movie is Joe Johnson, who’s known for making family movies with a slight edge. His first movie was “Honey I shrunk the Kinds”, which was another film that got criticized for being too intense for children, yet has a dedicated fan base from kids that grew up watching it. In a sense, I feel that movies on the line of both “Jumanji” and “Honey I shrunk the Kind” provide a sense of danger and intimidation that’s actually kind of healthy for kids to grow up with. Life in general provides frightening obstacles all the time, and when a kid can say they were able to face something menacing on film, it’s an important stepping stone for them to face the real-life horrors that will inevitably come.   

     This is also one of those movies that’s stuffed with little moments that have always stuck with me, like the one lone rhino trying to keep up with the herd, the monkeys watching “The Wizard of Oz” on TV, the police officers busted car noting his door is ajar when it’s actually missing, that randomly changing music montage of the step-mother putting the house together, and the whole film is just full of details I could further take note of. The special effects on display are a little mixed, but for the most part are still quiet spectacular. Some of the CGI dose admittedly look a little dated, namely the monkeys, the quicksand and some shots of the stampede. Thankfully, this movie wasn’t overly reliant on CGI, and features a fair amount of practical effects, which have all held up extremely well. For example, both the man-eating plant and the giant spiders were all brought to life through puppets and animatronics, and they still look great. Even the climactic sequence of the house getting ripped in half by an earthquake was mostly done in-camera with practical miniatures. 

Zathura: A Space Adventure” 

Now, without going into a full review, I do want to comment on the 2005 spin-off titled “Zathura: A Space Adventure”. Once again, this movie revolves around two siblings who discover an enchanted boardgame that comes to life, and takes the players on a wild adventure. The key difference is that this venture is set in outer-space, and features obstacles ranging from out of control robots, to meteor showers, to nasty aliens and so forth. I neither grew-up with this film, nor saw it in the theater, so it has no nostalgia barring, but it’s actually a credible spin-off, and it’s a good alternative to “Jumanji”. “Zathura” is far more fun and lighthearted, yet still packs the elements of adventure and excitement. While the characters are completely forgettable, and there’s some cringe moments, the “game play” in “Zathura” is actually superior to “Jumanji”, as there’s more to it then just surviving dangerous obstacles. Sometimes the players need to aid a stranded astronaut, other times they can use a code to win an enemy robot to their side, and there’s just so much more detail and variety to it. Truthfully, while “Zathura” has never stuck with me like its predecessor, it’s still a fun family adventure flick, and one that I think deserves a little more attention then what it’s got.          

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” 

Then of course we have the surprise runaway hit sequel in 2017 titled “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”. I honestly never would have imagined that a sequel released seventeen years later could possibly work … but it did. This film once again is far more lighthearted and fun in tone, and cranks up’s the comedy to ten. There’s a new cast of likable characters, and the premise is given an appropriate update. This time Jumanji is a video game that transports a group of young players into its jungle setting, in which they inhabit their own distinct avatars. It's a fun and creative concept that lends to some funny material and some entertaining action set pieces. While there’s noticeably less animals then before, the film still provides a terrific variety of exciting sequences, funny situations, and is just an all-around good time. Its only real shortcomings is that the villain sucks, some of the comedy over-stays its welcome, and I miss that edge that made the original such an engaging adventure.  

     In the end, "Jumanji" has remained a cherished gem from my childhood, and I think it’s aged better than most people give it credit for. It may not be the smartest, or most heartfelt, or even plot driven, but it is still an exciting adventure movie that can appeal to both kids and adults. If done right, I think a straight forward adventure is all a movie needs to be. After all, movies like “Raiders of the Lost Arc” and “Jason and the Argonauts” are nothing more than escapist entertainment, and still regarded as classics ... so why not this one. Well, for those of us who grew up with "Jumanji" it’s still endured as a nostalgic classic. Heck, even the acclaimed children’s book from 1981 didn’t offer anything deeper than an imaginative diversion. In my view, the movie succeeded in recapturing the spirit of its source material, expanded upon its creative possibilities, gave us even more characters, and all of whom are given just enough layers to stand on even ground with the spectacular effects. It’s a film that broadened my imagination, made me a fan of Robin Williams, and still to this day rejuvenates the adventurous child within me.

I give 1995’s “Jumanji” 4 ½ stars out of 5.     


