Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse Swings & Soars!

Sony’s latest entry into their burgeoning Spider-Man cinematic universe, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, is a boon not just for the film studio but for Spider-Man films in general. This is not a small feat given Sony’s recent spotty record with their own Spider-Man films.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse follows the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a young middle schooler who gains the spider-like powers of his hero Spider-Man (Chris Pine) in a universe similar to the Marvel-616 and the live-action films. This universe’s version of Spider-Man is killed after trying to stop the Kingpin’s (Liev Schreiber) dangerous machine which breaches dimensions. As Miles struggles to honor his hero and grow into his role as a new Spider-Man, other versions of the hero from different universes start appearing. He forms an uneasy teacher/student relationship with an older, jaded version of Spider-Man/Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), who has suffered a series of downers in his life like divorce, poverty, and is out of shape. Together, the two work with other Spider folk like Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) and Spider-Man Noir (Nic Cage) to find a way to return to their proper dimensions and destroy the machine before it irreparably destroys all universes.

The film has a wild and kinetic animated style that carefully combines 3D animation with conventional line and dot comic book art to create an organic and  moving comic book come to life. Adding to the effect were numerous word panels that conveyed characters’ thoughts and complimentary sound effects, just like in the comics. Producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (remember them? They were the directors fired by Lucasfilm), along with directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, pulled off this loving ode to Spider-Man and superhero comic books that will be remembered for a long time.

But as great as that sounds what makes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soar are its characters and story. It is too easy for a story like this about parallel universes and derivative characters to go off the rails, but the film gets us involved with not only Miles, but the other versions of Spider-Man, particularly the older Parker. Even though he is jaded, Parker is still a heroic person and is protective of Miles, though the younger Spidey wants to prove himself. What is impeding Miles, are his own insecurities stemming from his awkward relationship with his father and his inexperience. What was great to see is that Miles does not become an instant hero, he has to grow into his role and learn not just how to swing, but about responsibility and sacrifice. Remarkably, in this crowded film, the other Spider heroes have their own moments to stand out and shine, and this goes for the supporting characters. The only exceptions to this and a nitpick about the film, are the villains, who are a bit one-dimensional. But they server their purposes and help move the plot. Overall, the film moves along at a brisk pace and is quite exciting and fun.

As expected, there are too-many-to-list references to Spider-Man films and his history. Many of them will leave you on the floor laughing, especially with the recreations of infamous dancing scenes from Spider-Man 3. Of course, the Stan Lee cameo was one of the better ones and there is a loving, heartfelt dedication to the departed Lee and Steve Ditko at the end that is worth hanging around for. Adding to that is a hysterical post-credits scene starring a couple of versions of Spider-Man that features Stan Lee voicing J. Jonah Jameson. It has to be seen to be believed, it’s that great!

It’s hard to believe, but Sony delivered quite possibly the best Spider-Man film since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. After the debacle of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it is safe to say that the film studio has found an amazing (pun intended) avenue for their own spin on Spider-Man films.  Hopefully, this can be the beginning of classic animated films that rivals anything that their competitors can come up with…just as long as Lord and Miller are left alone to work their magic. I already look forward to seeing other versions of Spider-Man joining the fray in a sequel.

This animated film is the best surprise of the year not only with superhero films, but films in general. As 2018’s most dazzling animated film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse will make any true Spider-fan smile and rejoice. Do not take this statement lightly, in this year of outstanding animated and superhero films, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an instant classic.

José Soto

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Look! Up In The Sky! Superman: The Movie Turns 40!

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the first big budget superhero movie of cinema, Superman: The Movie. It truly is one of the most influential films of all time and is still considered one of the best superhero films ever made. That is no small feat considering all the high-quality superhero films that have taken over Hollywood. But it was not always like this. Back in the day, superheroes were something to be mocked and considered strictly for children. So, superhero films were a rarity. That all changed in December 1978 when Warner Bros. released the large-scale, live-action adaptation of DC Comics’ Superman.

Sky High Expectation – Delivered!

When released in theaters in 1978- a year after Star Wars, Superman was a commercial and critical success. There are several reasons for this achievement, so, let’s go over them. Start with the perfect casting of Christopher Reeve, who many still regard as the perfect Superman. For audiences leaving the theaters back then, and rewatching at home decades later- we hear from so many of them who declare that Christopher Reeve IS Superman. No other actor at the time could have successfully portrayed the greatest superhero of all time.

