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“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is a Kaleidoscope of Comic Book Flair and Power

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If the abundance of Spider-Man reboots and sequels has seemed daunting over the past few years, this is the bold new take to shake the cage of the friendly neighborhood web-slinger. It’s a finely polished take on the superhero that makes the biggest attempt at replicating the comics, both visually and thematically. And while there’s no shortage of Marvel heroes or animated superhero satire at the cinema, this is by far the best film in both genres I’ve seen this year. And for a year that came with the inspiringly progressive Black Panther and the rule-breaking script of Avengers: Infinity War, that’s no small accomplishment.

I’ll get to the story in just a moment, and it is one worth talking about, but I’ve got to address the computer animation which is some of the most experimental I’ve seen in recent memory. Several bold choices were made to replicate the look of comic books, from the obvious of speech bubbles to the trickier use of color bleeding and pointillism in the backgrounds. I found the color bleeding as a slight replacement for the blurring an interesting choice; too little and you wouldn’t notice it or too much and it’d look like watching a 3D movie without the glasses. I noticed it and couldn’t stop marveling at how well it worked for this type of film that already blends so many different choices in style, from 2D animation techniques to great use of action lines and wild uses of color.

Miles Morales in Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.

But the film has more to offer than just the most dazzling use of CGI. It’s a tale about identity and coming of age that carries a heavier impact than previous depictions of Spider-Man. There’s a new kid in New York City that has been bitten by a radioactive spider. Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is a high school kid who would rather work on his street art than tangle with the dangerous villain Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), driven to get back his wife and child by any means. Miles won’t have a choice, however, when Peter Parker (Chris Pine) meets his end and it’s up to Miles to save the world from complete destruction.

But he’s not alone. Thanks to a dimensional rift, characters from other dimensions with the Spider-Man origins come to his aid. One of them is the more familiar version of Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) but he’s much different the Spider-Man that Miles knows about. This Peter is twice the age, twice the gut, and twice as depressed from a series of bad choices he’s made in his life, the most blatant being his choice of sweatpants for his costume. The reluctant Parker decides to help Miles in the ways of the web-slinging in return for being sent home.

Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) and Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) in Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.

And there are other Spider-people seeking the same goal. Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) came from a universe where the genders are swapped and she ended up with radioactive blood and a white costume. Spider-Noir (Nicolas Cage) comes from a classic detective universe that is so literally black and white that he’s colorblind in Miles’ world. Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) comes from an anime-inspired universe where the schoolgirl fights villains with her robot spider. And then there’s Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) from the cartoony world where the smell of pies make you float and mallets can fit in his pocket.

There’s plenty of fun to be had with that ensemble but the film thankfully never loses sight of the main appeal of Miles. He remains the strongest element of the story with his conflicting relationships to his tough-but-loving cop father (Brian Tyree Henry) and his gangster uncle (Mahershala Ali). When the drama gets tender, it’s warm and heartfelt. When tragedy strikes, it packs the most meaningful of punches without feeling like a tacked-on breather from the frenetic fun. I was surprised at how hard this movie hits, proving to distance itself from the softer blows of The LEGO Batman Movie and Teen Titans Go To The Movies. Where those films just want to poke fun, this movie does all that and still pulls out the big guns to be a “real” Spider-Man movie.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Spider-Verse is everything anyone could possibly want in a Spider-Man movie and maybe even a little more than that. It’s an everything-sundae of comic book action, fourth-wall humor, serious drama, and the most visually stunning a computer-animated can look without blending into the crowd. When a film can inspire individuality, break your heart, and still have room to make a knee-slapper gag about the 1960s Spider-Man cartoon, it becomes very clear this isn’t your average superhero picture. This is easily one of the best films of the year and, yes, I’m aware of the scoffing that comes from such a statement. And, yes, I’ll say it; I loved the film with a talking pig in a Spider-Man costume.


