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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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.

Daredevil Season Three Is A Triumph!

Daredevil S3 poster

When Netflix dropped the third season of Daredevil a few weeks ago, viewers witnessed why Daredevil is the best of the Marvel Netflix shows. As the first of these streaming shows, Daredevil was an immediate hit with critics and fans, although it faltered in its second season. Then following the missteps of other Marvel Netflix shows, many doubted the quality of them, including Daredevil. Fortunately, the third season of the Marvel superhero show re-affirmed our faith with a triumphant season.

The third season takes place after the events of The Defenders where Daredevil/Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), the blind superhero with enhanced senses, was presumed dead. He barely survived and is in the care of Sister Maggie Grace (Joanne Whalley) in the church where he grew up. As he recovers, the notorious crime boss, Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio), is in prison thanks to Daredevil and carries out a complex scheme to get out of prison and manipulating members of the FBI to serve him as he re-enters public life. Part of the scheme includes destroying Daredevil’s reputation by having an impersonator murder people in cold blood. While this goes on, Matt goes through a crisis of self and faith as he struggles with his ideals when dealing with Fisk and his lackeys. One of them happens to be FBI Agent Ben Poindexter (Wilson Bethel), a deeply disturbed man with a supernaturally deadly aim. Fans know that this is the villain Bullseye and he is more than a match for Daredevil. He is so deadly with his skills that he defeats our hero on more than one occasion, and these fight scenes were actually terrifying to watch with their brutality.

daredevil vs bullseye

Speaking of fight scenes, the third season of Daredevil continues the tradition of presenting “one-take” fight scenes that are so memorable and the one shown in the fourth episode (“Blindsided”) does not disappoint fight fans. In fact, the fight scene, which takes place in a prison, probably tops these scenes with its elaborate and long nature. It features savage fisticuffs, lines of dialogue and a well-choreographed riot scene that all lasts over ten minutes! One has to wonder with the intensity of these fight scenes why it is so difficult for the other Marvel Netflix shows to match the ones featured in Daredevil.

On the other hand, other episodes pack emotional punches and are haunting character studies. One of them, “Karen” explores the back story of Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and it features some powerful acting by Woll as we learn she is not the innocent person Matt and his buddy Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) believe her to be. There are several surprising twists and revelations. Some are inspired by the comic books while others keep us guessing. We’re never sure who will live or die and its often unexpected and tragic.

What makes Daredevil such a triumph is that it focuses on characters, which are perfectly played by topnotch talent. Cox, D’Onofrio and Bethel are the standouts in the stellar cast as they exude raging demons within them and we see how each of the three grapple with their inner turmoil. Charlie Cox continues to sell his Matt Murdock as a decent, tortured man who is pushed to the edge and has to find a way to center himself. Meanwhile, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin (called by that name for the first time in this Marvel Netflix show) is a terrifying monster who is barely able to control his inner fury. There are some wincing moments when he lets his volcanic temper explode which you can’t help but watch. Bethel’s Poindexter is a true psychotic but great pains are taken to show what led this FBI agent to fall from grace. There is a new character who has an impressive arc. That being FBI Agent Ray Nadeem (Jay Ali), an honorable man who is tragically ensnared in Wilson Fisk’s complex web.

The season may come off a bit slow in the first couple of episodes but after having seen the entirety of Daredevil season three it is clear that the quieter pace of the early episodes were needed to set up the characters and situations. The payoff starts fairly soon and it is worth the wait.

Daredevil season three proves that not only is it the best of the Marvel Netflix shows but the best superhero TV show out right now. It would be a shame if Netflix were to cancel it given the recent uncertainty of the Marvel Netflix shows. The showrunners were hoping to have the show run five seasons and there is plenty of story left to tell with the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Besides without not given too much away, it would be nice to see Matt don the red suit again.

Lewis T. Grove

Jodie Whittaker Provides A Refreshing Regeneration To Doctor Who

Dr Who S11 poster

The world premier of the new season of Doctor Who just aired earlier today to much fanfare. The reason for the hoopla is not just because a new actor debuted as the new Doctor, but for the first time, a woman is playing the iconic time-traveling alien.

Jodie Whittaker had large shoes to fill with the role of the Doctor being that so many memorable actors left their mark in the role. But she pulls it off splendidly and provides a refreshing take on the character now that the Doctor is a woman. This does not mean that Doctor Who turned into a show with a feminist agenda. Rather, Whittaker and the first episode “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” have given the new showrunner, Chris Chibnall (who also wrote this episode), an invigorating chance to reboot the series.