My Top 10 One-and-Done movie Franchises

       I’ve loved movies my whole life, but while I’m always open to viewing any kind of film, it’s long running movie franchises that I personally love the most. There is just something so rewarding about returning to a familiar place, and getting reacquainted with favorite characters. In all honesty, the majority of my favorite movies are individual installments from franchises I love. However, there are certainly some film franchises that I love more than others. In truth, there are some long running franchises that I certainly enjoy, and am always open for a new installment, but I never really re-watch any films within the series. These are what I refer to as the One-and-Done franchises, in which I’m certainly glad I gave the series a single viewing, but I’ve never had any real desire to re-watch any of them a second time … with maybe a single film exception. So, with all that said, these are my 10 biggest film franchises that I’ve gladly watched once, but have never re-visited.  

#10 The “Alien” Franchise 

Let me start by saying that 1982’s “Aliens” is one of my all-time favorite movies, I watch it at least twice in the span of three years, and it still holds up. The first “Alien” was admittedly a classic, but I’ve personally never been a fan, and I can’t imagine sitting down and watching it more than twice in my life time. Every other film in the “Alien” franchise has been a one and done film, and I’m perfectly okay with that. “Aliens” is really all I need … truthfully, it’s all I want, but having said that, I don’t mind giving each follow-up Alien movie a single viewing, just for the sake of occasionally seeing something different from the one movie I'm familiar with. They could stop anytime or continue, and I really don’t care either way. I have my one great movie, and will passively enjoy watching whatever comes along ... at least once.    

#9 The “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” Franchise 

Again, it’s the same deal as I had with the previously mentioned “Alien” franchise. 1990’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie” was the very first superhero movie I ever saw in my lifetime, and I’ve held it close to me all my life. Heck, with all the outstanding modern superhero movies we keep getting, that first live-action Ninja Turtle movie still holds up, and has its own unique charm that separates it from my love of current superhero movies. However, I’ve never really been on board with any of the Ninja Turtle sequels, but I also haven’t regretted seeing each of them once. Again, just for the sake of occasionally seeing something different from the one movie I’m familiar with, it’s kind of refreshing to see a new film, even if they’ve all just been one-time viewings.      

#8 The “Paranormal Activity” franchise 

October is my favorite time of year, and it’s a season built on traditions. We go out trick-r-treating, we dress in costume, we venture into haunted houses (fake ones obviously), and for a while, it was kind of a fun little tradition to get a new “Paranormal Activity” movie every Halloween. I’ve never given a single movie in the franchise more than one viewing, they never meant that much to me, but there was still an appeal to its spooky formula, and it was kind of exciting to see how each film would change things around. The overall simulation experience of each film was something that, for me, could only work for one viewing, and that’s why I didn’t mind the initial abundance of sequels. While the later films just got painful to watch, (hopefully the series is done for good) it was still a nice little Halloween experience, and even though I’ll never give any of these movies a second watch, I still don’t regret the overall experience as just a one-time thing.  

#7 The “Karate Kid” franchise 

I didn’t see any of these movies until after I graduated from college, but I get the impression that they would have meant more to me if I’d actually grown up with them. I marathon-ed the whole series in one weekend, including the remake and that lesser “Last Karate Kid” spin-off, and even at their weakest, this series had a distinct charm that held my attention for a solid viewing experience. I’ve never given any of these movies a second viewing, but I remember them just fine, and liked them for what they were. I certainly wont be including them to my collection of favorites, but I certainly don’t regret watching them for a second, and would recommend them to any fans of the time tested under-dog sports movie formula.  

#6 The “Pink Panther” franchise 

There was a time during my young Middle School years and my early high school years, in which I was obsessed with comedies more than any other form of movie entertainment. At the height of my comedy phase, I marathoner the lengthy Pink Panther series, which currently consists of eleven films. While there are select films that warranted repeat viewings, the series as a whole was really just a one-time event. It provided some laughs, and was fun to experience at a certain age, but I’ve changed a lot sense then, and really don’t need to ever see any of those movies a second time … with the exception of the one or two entries that REALLY got me to laugh.    

