#REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

So.

Standard disclaimer, as always.  Y’all have seen movie reviews from me before.  You know what I’m like when I like something.  And Miles Morales has, since almost immediately after he was introduced, been one of my all-time favorite comic book characters.  He’s up there with the Hulk, Iron Man, and Superman.  I have been waiting for a Miles Morales Spider-Man movie for a long time. 

(Now I’m just waiting for a movie with goddamn Ganke in it, but that’s another story.)

So you already knew I liked this movie.  There would have been a shift in the fabric of the universe if I hadn’t liked it and absolutely everyone would have noticed it.  Did you notice a shift in the fabric of the universe last night, around 10:30, as I was walking out of the theater?  No, you did not.  Of course I liked the fucking movie.  It’s Goddamned brilliant.  It’s so good it made me forgive them for what I initially thought was the kind of dodgy decision to make Miles’ movie animated instead of live-action.

(It’s not dodgy.  This movie would have been impossible as live-action.  They made a better movie by making it animated.  It needed to be animated.)

So put that all aside.  I want to talk to the two or three of you who don’t care about superheroes or superhero movies and for some reason come to this blog anyway.  

You need to see this movie because it’s one of the most amazing animated films ever made.  

You need to see it as a cultural artifact, guys, of what cutting-edge technology can do in 2018.  The movie could have been about anything and I’d be recommending it because of how absolutely incredible it looks.  I was talking to one of my oldest friends about it last night– he was lucky enough to see it last week, and told me at the time that words couldn’t do it justice.  Last night, he made the point that the movie is expectations-proof, because there’s nothing that can prepare you for what it’s actually like to see this on the big screen.

And you need to see it on the best, biggest movie screen you can reasonably get to.  This movie needs to win about four thousand awards even before we get to the part where the story is incredible too.  This movie gets Miles, y’all.  It understands this character thoroughly.  It understands Spider-Man thoroughly, in a way that most of the live-action movies maybe haven’t always.  The voice acting and the casting are outstanding.  The character design– this movie’s versions of the Kingpin, the Scorpion, the Green Goblin, and especially Dr. Octopus are fantastic.  The music is superb.  This movie succeeds on every level but one, which is that it’s gonna scare the crap out of my son so I can’t take him to see it.  

Oh, and the stinger at the end and the tribute to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, both of whom passed away this year?  

I am lucky enough to be married to a woman who is not only willing to go to this neverending series of geek movies with me, but who genuinely enjoys them.  She called Into the Spider-Verse her favorite superhero movie last night.  And this was one of those movies, I think, where she was mildly interested but might have skipped the movie were it not for me pushing to see it.  I can’t be trusted; I know that.  She can.  This one’s something really special, y’all.  And it ain’t like you’ve got anything else to do until next week when Aquaman comes out.  Go see it.  

In which I watch commercials for movies and talk about them

So this came out yesterday, luckily just in time for me to catch it during my last-minute Twitter readthrough on my phone before going into work Friday morning.  

This is a thing I do, by the way.  My son has to be at school quite a bit before I do.  Every morning I take him to school, go to McDonald’s, get a Sausage McMuffin with cheese and a large coffee with five cream and five sugar, then drive to work and sit in the parking lot and surf my phone and eat my McMuffin.  I am weirdly invested in the idea that I don’t just get out of my car and go to work just because I’ve arrived at work.  I decide that it’s time to go into work.  It’s an active choice.  It’s a weirdly empowering thing.

Anyway, I watched this twice on my phone and then went inside, somewhat surprised that I wasn’t as buzzed as I thought I’d be.  I mean, part of it is the tone; it’s hard to get super excited about a trailer that is so clearly deliberately designed to be a downer.  But in some ways this is the only trailer they can actually make right now– this has got to be the hardest movie to do early promotion for ever, because so damn much about it counts as a spoiler, and even just showing most of the characters on screen is going to reveal substantial things about the movie that the filmmakers clearly don’t want us to know.  

