Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Review

It seems like Sony Animation has been on a losing streak for several years now. After releasing several films I would describe as mediocre (Hotel Transylvania 3) and critical failures (The Emoji Movie), they were due for a hit. That being said, I don’t think anyone could’ve accurately guessed just how stunning and wonderful Sony’s next film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, would be. All the right writers, voice actors, and animators melded together to make one adventurous, beautifully animated movie.

We begin with our protagonist Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), your typical kid caught in an awkward stage of life, forced into a new school system by his stern, police officer father Jeff (Brian Tyree Henry). Miles’ life changes forever when he is bitten by a radioactive spider, giving him heightened senses and a whole host of new “spider-like” abilities. Soon after he meets the web-slinger himself Spider-Man (Chris Pine), who inspires Miles to follow in his footsteps.

And after a strange twist of events (all involving interdimensional travel), Miles meets several other Spider-Men from other universes. Including the likes of Spider-Man Noir (a black and white Spider-Man from the 1930s voiced by Nicholas Cage), Peni Parker (an anime take on Spider-Man voiced by Kimiko Glenn), and Gwen Stacey, a.k.a. Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld). Together they must work to stop the evil doomsday plot of Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), who wants to open a portal to another dimension.

The art direction of Spider-Verse gives the illusion of being like an animated comic book. Full of onscreen onomatopoeias, text bubbles, and unique scene transitions. Objects in the background (and anything else not in focus) have this slight blurred discoloration, like what an old 3-D movie might look like if you took off your glasses. It can be quite hard to describe something as visually trippy and detailed as this, and it’s best understood from just viewing the movie. Let’s just say the creators of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse skillfully tested the boundaries of imagination through animation.

The depiction of Miles Morales as Spider-Man is one I quite enjoyed, as he embodied the image of the coming-of-age teen. He’s awkward, flawed, and the kind of individual a lot of fans could really connect to. Really, Miles stands out a lot from the other major depictions of Spider-Man in film, and he’s probably my favorite among them.

I’ve also noticed the superhero genre become more self-aware as time goes on. To remain fresh and relevant, movies like Deadpool and Spider-Verse flip the superhero genre on its head and directly address the ridiculousness and predictability of these films. Spider-Verse knows we’re sick and tired of origin stories, doomsday weapons, and predictable villains; actively satirizing all these clichés in a variety of clever in-jokes.

Here, Peter Parker constantly makes jokes pointing out overused villain dialogue like “You have 24 hours…”, as well as the lack of serious threat bad guys pose because the superhero always saves the day anyways. It’s all similar to what Scream did for the horror genre in the 90’s, it cleverly subverted the formula by directly satirizing the stereotypes. It’s fascinating to see movies like Spider-Verse broach this topic, and the nonchalant way they go about it is laugh out loud hilarious as well as poignant.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is jam-packed with so many characters, plot lines, and backstories that it’s kind of overwhelming. Kind of like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, except actually good. Rarely do I say this, but I think this film could stand to be a bit longer. Flesh these people out even more and give us even better backstories to characters like Kingpin and Aaron Davis (Spider-Man’s uncle voiced by Mahershala Ali). I would’ve also liked to see more of the alternate universe Spider-Men/Women. They each had such unique personalities (given to them by their respective voice actors) that really deserved more screen time.

Overall, Spider-Verse was super character-driven, with enough raw energy and good humor to drive the plot towards one visually trippy, mind-boggling climax. A satisfying ending, to one helluva movie. The film ends with a commemorative quote from Stan Lee (creator of Spider-Man) that perfectly embodies the message of Spider-Verse. It reads as follows:

“That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed, without a doubt, a real superhero,”

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Ant-Man and the Wasp Review

After the exciting but desolate film that was Avengers: Infinity War, it’s nice to see Marvel’s Ant-Man sequel be an upbeat and cheerful continuation of this franchise.

In Ant-Man and the Wasp, we see our hero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) down on his luck (i.e. on house arrest) after being convicted for his so-called treasonous actions in Captain America: Civil War. He’s soon contacted by Hank (Michael Douglas) and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) Pym, who believe their wife/mother Janet may still be alive in the Quantum Realm. One thing leads to another, and soon Scott adorns the Ant-Man suit once again to fight off some new enemies and help find Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) before it’s too late.

Ant-Man strikes me as a more comedy-focused film than most Marvel movies in the franchise. Even when considering Spider-man: Homecoming and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies (which are also comedies), the material never gets as light-hearted and thin-plotted as it is here. There’s more time set aside to focus on long-running gags and even entire scenes dedicated to pushing a singular joke.