When it comes to the big-budge superhero film, Reeve was the first one to be perfectly cast. These days, there are so many spot-on castings in superhero films, but he was the first. As a respected Julliard graduate, Reeve’s dual role of the nerdy Clark Kent and the heroic Superman was like opposite ends of the spectrum. It was and still is amazing to watch. As Clark, his intention was to be seen as a shy, bumbling pushover, always tipping his oversized glasses to the top of his nose. Certainly not the center of attention, he purposely puts himself into Lois Lane’s “friend” zone, an unwanted role for any guy (it’s worse than being banished to the Phantom Zone!). But Reeve’s Superman secretly enjoys teasing Lois to make her have to be close to the bumbling Clark. Reeve’s look were perfect for the superhero. When he took the role, Reeve underwent an intense bodybuilding regimen and it showed! Not only that, he had the face of Superman as seen in the comic: square jaw, leading man looks and a robust mane of hair fashioned with the distinct “S” curl. Even in today’s comics, most artists draw Superman with this curl. For fans, this completes the look.

The film boasted a star-studded cast whose talents complimented Christopher Reeve; notably Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder. Each actor set the template for how their alter egos were in live-action that in many cases have not been topped.

Then, there was the perfect directing by Richard Donner, who demonstrated a true understanding of the heroic, epic and sincere tone  for the film. Unlike many potential directors considered for the job, Donner respected the character and it showed on screen. He helped present a Superman that was true to his comic book image and made him someone anyone could look up to.

Let’s not forget the timeless score by John Williams. His soundtrack was so stirring and epic. It captured the essence of Superman to the point that 40 years later it is still considered the character’s theme. Hum a few bars of the theme and anyone can tell it’s the Superman theme. Sorry, Hans Zimmer.

Another person who helped elevate Superman: The Movie was costume designer Yvonne Blake, who made Superman’s costume look like it leapt straight out of the comics. Richard Donner asked Blake to make Superman’s costume true to the comics. She referenced the Bronze Age Superman from DC artists Curt Swan, Neal Adams and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez. The costume was so accurate, it was impressive! The way the cape stemmed from an open collar in pleated folds; the oval yellow belt buckle, the “M” shaped top of the boots; the yellow S in the back of the cape, and the colors were just perfect. The other costumes were also cool to see- the white, glowing Kryptonian outfits, each with their own family crest symbol on the chests and the three Kryptonian villains dressed ominously in jet black.

When Superman: The Movie premiered a key concern among fans was over the special effects. It was vital that the film, as its tagline promised, made us “believe a man can fly”.  Superman’s flying effects had to deliver, and they did. Christopher Reeve’s aerial acrobatics were so fluid and natural that even though the effects are dated now, back then they sold the tagline. The Oscar-winning special effects utilized analog optical effects, and many techniques were invented for the movie itself and used in other productions thereafter.

The set designs by John Barry were just jaw dropping, including the otherworldly crystalline planet Krypton, a starship literally designed to look like a Art Deco depiction of a star and its rays; and the imposing and majestic Fortress of Solitude.

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The Endgame Starts In The First Avengers: Endgame Trailer

The wait for the next Avengers film, the next offering in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), was quite intense rivaling that of Avengers: Infinity War. But after being delayed by a couple of days the Avengers; Endgame trailer is finally here!

Now the big question is does it live up to the hype? No. That is to be expected because of all the build up following Avengers: Infinity War and what Avengers: Endgame represents. Still, this is a good, solid trailer that is a true teaser.

Basically it sets up what has happened in the aftermath of the Decimation (the official MCU word for Thanos’ Snapture). First we see Tony limping along home in the Benatar, the ship belonging to the Guardians of the Galaxy. He is at the end of his rope, defeated, food and water gone, and he is ready to say his goodbye to the mortal realm. A quick glimpse of Thanos then takes us to Earth where we see the aftermath as people struggle to cope with the fact that half of all life is now gone.

The remaining Avengers mourn the lost including Spider-Man and Shuri, Black Panther’s sister, who many have hoped would have been around to help salvage the situation. From there we witness the return of Hawkeye, missing during Avengers: Infinity War, but now taking up the mantle of Ronin.

The last moments show us a determined Black Widow and Captain America ready to undertake a final, desperate mission…cut to the title reveal. Lastly, a moment of much needed levity arrives. Scott Lang aka Ant-Man literally shows up on the doorstep of the Avengers’ headquarters with the machine that can save everyone. That is the quantum bridge machine that stranded him in the quantum realm as shown in the post-credits scene of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Obviously, Scott found a way out and thus his importance rises in the MCU. Of course, that is the way it should be: a plucky, underpowered hero will be the key to victory.