I note a couple of things that intrigue me:

  • Clearly there’s a timeskip.  If Civil War was “years” ago, there was a timeskip.   I know we all suspect time travel is going to be a part of this movie, but I love the idea that we’re going to even temporarily see what the world is like after the Snappening.
  • Thanos is limping and missing most of his pinky finger.  
  • I want to see Shuri as the Black Panther.
  • There’s some griping online about the subtitle?  I dunno why.  It’s fine.
  • So, do you think that Pepper Potts is going to be suiting up as Rescue and collecting Tony, or is this where they introduce Captain Marvel?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m still hugely excited about this movie.  There’s little that’s going to change that.  I’m just not bouncing off the walls about the trailer like I thought I would.

Meanwhile …

Now now now now now NOW NOW NOW GODDAMMIT NOW

*cough*

So, yeah.  I’ve clearly got some enthusiasm left in me somewhere.  

Stan Lee, 1922-2018

Stan Lee.jpg

I never met Stan Lee.  I almost certainly could have at some point, if I’d wanted to; half the nerds I know have a picture of themselves with him at some con or another.  He passed away two full days ago and I’m still struggling with tears trying to write this.  That seems an odd thing to say about a man I never met.  Odd, but true.

Also true: I can think of two people, only one still with us, since JRR Tolkien passed away three years before I was born, whose work has had even close to as much of an influence on my life as Stan Lee’s did.  I have been buying comic books for 3/4 of my life, and I probably have 80% of all the Iron Man comics ever printed.  Today is Wednesday.  It’s new comic book day.  I went to the comic shop.

I go to the comic shop every Wednesday.  And I have gone to the comic shop every Wednesday for goddamn near my entire adult life, excepting only a short period of time where I lived in Chicago and didn’t have a comic shop in Chicago yet so I was still getting my comics from my local store in South Bend.  My two favorite superheroes are Iron Man and the Hulk.  Spider-Man is right behind Superman.  Number five probably slides around a bit more than the others, but Captain America is as good a choice as any.

Stan Lee created three of those five characters, and had an enormous influence on the history of the fifth.  Did he come up with everything about them completely on his own?  No, of course not.  Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Jack Kirby; the contributions of these men can’t be denied, and they were towering figures in their own right.  And we just lost Steve Ditko earlier this year, so it’s been a really bad year to be a Spider-Man fan.

(Steve Ditko designed the classic red-and-gold Iron Man armor.  I just found that out.  I don’t think I knew that before.)

This is one hundred percent true:  I have no idea what my life would look like if Stan Lee had not been a part of it.  I have no idea who I would be if I had never encountered Stan’s creations.  You don’t get to spend most of your life marinating your brain in stories about superheroes every single week and not be changed by them.  To say that Stan Lee was one of my heroes feels like it’s minimizing him.

It’s not enough.  He was too big for this.  I don’t have the words.  I’m reading this over and the whole thing just feels stupid, like I’m not trying hard enough.

Stan was Jewish.  Jews typically, or at least traditionally, don’t say “rest in peace.”  A more appropriately Jewish phrase to honor the recently dead is May his memory be a blessing.  And it’s also more appropriate to describe my relationship with Stan, a man who I never met and whose life’s nevertheless influenced me so deeply and thoroughly that I am unable to untangle what my life would be like had he never lived.  His memory– and his creations– will live on, if not forever, but certainly well beyond whatever years may be left to me.  Every day.  But especially, and undeniably, every Wednesday.

Stan Lee’s life was a blessing.  May his memory continue to be.

#REVIEW: ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

ant_man_wasp_posterI wasn’t super excited to see the first Ant-Man movie when it came out back in 2015 and generally found it to be a pretty pleasant surprise.  Three years later, I was actually quite a bit more excited to see Ant-Man and the Wasp, but somehow it managed to be one of the very few Marvel films that I didn’t see on opening weekend.  Life basically intervened last weekend and I didn’t have time.