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“Bumblebee” Swaps Insulting Action For Lighter Adventure

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As the first spin-off of Michael Bay’s Transformers saga, BumbleBee is a huge shift from the usual gears. It’s as though Travis Knight took a good, hard look at the clunky and sloppy nature of the series and decided to give it an overhaul. Gone are the mounting and confusing story arcs that seemed to needlessly double with each sequel. The cynical nature has been removed, replacing the human and robot heroes with more quirky and heartfelt ones, albeit within the cartoonish realm of a 1980s adventure fit for kids. All of these changes don’t exactly make the film a stellar Transformers movie but it at least earns the title of being the best of the lot for the rather low bar it had to cross.

It helps that the Transformers lore is kept to a simpler story. As a prequel, we learn how BumbleBee was the first of the heroic Autobots to land on Earth after losing the battle for Cybertron against the evil Decepticons. His mission is to ensure that Earth is safe and free of Decepticon interference until the other Autobots arrive. But during a scuffle with one following evil robot, BumbleBee has his memory wiped and his voice taken, just in case you were wondering why the transforming robot only speaks through the radio.

Helping him to communicate is Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenage mechanic prodigy with a life in need of a tune-up. And unlike previous Transformers human tagalongs, she deserves it. She’s a smart kid, great with a wrench, has good taste in music, and is naturally depressed by her dad passing. Charlie feels that nobody can understand her so, naturally, the confused BumbleBee takes a liking to her easily as she teaches him about human life and music, something that the robot from another planet has opinions about. Who knew that Cybertronians have an instant disliking for Rick Astley?

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Transformers movie without some evil Decepticons trying to take over the planet. Similar to everything else in the film, this plot has been pruned down to be less messy as only two Decepticons of Shatter (Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) come to Earth for the invasion. Their mission is less convoluted; kill BumbleBee and kill all the humans. And you better believe they kill the gullible American government stooges that place their trust in these robots that pretend to be working with them. Don’t worry, parents; the robots will only zap the humans into liquid goo as opposed to bloody slop, for whatever that tweak may be worth.

Much of the junk has been scraped off the Bay-formers saga to be a more thoughtful and sympathetic film but some of the lameness remains. I don’t know why the film bothered to mention that the story takes place in 1987; the setting goes out of its way to prove this point, from ALF on the television to a VHS copy of The Breakfast Club to posters of The Thing on room walls. John Cena plays a cocky military agent who never quite crosses over into Wahlberg craziness with his meatheaded nature but still occupies the tired trope of the series with the military blindly trusting robots from space. Charlie has a neighborhood friend Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) who wants to be her boyfriend but he thinks he’s too nerdy to ever have a girlfriend. I find it hard to believe a teenager with a rather trimmed body, which he does show off while shirtless, could have that much trouble finding a girl in a community of divers and beach lovers. But perhaps it’s a subversion of such a person, as the film blatantly tries to toss out the suggestion that Charlie and Memo will kiss by the end, as if nudging the audience to say, “See? We’re not THAT predictable.”

BumbleBee is Diet Transformers; all the robot action and adventure, none of the Michael Bay insanity, but loaded with artificial sweeteners. While I’d like to applaud the film for trying to take a sweeter and gentler route to its tale of giant robots that turn people into slime, it doesn’t feel like enough to carry the film past being a passive special effects adventure for the kids. Still, that may be the best part of the film with how it finally feels better targeted at its key demographic of kids, even inspiring for little girls that love the Transformers brand. Worth noting are the simplified designs of the robots that look more like the original cartoon than junkyard explosions. But if the spin-offs want to play more in the field of E.T. and The Iron Giant, they’ve got to tune up the heart to make me care more about a mute robot who can transform into a car. I was almost there but I need more character out of him than his innocent means of pranks and exploring a house he’s too big for. For a Transformers film, those scenes are cute moments. For stories of a kid and their alien pal, it’s par for the course.