This would’ve been an interesting take, if the style of humor used in Ant-Man wasn’t so hit or miss with the audience. Some jokes garnered uproarious laughter while others got complete and total silence. I chuckled more frequently than most individuals in the theater, and I myself didn’t find Ant-Man that funny. Some bits would start out unfunny and stale but redeem themselves with a hilarious witty line. Other scenes would be hysterical right off the bat, but then draw-out the joke too long and ultimately devolve into boring jibber-jabber.

The action scenes are fast, flashy, and occasionally very creative, pretty much what you’d expect this time around. Every now and then there’s a new camera trick, a goofy moment, or a stunt we haven’t seen yet that is visually exciting and memorable. I never thought I’d see a Hello Kitty Pez dispenser thrown out the back of a moving fan and knock out two guys on motorcycles. And now I have.

Ant-Man and the Wasp does a little too much plot juggling for what the story really is. Taking a quick glance at the two-hour runtime as well as the numerous characters incorporated into the flick, you’d think there was more substance to the storytelling.

Still, this was a sturdy enough film to support a slew of great casting choices and consequently many powerful performances. The cast easy being the strongest component of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas, Laurence Fishburne, the list goes on. And because these actors pulled off great performances, they even managed to make the message of the film (which was your run-of-the-mill morals on friendship, family, and teamwork) feel genuine and not cheesy.

Dedicated Marvel fans will surely enjoy Ant-Man and the Wasp, especially for its tie-ins with Infinity War. Those not as committed to the series may find it hard to get into the thin plot and semi-functional comedy routine. There’s enough great performances mixed in to make this a fun viewing, but I’m not sure if it was entertaining enough to warrant a rewatch anytime soon.

 

The Verdict: C

-Zachary Flint

Avengers: Infinity War Review

It’s the moment everyone has been waiting for. The film that’s been teased and speculated about for what feels like an eternity, Avengers: Infinity War.

The time has come for the Avengers and friends to finally unite against their most formidable foe yet, Thanos (James Brolin). Bent on the cruel idea of random genocide, Thanos must gather the six Infinity Stones (which are basically colorful space rocks) to harness enough power to carry out his plans. With the fate of the galaxy in their hands, the Avengers must set aside their differences in order to stop the forthcoming events. Bringing audiences’ favorite superheroes together in quite unpredictable ways.

Bringing all of Marvel’s current superhero lineup together (minus Ant-man and Hawkeye) is about as exciting as one would imagine. I particularly liked the clashing of personalities between characters like Doctor Strange and Spider-man or Thor and Star-Lord, which makes for some pretty hilarious moments.

At the cost of having all these characters finally together, we get little time committed to each hero. Captain America, Spider-man, Black Panther, all footnotes on a story so large and all-encompassing that it’s surprising we even saw some of these heroes. Yet, If I had to choose a character who steals the spotlight of Avengers: Infinity War, it’d be the antagonist Thanos. For how many characters are shoved into this picture, the audience is given a lot of time devoted to understanding Thanos and his motives. The kind of thing we typically only see with the best of Marvel’s villains.

And for being over two and a half hours long, the film hardly dragged at all. Scenes were usually fast-paced and action-packed, with humorous dialogue and one-liners filling the voids in-between. Other than the occasional lull, Avengers: Infinity War keeps things moving productively and efficiently, even if that means skimping out (or short-cutting) on character development.

I believe those with a love for Marvel are sure to get their money’s worth with Infinity War, especially if you’ve been waiting anxiously for its release for the past few years. The expression of intense emotion ran rampant at my theater; as my viewing was accompanied by shouting, crying, laughing, cheering, the works. Sometimes all at one.

Excitement and Marvel obsessions aside, this is really just your standard sci-fi/adventure film, and I think it should be viewed in proportion to that.

The simple fact that “the show must go on” gives too much obvious insight into the future direction of the series. Without spoiling anything, we unfortunately know exactly what must happen in order to make this franchise continue in a successful manner. That includes reversing events that happen during Infinity War. This all being salient to me while watching the film, it made the emotional scenes slightly less moving.

All the give and take is a small price to pay for such a far-reaching, unprecedented film series.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

Black Panther Review

The latest Marvel flick to be deemed the “best Marvel movie ever” is none other than the prince (and now king) of Wakanda himself, the Black Panther.

Taking place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to the African nation of Wakanda so that he may rule as the rightful king. However, when a new enemy with royal blood steps forth and threatens world domination, T’Challa’s ability to be the king and Black Panther will be tested. Going to great lengths to maintain the throne and keep his people safe.

Hands down the best aspect of Black Panther was the awe-inspiring aesthetic appeal. The imagery was rich in African heritage and mystique, with a fascinating representation of tradition and tribalism around every corner. It isn’t often you see this kind of African style in film, and it’s worked in very well in Black Panther. Every scene involving some sort of ritual or custom fully engrossed me into the film, more so than I could’ve ever imagined.