Here’s the thing, though: I’ve always loved the Wasp as a character, much much more than Hank Pym, and although I’d have preferred to have the classic Janet van Dyne version of the character I can’t really get upset about using Hope instead.  Scott Lang as a character has really never even registered.  But the Ghost?  The Ghost has always been an Iron Man villain– and a dude, to boot– but he’s one of my favorite Iron Man villains, so if you tell me the Ghost is gonna be the bad guy in a movie I’m gonna be there to see it.

tl;dr: Go see it.  It’s got some flaws but in general I think I liked it more than the first one and it’s a pleasant palate-cleanser for the unrelenting misery and horror that was Avengers Infinity Wars.  Mostly, anyway.

That’s long enough for the Facebook people, right?  Okay.  Spoilers ho!

And bullet points.  This is gonna be a random stream-of-consciousness bullet-point style review.

  • Let’s start with the Ghost, actually.  She’s awesome, and a fascinating character, even if this version has little to do with the canonical Ghost other than look (which is amazing) and powers.  That said, she’s ultimately kind of unnecessary to the movie as a whole and her part actually could probably have been cut and still left us with a decent movie.  But that’s the script’s fault, not the character’s or the actress’ fault.  I’ve never seen Hannah John-Kamen in anything before and I want more of her.
  • Actually, let’s just get all of the griping out of the way first: every problem with this movie is a problem with the script.  In particular, the movie could really have used a couple of science advisors.  Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne and Bill Foster are supposed to be geniuses; this movie is stuffed with them, and at one point they actually let Scott say “Are you guys just putting the word quantum in front of everything?” and unfortunately it’s supposed to be a joke but the answer is yes.  The science is Star Trek-level bad; at one point they literally reverse the polarity of something and Janet van Dyne takes over Scott’s brain for a moment to “rewrite an algorithm.”  Don’t ask, just understand that lazy-ass writers use “algorithm” to mean “sciencey thing that we don’t understand and don’t want to explain.”  It’s terrible.
  • On to the good stuff!  The actors across the board are great, even the ones with clearly bit parts, like the thug with no name who was always chewing on his rosary, or Truth Serum Guy.  Everyone seems to be having a lot of fun and they all made the movie really fun to watch.
  • The de-aging special effects, this time used on Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer, continues to be fucking amazing.  It’s going to be a big part of Captain Marvel since like half the cast will need to look 30 years younger than they are, and they’re getting creepily good at it.
  • When Fishburne’s Bill Foster turned out to be a sorta-bad-guy, I really wanted him to somehow end up being Lex Luthor, but it didn’t happen.
  • This is my favorite Evangeline Lilly role ever.  I liked her in the last movie but this one actually made me a fan of hers.  She can have her own movie anytime.
  • The fight sequences across the board, but especially anytime the Wasp or the Ghost were on-screen, were spectacular.  Very, very nicely choreographed action.
  • The repeated theme of dads and daughters throughout this movie, especially Foster and the Ghost’s pseudo-parental relationship, was really neat.  Much like the last one, this is a movie with much lower stakes than the rest of the Marvel films, and focusing on all the familial relationships everywhere was great.  The first few minutes, where a clearly out-of-his-mind Lang has constructed an apartment-sized amusement park for his daughter because he has nothing else to do, was great.
  • There were hints that I was going to get much more of my favorite version of Hank Pym (the gadget-obsessed, white-lab-coat wearing whacko of the West Coast Avengers) in this movie than in the last one and it absolutely came through for me.  The fact that the Macguffin for half of the movie was a literal multi-story office building shrunk down to the size of a piece of carry-on luggage was fantastic.
  • It also led to one of my favorite visual moments of the movie, where they shrink down the office building to reveal an army of FBI guys sneaking up on them behind it.
  • There were only one or two moments where the CGI was wonky, mostly in the scene where they’re infiltrating the elementary school (don’t ask) and Scott gets stuck at about three and a half feet tall.  They were using a lot of practical effects for that bit and it actually didn’t work very well.
  • And then, after all that good shit throughout the movie, that ending.  You bastards.