#5 The “Mission Impossible” Franchise 

Talk about an action series that started low, and grew into a mega, critically acclaimed franchise, with each new film doing better than the last. Well, I’ve seen each movie once, and with the small exception of “Mission Impossible 2”, I’ve never really wanted to give them a second viewing. That’s not to say I hated them, on the contrary, I understand why the recent films have received critical acclaim, and each film has made for a worthwhile viewing experience. I think the reason they’ve never personally stuck a landing is because their so similar to James Bond, but without that same charm and appeal that continues to bring me back to those films. I think that’s why “Mission Impossible 2” is the only film I gave a second viewing, because that was the least like Mission Impossible and felt the most like James Bond. Both are good franchises, and both will appeal to viewers on different levels. For me, I’ll keep James Bond with me for life, while the “Mission Impossible” franchise was a worthy one-time viewing experience.   

#4 The “Pirates of the Caribbean” Franchise 

The first “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” was a fine piece of entertainment, and one that’s held up for some repeat viewings, but it’s truthfully never been an absolute favorite of mine either. It’s many sequels by contrast did even less for me. While each film provided just enough escapist fun to hold for a single viewing, they just weren’t good enough to bring me back for more than that. I know this series was a monster hit for its respected decade, and while the first movie still holds up, I don’t think the initial excitement of its many sequels have “held much water” over the years.

#3 The “Kung Fu Panda” franchise 

Now here was an animated series that caught me off guard, and was so much better than its goofy title suggested. Each film provided lovable characters, decent morals for kids, creative action set-pieces, and contained some gorgeous animation. Yet, for some reason, unlike other great animated franchise that I still watch into my adulthood, this was just a one-time experience that was really good, but just never felt called to re-visit. I can’t even explain why that is, because I loved all three movies in this series, but for some reason, I was happy with one-time viewings for each film, and I guise that’s just all they needed to provide for me.   

#2 “The Hunger Games” Franchise 

During a time when I was feeling fatigued with the state of movies, “The Hunger Games” franchise was one of the most important in bringing me back to my love of going to the movies. Each film made for a solid theatrical viewing, and they were all consistently strong movies. However, while I saw each movie once in the theater, I’ve never re-watched any of them once on any kind of home viewing. I still remember each film for their individual strengths, but I’ve also been content with them as one-time theatrical viewings, and I guess that was all they needed to be. Again, there was nothing off-putting about this series, but for reasons I just can’t explain, I’ve just never had any really want or need to watch any of them again. Definitely a good though, and some of the best in what modern day literary adaptions have to offer.  

Before I reveal my #1 favorite, here are some Honorable Mentions …

The Expendables” franchise

The Superman” franchise

The Frankenstein” series

The Pok√©mon” franchise

The John Wick” franchis

#1 “The Rocky" Franchise 

While I’ve seen every movie in the Rocky franchise once, I’ve currently at the time of this post, never watched any one of them a second time. Yet, with that said, make no mistake … I love the Rocky movies with all my heart. It’s been years sense I’ve watched the majority of them, yet each and every viewing has stuck with me all this time. With the one exception of “Rocky 5”, they’ve all been immensely positive experiences. I’m also very excited for when a new film comes out, with the latest “Creed 2” being yet another strong film. In general, how could you not love Rocky, he’s perhaps the most humble and sincere character from any film franchise. The series itself channels varying emotions, as they can be profound, depressing, uplifting, and powerful all at once. They can also be wild and over the top too, which is still good fun, but it’s the driving heart at the center of the series that makes them so captivating. Through up’s and downs, good times and bad, Rocky still stands strong, and it’s so easy to cheer for him or Creed every step of the way. Whether you take the films seriously or not, these movies can always pick me up and give me that extra confidence to push through some of my own personal struggles. I can’t explain why I’ve never re-watched any of these movies, but the experience I’ve had with them was still very positive, and it’s absolutely a winning franchise in its own right. 

      The End

Monday, June 24, 2019

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) (Movie Review)

      Superhero movies are perhaps the most popular form of entertainment for cinema goers these days, and they keep coming in bucket loads every year. It begs the question if there’s just too much of a good thing right now, could they possibly get stale, or boring, even when at their best? Well, every once in a while, comes that surprise movie that not only reinforces why I’m a fan, but also changes the face of the genera. To call 2018’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” a surprising breath of fresh air would be a gross understatement. This was a surprise event which the comic book genera desperately needed. It’s something that didn’t get much hype, but made a massive impact upon its release, and is now being praised as not just one of the great modern comic book films, but one of the absolute greatest superhero movies ever made. After Sony’s live action Spider-Man series was cancelled, and the character given back to Marvel studios, they still had the rights to the character and the means to expand into other Spider-Man related movies. This marked the first animated Spider-Man venture to be released theatrically, but that’s just scratching the surface. In truth, there’s so much more to this then just a first theatrical animated Spider-Man movie.