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa (and the Black Panther) was incredibly charismatic without ever trying to do so. His character was so fleshed out and three-dimensional that the audience understood his tribulations and internal conflicts. And these features were only elevated by Boseman’s emotional and memorable performance, which I would put right up there with the other great Marvel actors/actresses.

Unfortunately, all the messages about race and discrimination were so half-baked and paper-thin that I’m confused as to what the fuss is about. It felt to me like a typical Hollywood move, to not even scratch the surface of a serious issue then run around screaming how they’ve helped to change the course of history. There are plenty of films and television shows today diving deeper into topics of race relations than Black Panther ever tread, and in much more clever and insightful ways. This was more like a studio bigwig went through a social justice checklist and less like an earnest, genuine look at complex issues. I’m not blind to the fact that Black Panther is the first of its kind in many unique ways and should be respected as such. But again, I’m frankly surprised that its being heralded as if it were Do the Right Thing, when a lot of the content begs to differ.

When the focus was on Africa, Wakanda, and Boseman, the film thrives in its own unique environment it builds. But when Black Panther remembers it needs to be a superhero movie and mass-appealing blockbuster first, that is when its charm weakens.

Most characters were developed and well-integrated, a few (mostly the villains) were predictable and had muddled motives. Many action scenes were fun and intense, but at the same time completely pointless for the story they were telling (like the obligatory gigantic battle at the climax).

Judging by the overwhelming praise the film has received, I’m currently one of the few not so satisfied moviegoers, even though I sincerely enjoyed many parts of Black Panther. Ultimately for me the weaknesses in the storytelling overtook some of the better aesthetic moments.

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint

Thor: Ragnarok Review

Thankfully taking a rather lighthearted look at this dark and drab series, Thor: Ragnarok is a satisfyingly fun and adventurous film.

Imprisoned in a gladiator contest on the furthest side of the universe, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is pitted against his old Avengers ally the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). With time working against him, Thor must escape his captures in order to stop Ragnarok, the prophesized destruction of his home world and Asgardian civilization. Full of unique and entertaining characters, Thor embarks on one of his biggest journeys yet, literally across the universe.

Visually, Thor: Ragnarok was noticeably more bright, colorful, and vibrant than previous Thor movies. Perhaps the stylistic successes of Guardians of the Galaxy inspired the Thor creators to take a more imaginative route. Whatever the case may be, the beautiful color palette and crafty costumes and character designs give Ragnarok the kind of sci-fi look that I love.

Also nicely designed was Cate Blanchett’s character the evil goddess Hela, who reminded me a lot of Rita Repulsa from the underwhelming Power Rangers remake. Only she didn’t chew the scenery so much (and is in a much better film). I think the writing of the character was a bit bland and not really that menacing. A lot of her dialogue, while communicated terrifically by Blanchett, was very inconsequential and insignificant. Hela said and did a lot of things any typical supervillain would do, and I sadly think her character is the least memorable of the bunch.

This is especially true when it comes to the colorful group of individuals we meet on the planet of Sakaar (where the film predominantly takes place). These entertaining, yet very quirky characters are a pivotal part of Thor: Ragnarok‘s identity, and help make the film as fun and lighthearted as it is. My favorite of these characters would have to be that of Jeff Goldblum, who is hilariously charming every second he’s on-screen.

The humor in Ragnarok was particularly well written, with the comedic timing almost always right on the money. Witty jokes at the perfect times kept the audience laughing throughout a good portion of the film.

Scenes attempting to tie Ragnarok into the Marvel Cinematic Universe were the weakest features of the film, as they usually are for these flicks. Take the Doctor Strange cameo for example. It was funny and well written, except it felt entirely too forced and tonally out of place. As if the studio big wigs told director Taika Waititi that he had to somehow shoehorn this scene in, so Waititi did the best he could.

Thor: Ragnarok isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread, as many critics would have you believe. It is however, a solid, colorful, and stylish film that often felt less like a superhero movie and more like a straight sci-fi adventure.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming, an exciting and well-acted entry into the Marvel Universe, manages trim the fat from your usual superhero origin story, and gives fans of Spidey the film they all wanted to see.

Presuming that audiences are exhausted with Spider-Man origin stories (as this is the sixth Spider-Man film in fifteen years), the film jumps right into the part that viewers want to see. Taking place shortly after his fight with the Avengers, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has returned to Queens, New York to live with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Here we see Peter as he attempts to prove himself capable of joining the Avengers, as he takes on local neighborhood crime while also keeping his social life in balance. Peter’s days of crime fighting quickly escalate when he gets wrapped up in the affairs of the Vulture (Michael Keaton), who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

The action scenes, dialogue, humor, and characters, are all pretty much everything you would expect from a Marvel film by now. While these details have become a typical, standard package that you get with every entry in the series, this doesn’t really hinder how well-executed Spider-Man: Homecoming is.