The trailer for Avengers: Endgame isn’t explosive or jammed with appearances ofall the MCU heroes as the first Infinity War trailer was. But it shouldn’t have been. It needed to give us a sense of despair and hopelessness and it did so perfectly. Then, it delivered a sliver of hope with Ant-Man’s arrival. It was similar to how the post-credits scene in Avengers: Infinity War ended on a hopfule note the summoning of Captain Marvel. Speaking of her, she was unexpectedly absent from this trailer, as was Rocket Raccoon, one of the survivors of the Snapture. But they’ll probably appear in the next trailer. On a related note, aside from a quick look at Spider-Man (or rather Peter Parker), none of the Decimation victims are shown. This is appropriate because we know in the end they’ll be brought back but the focus should be on the survivors. So kudos to the trailer for not featuring them taking part in some dazzling fight scene and undermining their supposed deaths in Infinity War.

On the whole, it’s not the best trailer, but it’s the one that hits the right note for the mood it sought to convey. Can’t wait for the next one! That’ll probably happen during the Super Bowl. In case you haven’t seen the Avengers: Endgame trailer yet, here it is for your viewing pleasure. But if you’ve seen it before, check it out again, it’s quite awesome.

Daredevil Cancelled

Daredevil, the crown jewel in the Marvel Netflix Universe, has been cancelled by the same streaming service. Many saw this coming in light of recent developments, nevertheless, the news still hit us fans pretty hard. After all, it is the best of the Marvel Netflix shows and we’re still celebrating its triumphant third season, which was released just weeks ago. Now many are asking what’s next for Daredevil? Will Disney pick up a fourth season to stream on its upcoming streaming service, Disney+, or promote the character into the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)?

Here is what is known. After Daredevil was canceled by Netflix on Thursday, November 29, Marvel quickly released this statement on the same day:

“We are tremendously proud of the show’s last and final season and although it’s painful for the fans, we feel it best to close this chapter on a high note. We’re thankful to our partners at Marvel, showrunner Erik Oleson, the show’s writers, stellar crew and incredible cast including Charlie Cox as Daredevil himself, and we’re grateful to the fans who have supported the show over the years. While the series on Netflix has ended, the three existing seasons will remain on the service for years to come, while the Daredevil character will live on in future projects for Marvel.”

On another statement released on Friday, November 30, Marvel added, “Marvel is extremely grateful to the huge audience that loved Marvel’s Daredevil. From the moment of young Matt’s first act of heroism to the birth of Page, Murdock and Nelson, it has been an unbelievable journey. We are incredibly proud of the amazing showrunners and writers starting with [exec producers] Drew Goddard and Steven DeKnight, Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie and Erik Oleson, [stars] Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Vincent D’Onofrio and our casts who brought our characters to life with such excellence, and every one of the fantastic crews in NYC. We look forward to more adventures with the Man without Fear in the future,”

Looking Ahead

So what does this mean? Is there hope we haven’t seen the last of Daredevil and the other heroes of the Marvel Netflix Universe? Sure, Jessica Jones and The Punisher have new seasons coming up, but with Daredevil’s cancellation, the writing is on the wall for those shows and the Marvel Netflix Universe. Well, trying to read between the spin, the real message is mixed…and most of us won’t be happy.

Marvel (and Disney) owns Daredevil, the character. They have the right and the power to bring him back immediately in any form, whether as an animated film, a live-action movie, appearances in MCU films, etc. But it seems that Netflix owns the rights to the current incarnation, that is the one starring Charlie Cox, who made the character his own. Think of it this way, if Disney got back the rights to the X-Men, but didn’t have the right to use Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or showing the mutants in those black, leather outfits. They could do that now since they own 20th Century Fox, but just imagine this situation as to what might occur with Daredevil.

From the statements, Daredevil will return, but most likely as a reboot. The same way Marvel Studios recast and rebooted Spider-Man, and from all indications it appears that Marvel Studios will do this with the future X-Men films. In Spider-Man’s case, the rebooting was welcome since Sony Pictures’ latest films had fallen short. As for the X-Men, their films have been a mixed bag and lauded stars like Jackman and Patrick Stewart were done with their characters. This situation with Daredevil is especially stinging because the show is so damn good and the third season is arguably its best and lived up to the full potential of the character. The casting was perfect, starting with Cox as the down-to-earth and conflicted superhero and D’Onofrio’s Kinpin just crushes it.