     The best way to kick off a new Spider-Man series naturally, is with an origin story … however, this is the origin of Miles Morales becoming the webbed hero, not Peter Parker. Our story is set in a universe where everyone knows who Spider-Man is, as he’s a real hero, but everything is viewed from the perspective of our new lead. Miles Morales from his very first scene is an instantly relate-able and lovable protagonist. His family is very supportive, although he doesn’t always see eye to eye with them, and his Uncle seems to be the one who understands him the most. Miles is currently in a stressful time of his life, moving out of the house for the first time, trying to find his direction, and leaves his familiar neighborhood to attend an uptight school, where he's pressured into making great expectations for himself. One of my favorite little details about his introduction is this one traveling shot that follows Miles walk through his neighborhood, in which he’s viewed as something of a small- town celebrity by all his friends. Things change when he inters a school building, we get another tracking shot of him walking through the school, but no-one is cheering him or even acknowledging his insistence. It’s little details like this that can put me in a character’s shoes. Life soon gets out of control when he’s bitten by a radioactive spider, and he gains new powers which he can’t control. The beating heart at the center of his tale is Miles and his journey to not only control these new gifts, but also discover himself and what can potentially make him a real hero.

    Naturally, the only one who can help Miles on his journey is the classic Spider-Man himself, who’s willing to take Miles on as a pupal. Unfortunately, classic Spider-Man’s life is suddenly cut short at the hands of a villain called the Kingpin, who’s working on a machine in a secret underground lab. 
Just when things seam at their lowest point, Miles encounters yet another Peter Parker Spider-Man, except this one is older, lazier, and seems out of place with the rest of reality. This is Peter B. Parker, who Miles colorfully refers to as Spider-Hobo. Turns out that Kingpin has built a machine that can cross multiple dimensions, and it’s brought multiple new Spider-Men into Miles reality. They all agree to band together to stop Kingpin from taring all reality apart with his deadly machine, but the new commers also need to get back home, as they can’t stay out of their time zone. Peter B. Parker becomes Miles figurative teacher, while he himself rediscovers the values he’s lost, and reshapes himself into a hero, as opposed to a beaten looking bomb. I never thought that a middle-aged Spider-Man could work, but this film proved me wrong, as he was a valuable addition to the film. Actually, all the Spider-Men in this film are outstanding, as they each come in a creatively unique variety, each with their own charm and personality. It’s always been awesome to watch Spider-Man swing through the city, but I never even considered how cool it would be to see multiple Spider-Men all together, and swinging in frame.

My personal favorite of these new Spider characters is a little eight-year-old girl named Peni Parker, who’s power is a telepathic link with a giant Robot Spider. She’s designed in the style of an Anime character, and is an amalgamation of various Anime traits. I see a little bit of “Sailor Moon” in her, a little bit of “Ghost in the Shell”, a little bit of “Madoka Magica”, and being an Anime fan, I can’t help but adore the presence of a character like this. Aside from that, she's just a plain cute character, with a spunky personality, and even her connection with her robot is sweet. My second favorite is Spider-Man Noir, who’s modeled after the graphic Noir comics of the 30’s, is dressed in a heavy coat and hat, and is always brooding. The brilliance of this character was casting Nicolas Cage in the role, as he’s a perfect fit, and brings the character to life with a lot of gloomy personality. The most outlandish of the group is Spider-Ham, a cartoon pig who could fit right in with the Loony Toons, and has a personality to match. This character had a danger of being annoying, yet remained consistently delightful through the whole picture. Even the supporting characters like Miles parents, and Uncle are all great additions to the film, and I love the relationships on display.