While the new version of Doctor Who that premiered in 2005 has been terrific, for some time the show felt formulaic and needed a shot of creativity. The regeneration episodes of Doctor Who are seen as a way of reintroducing the character and the show’s premise. “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” follows the same beats as other regeneration episodes-the Doctor is confused as the regeneration cycle completes, new Companions are introduced, and some kind of alien menace threatens the Earth. In the end, the Doctor gathers his/her wits to foil the extra-terrestrial menace and concludes with the Companions being invited into the TARDIS to join the Doctor in new adventures.

woman who fell to earth

“The Woman Who Fell to Earth” actually felt different because it took an alternate route. The Companions that are introduced are diversely different, made up of dissimilar races, ages and backgrounds. The plot felt more grounded and far less outlandish than previous Doctor Who episodes. It was refreshingly simple without any convolutions or the Doctor gabbing away nonsensically. In fact, the Doctor has never seemed this gathered, resourceful and centered since the Ninth Doctor’s introduction. Basically, an alien warrior shows up to gather human trophies as a rite of passage to become a leader. The alien threat was not buffoonish and was rather creepy and menacing. The enemy alien looked appropriately gross with all his victim’s teeth embedded onto his face.

Since the episode was more grounded, it felt more real and the moments of suspense and danger were much more engaging. The pseudo-magical science that was prevalent in past seasons is downplayed. The Doctor is without the safety net of the TARDIS and the usual trappings. In this manner, Doctor Who seemed like it is no longer aimed at young viewers. This may upset some fans, but the show needed a change of pace and gearing it to slightly older audiences is the right thing to do. This does not mean that Doctor Who lost its sense of wonder and passion. Those elements are still there, best expressed by Whittaker and the new Companion, Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole). Needless to say that Jodie Whittaker has a stunning, electric debut as the 13th Doctor. Keep in mind that the episode was not perfect. There are some pacing issues and the behavior of some characters was not natural at certain moments.

Still, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” is a refreshing way to regenerate Doctor Who and leaves you curious as to what happens next to the Doctor and her Companions.

Lewis T. Grove

The First Is Last As A Space Drama

The First, which started streaming on Hulu, could have been a great space drama about humanity facing the dangers of space travel head on. In this case, the story of the first manned mission of Mars. Unfortunately, The First never gets off the ground (pun intended) and should have been aborted before a single frame of film was shot.

Sean Penn stars as Captain Tom Hagerty, a veteran astronaut who was bumped from the first manned mission to the red planet, only to be later drafted to be its commander. The entire eight-episode series is about the preparation for the mission itself and it is a slow, tepid journey to get to the launch. Unlike other space dramas like the classic From the Earth to the Moon, very little time is spent on how humanity prepares for the next, great space adventure. Some lip service is paid on who gets chosen to be on the mission, assorted malfunctions and the political machinations undertaken by Laz Ingram (Natascha McElhone), the CEO of the private enterprise fronting the mission. Instead, The First bogs itself down with boring family drama.

What takes front and center in this series is the tedious relationship between Hagerty and his young adult daughter, Denise (Anna Jacoby-Heron), who is a recovering drug addict. Hagerty’s attention is wasted on keeping tabs on his daughter, which threatens his capability of leading the mission. This is baffling. If this astronaut has so much emotional baggage why did Ingram pick him to lead a high-profile mission? We never get a sense that Hagerty is uniquely qualified. Sure, he was the first man to return to the moon since the ’70s, but it appears that Hagerty is himself a problem. Half the time, Penn looks like he just woke up from an all-night binge and after the early episodes, it is clear his heart and mind is not on the mission.

Not only is The First dull, but it is pretentious with lofty dialogue that no human being would actually say. There are numerous film-school-reject shots that don’t make sense such as scenes of cicadas emerging from the ground mixed in between overlong shots of characters looking off in the distance and ugly art images.

This is truly a shame because the pilot episode was interesting and followed the mode of what one would expect from a space drama. The production values are suitably realistic for a show taking place in the 2030s and the main theme score is truly inspiring. Sadly, it all goes downhill from there, especially when more and more time is wasted on Denise and her angst that belongs on another show.

If The First makes it to second season, it would be for the best if it focused on the drama of the mission itself and jettison all the junk family drama. Only then will it soar off the ground and captivate its viewers. Until then, watch the fictional Mars-missions series shown on Discovery and National Geographic. They’re more informative and entertaining.