Tag Archives: Kingpin

“SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE” (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

Spider-People of all colors, shapes and sizes.

Anyone can be Spider-Man under the mask. In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, not only does it feature the first big-screen incarnation of an Afro-Latino Spider-Man: it also features a middle-aged Spider-Man, a Spider-Woman, a Japanese Spider-Girl, Spider-Nicolas Cage, and even a Spider-Pig. PETA had to appreciate the representation on that last one, although I’m not sure how they felt watching the Spider-Pig eating a hot dog.

Like the rest of the Spider-Man movies, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse features Peter Parker (Chris Pine) in the titular role. Unlike the previous movies, however, Parker is not the main star here – and he isn’t the only Spider-Man. In Into The Spider-Verse, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is bitten by a radioactive spider and gets spider-powers all his own. While looking for the original Spider-Man to help him get acquainted with his newfound abilities, Miles stumbles upon the witty wall-crawler fighting the Green Goblin (Jorma Taccone) and the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber). In the middle of their fight, the Kingpin’s particle accelerator – a machine that can access alternate dimensions – goes off, killing Peter and splintering five different Spider-Person’s realities into Miles’ dimension.

There’s an older, chubbier Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) who is going through a mid-life crisis, there’s the rebellious rock star drummer Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), a private-eye detective from 1930’s New York (Nicolas Cage), a Japanese school girl with her own robotic Spider-suit (Kimiko Glenn), and a spider who was bitten by a radioactive pig to become Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). All of these Spider-People must help Miles realize his true potential to become the Spider-Man that he needs to be. Because if they can’t help him, he can’t get them home – and then all of their realities will be lost forever.

One of the immediate things you notice about this movie is its animation style. I’ll admit I was hesitant when I first heard about this project. Superheroes are not known for being very prominent in the animation genre outside of The Incredibles or Big Hero 6. In the case of a blockbuster name as big as Spider-Man, who has found massive live-action success with the likes of Spider-Man 2 and Homecoming, an animated movie felt like it was short-changing the character’s potential. It would be like hearing Warner Bros. announce that the Justice League sequel was going to be animated. You would, very reasonably, wonder A) Why this is happening, and B) How does this do the characters justice?

Any doubt over Into the Spider-Verse, however, was immediately dashed when I saw the first few frames of this gorgeous animated superhero epic. One of the first things you recognize about this movie is how it mimics the old pop-art design of 1990’s comic books. The entire film feels and breathes of comic book euphoria, with the cell-shaded colors popping out of the screen as if it was from a comic book panel, character monologues appearing in caption boxes above their heads, and actions flashing in those “BAM!”, “SMACK!”, and “POW!” bubbles harkening back to Adam West’s days as Batman. I was surprised to find that in the movie’s more exciting moments, the action was so quick-paced and enthralling that I felt like I was watching one of the live-action Spider-Man movies. But even in the slower moments, the art was eye-catching, colorful, and beautiful to look at. This is one of the few movies where the animation not only works well for this type of story: it actually benefits it even more so than if it were in live-action.

And the voice talent here is simply incredible. Johnson and Cage are reliable in the two main versions of Peter Parker (no surprise there). I personally found myself more impressed by the younger names involved with this production. Steinfeld, who has been picking up speed lately in big projects including Bumblebee, Pitch Perfect 3, and The Edge of Seventeen, really puts her own spin on Spider-Woman, playing equal parts sassy, spunky, yet affectionate in cinema’s first female Spider-Man. John Mulaney was pitch-perfect casting for Spider-Ham, and he gave the movie some much-needed comedy without ever feeling corny or ham-fisted (snort). And Moore outshines everybody as Miles Morales, a kid who is growing into his own but doesn’t know how to stand out from a long line of spectacular Spider-People. His story of not fitting in and trying to find his place in this already packed world is one every kid can relate to – especially in a genre as overstuffed and overpacked as the superhero genre.

All of this is to say that the beautiful animation, the spectacular fight sequences, and the voice acting would have all gone to waste if the story was lacking. Luckily, the story is the strongest aspect of Into the Spider-Verse. Phil Lord, who is most known for 21 Jump Street and Lego Movie fame, wrote the film and co-produced it with his collaborator Chris Miller, and he brings a maturity and poignancy to Miles’ story that you wouldn’t expect in a movie like this. After all, this is an animated superhero movie. It would have been easy enough for Lord to write in a bunch of action sequences, take a paycheck, and call it a day.

That’s not what happened though. The people involved with Spider-Verse cares very deeply about Spider-Man. And when I say ‘Spider-Man,’ I don’t just mean Peter Parker. I also mean Miles Morales, Gwen Stacy, Peni Parker, Peter Porker, and all the other Spider-Men after that. All of them are quirky, weird, off-the-cuff, nimble, and have witty one-liners for days. But they all carry that same burden of power and responsibility with them. All of them are Spider-Man.

I loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Not only is it one of the stronger Spider-Man films out there – it is also one of the best Marvel films to date and one of the best films of the year, period. If I had any criticism, it would be that some of the plot holes in the movie are a little too noticeable to ignore (like how the particle accelerator can link Peter Parker to Gwen Stacy even though they have different strands of DNA). But these are minor complaints in an otherwise brilliant movie. For nearly 20 years, we have been getting the same Spider-Man with the same alter-ego, same origin story, same costume, same villains, and same expectations. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse opens the door to new possibilities and celebrates the differences that make each of us our own unique superhero.

I’ll end my review on a critical line that Peter tutors to Miles during the movie: “What makes you different is what makes you Spider-Man.”