     At last, we have Gwen Stacy as the very first on-screen portrayal of a Spider-Woman. Once again, everything about this character is great, her design is striking, Hailee Steinfeld hits it out of the park with her vocal talents, and in a rare case for this day and age, we have a strong female lead … who never once boasts about being a female superhero. Seriously, there’s a real problem in our pop culture these days with strong female characters that do nothing but boast about their tough girl status, and subsequently they feel weaker as a result. Spider-Gwen thankfully escapes that annoying trope and stands as more then just a strong female … she’s just a plane great hero character that just happens to be a woman. Gwen’s relationship with Miles is also perfect, as it’s less romantic and focuses on two young people who can relate to one-another, and thus develop natural feelings. Other popular female characters from the Spider-Man comics like Aunt May and Mary Jane are likewise present, and while their roles are short, it’s some of the best representations of these characters I’ve seen on film.  

     The movie gets a little more crowded with a whole gallery of villains, but their present just enough without making the film feel over-stuffed. 

Liev Schreiber voices our main antagonist, a crime boss called the Kingpin. Rather than some kind of complex crime related plot, Kingpin has built a giant cross-dimension device that will allow him to reunite with his late wife and son. It’s a good motive that I can get behind, but I wish his backstory could have been fleshed out a little more. This really isn’t one of Kingpins greatest portrayals, but regardless, he does his job, and conveys a genuinely intimidating presence. I really loved the inclusion of Lady Doctor Octopus, as she keeps one of my favorite villain’s present, without being a cut and pace of the exact same character we’ve seen before. Her design is a lot of fun, and Kathryn Hahn delivers a juicy performance in the role. On the flip side, I wasn’t the biggest fan of giant Green Goblin, as it just felt too over the top and different, but thankfully he wasn’t in the movie for too long. It was also cool to see some obscure villains like Tombstone in the film. I was also shocked to finally see the Scorpion, although I would have liked to see him in a bigger role as opposed to just another lacky ... hopefully my second favorite Spider-Man villain will get a chance to shine in a live action movie. Rounding up the villains is the Prowler, who may not be the lead antagonist, but he has the most important connection to our main hero. It’s a case in which one of Miles most important role models turns out to be a ruthless killer, and it leads to some effective character drama. Mahershala Ali delivers a chilling performance in the role, but you can always count on him to deliver an A+ performance. The Prowler himself has this electrifying presence, he’s intimidating, and he engages our hero in some deeply suspenseful chases.

     Let’s talk about the overall look and style of the movie … without making this a three-hour read, because holly cow … what a detailed display. Saying that the animation is extraordinary may seem common for modern animated movies, but this truly is some of the most unique animation I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s almost like the character designs of “Archer”, but merged with the 3D video game environments of “Heavy Rain”. The film also recreates visuals you’d see in a comic book, like thought bubbles, word boxes, graphic panels, comic-book strip transitions, and animated segues appearing all throughout the film. One of my favorite touches is that every new Spider-Man character is introduced through a montage that begins with their respected comics dropping on screen. In essence, it makes "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" look and feel more like a theatrical comic book than any other movie I’ve seen, even more so then Ang Lee’s attempts in “Hulk”. The colors are striking, and there’s a lot of energy in how each character moves. The comedy is also brilliant, because it’s incorporated into the style, and makes the film a sheer delight. Equally impressive as the animation are all the details on display. Like, I cold watch this movie 100 times and notice something new in the details of the characters, the animation, the hummer and the media references on each viewing. Just about everything in Spider-Man’s pop culture is acknowledged in this film, even little winks at events from all the previous live action movies. There’s also a funny after credit scene in which Spider-Man of the 2099 comics visits Spider-Man from the original 60’s cartoon. 

     Also, I have to mention the late great Stan Lee, who initially created Spider-Man, gave birth to Marvel comics, and sadly passed away just before this movie premiered. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is actually dedicated to his memory, and thankfully he makes a number of cameo appearances through the film. The scene in which he appears as a costume story owner might just be the greatest appearance he’s ever made on film, and his quote that “the mask will always fit” ties beautifully into the over arcing theme of the film. The message at the center of the film is that anyone can be a hero in their own respected way, and anyone can wear a hero’s mask. Kind of reminds me of 1998’s “The Mask of Zorro” in which Anthony Hopkins says “There are hundreds more who could wear the mask of Zorro”. For such a funny, action packed and visually striking film, there really are some emotional highlights that left a real impression on me. The movie makes yet another meaningful statement that you’ll never know your true potential until you take a leap of faith, and that’s a moral I’ve held dear to me my whole life.            