So.  Yeah.  Go see it!  We’re one movie closer to Captain Marvel!

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, the spoiler #review

AS ALWAYS, I intend to spoil the absolute everloving shit out of this movie.  I intend to do this as one post and hopefully in less than 3,000 words, but we’ll see.  If you haven’t seen Avengers: Infinity War yet, well, maybe get on that before reading this.  Although the damn movie has already made a billion dollars and it’s only been in theaters for a week, so the likelihood that you’re reading this blog and haven’t seen the movie yet is maybe not super likely.

That said, and yes I’m still filibustering for Facebook, wouldn’t it have been better if the movie had been called Shuri and Her Friends?  I mean, c’mon:

Shuri-as-Iron-Man-and-Spider-Man-1

Badass.

Okay.  Real review begins now.  Here be spoilers, motherfuckers:

avengers-infinity-warI was not prepared.

I need y’all to understand just how unbelievable that statement is to me.  I’ve been buying comic books almost every Wednesday for over thirty years.  I recently went out and bought the original Infinity War trade paperback (which is terrible, by the way) to refresh myself on the source material for the story.  I had said to multiple people that my preferred way for this movie to end was for Thanos to snap his fingers and then the screen to fade to black and the damn movie to be over.

I had, I thought, considered every imaginable combination of characters dying, both informed by real-world stuff (Downey’s contract is up!  Holland is already filming the next Spider-Man movie!  Black Panther has made more money than any rational person ever imagined!) and the knowledge that this is a comic book movie and they can basically kill whoever they want because the two movies in between Avengers 3 and Avengers 4 are set before Avengers 3 happens.  They have time to fix it.  And Thanos wins in the original series!  Everyone’s going to die!  I knew this already!

And somehow never once in any of those conversations did “Thanos is gonna choke Loki to death in the first ten minutes of the movie” come into my head.  Loki?  They fucking killed Loki, and they killed him first?

Oh.

Shit.

I was not prepared.

There were screams in my theater– actual fucking grief-induced screams– when Black Panther died.  I had to choke back a sob at Steve Rogers’ “Oh God,” his last line in the film. And I completely cracked when Spider-Man died in fear and disbelief in Iron Man’s arms.  I have never heard a theater as quiet as mine was for the few seconds after the film ended, as everyone processed what had just happened.

I was not prepared.

This movie should not have been possible, guys.  First of all, it is the eighteenth fucking Marvel movie.  No other series in film history has done anything like this; the James Bond movies are the closest thing and they have no real internal continuity to them.  Star Wars and Star Trek have done a ton of movies each but, well, we’ll dodge a lot of controversy and say that they’ve both had ups and downs and at least one real reboot in there as well.  And neither series is at eighteen movies yet, much less eighteen movies over just ten years.  How the hell am I not tired of this yet?  How the hell is everyone not tired of this yet?  What Satan-born devil-deal allows them to wring this much emotional reaction out of the eighteenth fucking movie?  How the hell did they write a movie where the main villain has to collect six different McGuffins and not have the entire middle chunk be boring as hell?

It’s impossible.  It should have been impossible.  And yet … God, I’m at the point where trying to rank these movies is the basest lunacy, especially since they’ve been on such an amazing roll since fucking Captain America: Civil War, which somehow came out just two years ago, and I’m still occasionally overcome with The Giddy about Black Panther.  But if it’s not the best movie they’ve done, again, it’s amazingly close.

Marvel movies catch shit for, other than Loki, not having especially compelling villains.  Thanos is an outstanding character, and they took his weak-ass motivation from the original comic series and tossed it into the trash heap in favor of making him basically an environmental terrorist.  He kills half the goddamn sentient beings in the universe and you understand why he did it.  He throws his adopted/stolen daughter off a cliff with tears in his eyes so that he can kill half of the universe and his motivations make sense.

Let that shit roll around in your head for a second.