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“DAREDEVIL” Review (✫✫✫)

What is the man without fear afraid of?  

We open on a still, quiet shot, a haunting frame of a rat walking over a pool of blood dripping in front of a church.  As we pan up the window frame, with quick flashbacks cutting in and out as the music crescendos, we reach the top, helicopter spotlights shining on a wounded man in a devil costume grasping onto the holy cross.  This is easily the film’s master shot, and its influence quite possibly lasts throughout the rest of the film, even if nothing else ever comes to live up with this establishing shot.

The man we are looking at is Daredevil, and unless you read the comics, you would never have guessed that he’s blind. Growing up as a young boy in Hell’s Kitchen, Matthew Murdock (Ben Affleck) was the son of former boxer Jack “The Devil” Murdock (David Keith), nicknamed for his brutal fighting style towards his opponents. One day while skating past a construction site, Matt got in the way of a truck carrying barrels of radioactive chemicals when a bar suddenly punctures the metal, spilling the lethal chemical into young Matt’s eyes.

He lost his vision, but what he gained changed him forever. When he woke up in a hospital bed the next day, all of his senses were enhanced to superhuman levels. He could feel the fabrics of his eye bandages without even touching them. He could smell the aroma of bleach permeating off of the tiles in the hallway outside of his room. He could hear the sound of construction work, the cars beeping and the heartbeats of other human beings from miles away. But most impressively, his sense of sound gave him a “radar sense”, allowing him to form images of the people and things that he saw in front of him. He wasn’t just a boy any longer: he became a living sonar.

After witnessing the death of his father (I guess “hearing” his death if you want to get technical), Matt vows to never be afraid of the things he can’t see. To find the killer and bring him to justice. To seek justice, one way or another. To become Daredevil.

Here is a film that has an irresistible sense of style, a movie that takes us through its lavish stunts, choreography, and fight sequences and makes them exhilarating to sit through. It is really exciting, seeing these characters pulling off these crazy, mind-blowing leaps and bounds over buildings, in bars, and on rooftops as they fight each other with lightning-quick movements, attacks and reflexes. It’s even more fascinating seeing it from Daredevil’s perspective, watching bullets fly past him while he slides on railing, flips over tables, and knocks criminals out with his staff and nunchuks. Most would probably view these scenes as silly or preposterous, with characters flying from building to building as if they were in The Matrix. My response? I don’t really care. The fight scenes are choreographed and filmed in a very specific way to where its enjoyable, almost as if the laws of physics don’t matter in a movie like this. You more or less watch it for the joy of seeing the sensational effects rather than criticizing how preposterous and unrealistic it looks.

Oh yes, the action is excellent. Compared to the action, the performances are… inconsistent. Not bad, mind you, just inconsistent, and not all of it is entirely the actors fault. Affleck at least does a good job to keep us interested in between the sensational fight scenes, and even offers some very nice emotional moments where his character experiences both fear and vulnerability. Michael Clarke Duncan, most known as the pure-hearted and innocent miracle-maker in The Green Mile plays here the antonym of that role, a kingpin so foul and villanous that its shocking to see him make the transition. The highlight performance is in breakout actor Collin Ferrel as a hitman named Bullseye, and his presence on the screen is infectious. He is terrifying, his motions, speech and mannerisms forming this character who is so set on making his jobs perfect that he will kill anyone that makes him do something as simple as missing. He is mortifying, and definitely not the kind of guy you want to sit next to on a plane. The only actress I didn’t care much for in this movie was Jennifer Garner, who played a love interest of Matt’s named Elektra, but we’ll get a more into that in a bit.

For simple entertainment, the movie is acceptable. The fight scenes are great, the actors are fitting in their roles and the story advances in a form of pulpy comic book violence, the kind you expect to see when you open a Frank Miller comic and see two superhuman acrobats fighting all over the page.

The problems don’t start at the fight scenes or in its cast: they start at the hands of writer-director Mark Steven Johnson, and that’s a problem because those are two areas that should be the strongest in any film. Johnson, who directed the critically-favorable Simon Birch before this obviously has his “rookie” cap on because the film is so lopsided. It’s so freakingly inconsistent, so much so to the point where I can name an equal number of scenes that I liked side-by-side with the scenes that I disliked.

Do I really need to write out a list? The script switches from serious to silly. So does the acting. The tone can’t decide whether it wants to be dark and dreary or smirking and tongue-in-cheek. I mentioned early in this review that we were introduced with a dark, mesmerizing shot that hooked our attention to the screen. Would you take this movie just as seriously, however, if I told you that there was scene later in the movie where blind lawyer Matt Murdock was kung-fu-fighting against Elektra at a children’s park in broad daylight in public? Probably not, no.

Look, in the eyes of a critic (and I’m not talking about myself), this movie failed. The tone is off-beat, the acting is off-kilter, the scripting is inconsistent, and on that note, so are the visuals. And yet here I stand, giving this movie a marginal positive rating.  Why?  Because I liked it, that’s why. Because I sat down, looked at the movie, compared the good side-by-side with the bad, and ultimately, the good won me over.

I know that won’t be the same case for other viewers, and others are likely to hate the movie for its silliness, for its half-completed visuals, for its inconsistent scripting, filming, editing, and even acting. That’s fine. Different movies appeal to different tastes, and Daredevil won’t appeal to all of them. In the genre of superhero movies, there are many obviously superior to this one,  including the recently-released Spider-man and X-men movies.  If we are going to admit what it is worse than, however, let’s not be forget that Batman and Robin and Howard The Duck also exists. No, that last one was not a typo.

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