     Now of course it’s a tradition for every Spider-Man origin film to have a moment when we see our hero in costume for the first time, and it’s frequently set to a montage of him swinging though the city. Well, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is no exception, but through its presentation and execution, it takes the formula to immaculate new height’s. 
Through the course of the film, Miles doesn’t want to be a costumed hero at all, and as a result, he’s stuck wearing a cheap costume-store Spider-Man suit, and he can’t control or even understand his powers. Even when he looks at the original costume of the classic Spider-Man, he just can’t see himself as the great hero, which is cleverly illustrated by Miles reflection not lining up with Spider-Mans mask. Then after a tragic loss, tough counseling from his mentor, and an especially heartfelt speech from his father regarding the potential he see's in his son ... it’s what finally gives Miles the confidence and motivation he needs to control his powers. It all leads to my favorite scene in the whole film, in which Miles approaches the original classic Spider-Man costume a second time, except his reflection now is perfectly in line with the mask. He redesigns it in his own image, takes a leap of faith off a tall building, he has his triumphant first swing through the city, and it all builds to the image of a Miles Morales comic book landing on a stack of previous Spider-Man comics. It’s a chilling image, and a perfect visual metaphor of how all these events have culminated into his origin story, and now he’s one of the players. I also love that reversed camera shot of him falling into the city, as it’s both visually spectacular and thematically represents the moment as the hero’s ascension. All the previous Spider-Man first swing montages were exciting, but this was the first to be laced with a sense of triumph. When he goes swinging during this scene, I’m standing up cheering for him, I’m beating me head to the triumphant music track, and I just feel like I’m there in the moment with him. It’s my favorite sequence from a Spider-Man movie, it’s one of the most exhilarating moments I ever experienced in the theater … and it’s just plane and simply one of my all-time favorite movie moments.       

    Let’s finally talk about action scenes … they’re OUTSTANDING! Like, some of the best and most inventive fight scenes ever captured in a superhero movie. I mentioned how cool it was to see multiple Spider-Men swinging around, ... well, it’s even cooler to see multiple Spider-Man brawling in one scene. There’s an awesome fight that takes place within the confines of Aunt Mays house, it features every one of the web-headed hero’s battling all the villains, and it is caustic action mayhem at its finest. There’s another beautifully shot battle in a forest, which combines a snowy forest with Atom leaves, and it’s like the kind of action setting you’d see in a Japanese or Hong Kong martial arts movie. At the end, Kingpin brings his different dimension device on-line, and it leads to one hell of a trippy climax, with bursts of colors, all our hero’s brawling the villains on a changing mass of energy and multiple objects, and … I can’t even explain this, it’s just awesome. All the Spider-Men have a touching good bye, they return to their respected dimensions and it all builds to a deeply thrilling final showdown between Miles Spider-Man and Kingpin. It’s tricky to explain, but this is one of the most satisfying hero/villain showdowns from the series thus far. It actually gets really intense with Kingpin relentlessly beating him to a pulp, the lighting gets darker, yet Miles keeps coming back. What really makes his victory over Kingpin triumphant, is that his finishing move is a call back to the advice his Uncle was teaching him in the opening.

     In the end, even when Spider-Man movies were at their worst, I’ve always enjoyed them on some level. Yet, after all these years, none of them could match 2004’s “Spider-Man 2”, which for the longest time was my absolute favorite. Then completely out of the blue comes this animated Spider-Man movie, the first of its kind, a completely original experience with the web-swinger, and it gives my initial favorite some serious competition. It’s a film that combines bold, human storytelling, with striking animation, solid voice work, and an infectiously lovable cast of various Spider-Men (and woman), which all add up to a highly entertaining superhero venture. It’s a film that absolutely delivers all the heart, comedy, action, creativity, moral subtext, ambition, and a lot of imagination into a perfect whole. While we’ve had meta comic book movies ranging from “Deadpool” to “The Lego Batman Movie”, this is the one that connected with me the most, and had the most unique voice. In short, this is now my new favorite Spider-Man movie, and it has a secure spot among my top five absolute favorite comic book movies ever made. I can’t wait to see more from this series, and it gives me renewed hope for the comic book genera. Just when we thought we were getting desensitized … maybe superhero films still have more surprises in store for us then we think.

I give “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” … a perfect 5 stars out of 5.