The comedic timing of the dialogue and jokes in the film are spot on, as Marvel filmmakers continue to perfect their quickly-timed humor.

Tom Holland as Spider-Man is probably as good of an on-screen Spidey that we’re ever going to get. The film goes very in-depth into how Peter’s role as Spider-Man impacts his personal life, and we see these struggles portrayed very well by Holland. The best part of it all, is that he still behaves and looks like a young kid. He’s oftentimes arrogant, impatient, and awkward, yet still strives to do the right thing (even with serious risk to his own well-being). With a little help from Tom Holland, Peter Parker is as charming of a character as ever.

Michael Keaton as the Vulture was everything I wanted it to be and more. His performance was incredibly strong, playing a very bad man who, deep down, may still have some good intentions. His excellent acting is complimented nicely with just how well his character is written. Instead of creating an elaborate backstory for the Vulture that takes an hour of screen-time to develop, the audience is given a brief summary of his motivations and even gets to see him in his costume, all within the first ten minutes. Again, it seems the filmmakers knew exactly what the audience wanted to see out of Keaton as the Vulture.

This being a Marvel Cinematic Universe film, the weakest moments of Spider-Man: Homecoming happened to be its connections to the ongoing series. A lot of scenes shared between Tony Stark and Peter Parker are unnecessary, serving as detours that the film doesn’t need. Spider-Man: Homecoming is very competently directed, and can stand perfectly on its own as an independent piece. It’s not imperative to include Avengers tie-ins every few minutes, as this type of screenwriting is more likely to hold the film back from reaching its fullest potential.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a well-calculated crowd-pleaser that I found to be very exciting and a lot of fun. Both Tom Holland and Michael Keaton give really strong performances, and share some of the tensest sequences in a Marvel film to this day. Unlike the previous two Spider-Man series, I feel that this interpretation of everyone’s favorite web-shooter will be the most universally loved and respected.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, at first glance, felt as though it might bite off more than it could chew. The audience is very quickly introduced to a slew of characters, old and new, as well as new locations and plot threads. Despite this overload in information, Guardians comes together quite nicely.

Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), all return for another action-packed adventure. Now, after two films, these characters remain my favorite in the Marvel lineup. Each is so well written and fleshed out that I’ve truly begun caring for what happens to them on screen, far more than any of the other Marvel superheroes.

The film begins with our favorite intergalactic superheroes doing some freelance work for an alien race known as the Sovereign. After upsetting this race of aliens in usual Guardians of the Galaxy fashion, their ship is shot out of the sky and has to make an emergency landing. They are then saved by a man named Ego (played by one of my favorite actors, Kurt Russell), who claims to be the estranged father of Star-Lord. Weary of the vengeance soon to come from the Sovereign, Star-Lord and friends go with Ego to his home planet, which he created himself. Here, Star-Lord learns of his true parental roots, as well as his future potential for power.

The humor that Guardians employs shows they understand their audience exceptionally well. Most of the jokes are right on the money, as the film utilizes every chance it gets to throw some comedy into the mix. Often, like in the previous film, the humor comes from the nonstop bickering the Guardians partake in, which sometimes goes on for minutes. Another great source of humor comes from Dave Bautista’s character of Drax the Destroyer, as his rather blunt sense of comedy gets the crowd roaring many times.

Some story arcs our protagonists go through, however interesting, have already been done before in the previous installment. All our characters already came to terms with the fact they’re misfits, and Gamora already struggled with her sisterly relationship. So I don’t completely understand why the film deems it necessary to retread these plots points. Sure, there are some unique places they could take these ideas, but I can’t help but think they should’ve tried something new.

Above all other minor issues with the film, Guardians is unadulterated fun. Not a disposable, mindless, or even dumb form of entertainment, but instead an emotional one. Audiences will laugh, be sad, get excited, be disappointed (in a good way), and then laugh some more. Along the journey this film brings us on, we learn a lot more about these detailed and well written characters, while also learning a thing or two about caring for others close to us.

Armed to the teeth with eighties one-hit wonders, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will deliver the audience everything they asked for in a sequel, and maybe even a little more. The action scenes and dazzling effects will entice you, but the reason you’ll stay around is for the characters, as I feel Guardians has gotten characterization down infinitely better than The Avengers. The Guardians of the Galaxy are witty, crude, and know how to win you over. It’s a film I wouldn’t mind seeing again, and would recommend other superhero fans to check out.

The Verdict: A-

– Zachary Flint