That sentence wasn’t supposed to be italicized but fuck it I’m leaving it that way.

There’s so much going on in this movie that’s worthy of at least a few hundred words of geeking out about that I’m honestly paralyzed right now trying to figure out what to talk about.

  • Rocket, the character with the most issues about friendship and belonging, is the last surviving member of the Guardians.  Yes, I know Nebula’s still out there, she doesn’t count.  And Rocket doesn’t know Groot is dead. (EDIT: not true. I misremembered where Rocket was at the end.)
  • I need to see Thor: Ragnarok again to decide how I feel about the idea that the Hulk is literally too terrified of catching another ass-whipping to come out.  This is, to put it mildly, an interpretation of Hulk that I haven’t seen before, and as a Hulk fanatic I’m kind of fascinated by it.  That said, if I have a gripe about this movie it’s that Banner seemed a bit too comfortable with his alter ego, and was verging a little too close to “C’mon, little buddy!” territory.  But again, I need to rewatch Ragnarok.
  • Is Gamora still alive?  Is she trapped inside the Soul stone?   What was with that brief scene of Thanos and baby Gamora right after the Snapture?
  • Serious kudos to whoever came up with “Snapture,” btw.
  • We’re all agreed that Dr. Strange knew what he was doing, right?  Because he went straight from “I will sacrifice you in a second for the Time Stone” to “Please take this and spare Tony” with nothing in between other than, well, seeing the future.  And he, unlike every single other character who died, seemed awfully serene about his own passing.  I feel like the possibility of him having fucked with the Time stone somehow is high.
  • Possibility: that Thanos is actually trapped inside the Time stone, and has been since he took it.
  • Wanda killed her lover for absolutely no reason.  It got them nothing, as Thanos just undid the death, and she died minutes later anyway.
  • Black Panther finally opens Wakanda to outsiders and dies for it.
  • Star-Lord’s character flaws are basically responsible for the death of half of the universe.
  • Tony’s worst nightmares– his best line in the movie was “Thanos has been in my head for ten years”– have come true right in front of him, and he has to survive to see the aftermath.
  • We don’t know if Pepper survived or not.
  • THE GODDAMNED RED SKULL HAS BEEN HANGING OUT AND GUARDING THE SOUL STONE SINCE 1945.  I don’t know that non-comic-book people recognize how big of a deal this is.  This is absolutely Chekov’s gun on the wall.  There is no way you let us know the Goddamned Red Skull is still alive and it’s just for a quick cameo.  I’ll be stunned if he doesn’t play a serious role in Avengers 4.
  • The fight between Black Widow, Okoye, Scarlet Witch and Proxima Midnight was amazing.  
  • They coulda thrown us a bone on the names of the Black Order, I guess.
  • If they killed Shuri offscreen, I riot.
  • No, seriously.
  • There is talk that there will be a time jump of a couple of years in between the movies.  All the talk about the deaths being meaningless if they’re erased is nonsense if that’s the way they go, because can you imagine what basic human existence will be like two years out if they actually let this storyline play out?  Holy crap.
  • Thor.  That is all.  Every second Thor was onscreen.  Ragnarok was okay but it wasn’t much with, y’know, the actual heroism.  Thor kind of reclaimed that mantle in this movie and it was amazing.
  • And Captain Marvel is coming.

This is barely a surface-scratch, folks, and I know that, but the alternative is to rattle on for twenty thousand words.  This was an amazing goddamned film and I need to see it in theaters again on one of my days off.  It takes a whole hell of a lot of movie for that to happen– I didn’t manage to see Last Jedi or Black Panther a second time, but I think for this one I’m gonna make sure that I do.  Now that Thursdays aren’t Dentist Day any longer (short side note: I survived the Great De-Cavityfying, and I’m no longer sure why “dentist” is a job when he drills my teeth for two minutes and assistants do everything else) I may actually have time and will at the same moment to go see it.  Just gotta beat God of War and then I’m all good.

So yeah.  See Infinity War.  That is all.