So what is next? Marvel Studios may use the character but not for a while. There is recasting and such to deal with. Disney+ won’t pick up the show for new seasons because Daredevil is more adult-oriented, meaning violent. It would not gel with the family-friendly image of Disney. Perhaps Hulu, which is co-owned by Disney, could pick it up. We would all like that, but it’s not likely. Ditto with the character appearing in the MCU in the short term. No, it most likely means that Cox and the others are out, we won’t see the Man Without Fear for some time and this confirms that the Marvel Netflix shows were never really part of the MCU anyway.

Why Cancel It?

How can Marvel let this go? There were reports that a fourth season of Daredevil was being prepared before the cancellation. The correct question is why did Netflix do this and effectively kill the Marvel Netflix Universe?

Doomed Defenders

There isn’t an official reason for the cancellation. Some theorize that viewership was down, even though the third season received rave reviews and buzz, but Netflix won’t release its numbers. The writing has been on the wall with the Marvel Netflix shows ever since the announcement of Disney+. Tensions between Disney and Netflix came to a boil with the announcement because Netflix will lose many of the Disney films and shows currently airing on the streaming service.

By creating and promoting new episodes of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, Netflix is promoting one of the brand IPs of their new competitor. Why would anyone do that? Plus, Netflix reached a deal with Mark Millar to create new non-Marvel superhero shows so why spend resources for their competition? Given how successful Netflix is, the service didn’t need the Marvel brand to pull in subscribers as in the past. It’s hard to fault Netflix though we don’t like the decision.

This development is just terrible, but at least we have the three seasons (and his appearance in The Defenders) to rewatch and enjoy over and over again. Unlike other superhero adaptations, Daredevil hit it out of the park from the very start and we have to thank Netlix and Marvel for finally bringing us a version of the Man Without Fear that lived up to its potential and surpassed it.

Lewis T. Grove

 

Wreck-It Ralph Continues Charming Us With Ralph Breaks The Internet

Ralph Breaks the Internet is the sequel to the popular Disney 2012 animated film Wreck-It Ralph. The first film about a video game character wanting to break out of his bad-guy mold charmed audiences and won over many fans. When Ralph Breaks the Internet was announced many wondered if it would have the charm and fun of the original. Thankfully, it does.

John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman return to voice their roles of Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope and the easy camaraderie between these two unlikely heroes is still there and is just as engaging. The creative team behind the sequel wisely knew what to keep and what to do differently. Instead of having another film taking place in the video game world, the boundaries were pushed and as the title suggests, the action mostly takes place in the expansive world of the Internet. Ralph and Vanellope venture out into this new virtual world in order to get a new part for Vanellope’s broken game console Sugar Rush or else the game will be permanently deleted.

Their journey lets them to experience all the intricacies of the Internet including spam, online shopping, the Fortnite phenomenon and so on, to often hysterical results. There are many LOL moments in Ralph Breaks the Internet as they explore the Internet. One of them includes a visit to the realm of the Disney properties, which has been seen in the trailers. You would think that all the good moments would have been spoiled by the trailers, but there are tons more Easter eggs and references and cameos. Even though the Disney stuff may seem as gratuitous on the surface, they often serve the story, plus it manages to sneak in a nice Stan Lee cameo. And the segment with the Disney princesses is pure gold. But video game enthusiasts should note that this sequel continues to have nifty video game cameos.

More often than not Ralph Breaks the Internet has many moments that will either bring out heartfelt guffaws or unexpected food for thought. The latter begins later in the film as the subject of friendship and how it changes over time is brought up. As with all friendships, Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship begins to evolve and this brings up conflict between the two. Vanellope wants something different with her life while Ralph is content with his situation. The film then takes the unusual step of having Ralph commit acts that are questionable and expose him as a flawed person. This was refreshing and honest since Ralph became more dimensional and conflicted within himself. It was a gamble for Disney to allow this unflattering development with its title hero, but it pays off. Even though Ralph feels insecure about his relationship, he is still a relatable character and has a great heart.

Some may think this makes the film darker than the original Wreck-It Ralph but it enables the sequel to stand out and be its own film. Ralph Breaks the Internet is a cut above the standard animated sequel because it dared to explore not just new territory, but logical character development. Not to mention it is downright funnier than the original film and is just as emotionally heartfelt.