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“Aquaman” Washes Out Christmas, “Bumblebee” and “Poppins” Close Behind

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Christmas weekend was a savage one. All manner of genre films came out to play, eager to be the biggest blockbuster of holidays. But there could only be one winner and it was the king of the oceans. Aquaman, the Jason Momoa starring superhero epic based on the DC Comics character, arrived at #1 for the weekend with a domestic gross of $67 million. Though it has a ways to go as such an epic to make its money back, the film is off to an enthusiastic start.

Following closely behind Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns, the sequel to the Disney musical classic now starring Emily Blunt, earning a weekend debut of $23.5 million. Despite opening early on Wednesday, the film still only made about $32 million which isn’t looking especially strong for Disney during the holidays. This is especially concerning given that the film is a close call for the #2 slot as Bumblebee, the Transformers spin-off of the titular heroic transforming robot, came up with a $21 million gross. That being said, Bumblebee’s opening is concerning given the big opening grosses of the previous Transformers film that were usually massive.

But that’s nothing compared to the low debuts of the films that were not intended as genre blockbusters. Second Act, a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez, would debut at #7 with a domestic gross of $6.4 million. Even further down the list is Welcome to Marwen, the new Robert Zemeckis directed drama starring Steve Carell, came in at #9 with a box office of $2.3 million. Brutal.

View the full top 10 box office results below:
Aquaman ($67,400,000)
Mary Poppins Returns ($23,523,121)
Bumblebee ($21,610,000)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($16,635,000)
The Mule ($9,727,000)
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch ($8,548,370)
Second Act ($6,480,000)
Ralph Breaks the Internet ($4,702,425)
Welcome to Marwen ($2,366,560)
Mary Queen of Scots ($2,277,820)

Next weekend may be a bit of quiet one as we shall see how the films released on Christmas Day will fair. Holmes and Watson, the new Sherlock Holmes comedy starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, opens to 2,700 theaters. Vice, Adam McKay’s new biopic dramedy about Dick Cheney with Christian Bale playing the character, is opening to 2,300 theaters. Stan & Ollie, a biopic on Laurel & Hardy starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, will be in a limited number of theaters on December 28th.


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First Box Office Weekend of 2019 Finds “Aquaman” King (Again)

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It’s a new year and so we enter into the chilly month of January, usually reserved for Oscar nominations to strut their stuff and mediocre-to-decent films to swoop in and make a mint. Similar to last year, the first big new film a lukewarm horror picture. Escape Room, the horror film based on the party activity craze of escape rooms, debuted at #2 with a decent January take of $18 million. Not a terrible opening at all for such a horror film but most of its bigger gross was eaten up by Aquaman, the DC superhero epic that continues to make waves. Even though the film took a 41% dip from last weekend, the movie has currently $259 domestic with a worldwide gross total of $940 million. It’s a big success for DC Comics trying to catch up with Marvel Comics at the box office and Aquaman is still looking good coming into a slow January.

With Escape Room being the only major release, there are no big surprises for the shifting of placement. Mary Poppins Returns holds firm as a family film for winter, the domestic total now sitting at $138 million. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, having recently won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature, is still just below with a domestic gross of $133 million. Still struggling to crack $100 million is Bumblebee, the Transformers spin-off. Despite being the highest-rated Transformers movie by miles, the film has only made $97 million after three weekends.

Miles Morales in Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.

The longest holdout in the top 10 box office is Ralph Breaks The Internet, Disney’s cyberspace adventure sequel. Released during Thanksgiving, the Disney animated film has to date made $187 million domestic after seven weekends. Just below it, however, is a film that has been in theaters for two weekends but has already seen a massive drop, Holmes and Watson, making headlines for being one of the worst films of the year with a descending box office.

View the full top 10 box office for the weekend below:

Aquaman ($30,700,000)
Escape Room ($18,000,000)
Mary Poppins Returns ($15,773,000)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($13,010,000)
Bumblebee ($12,775,000)
The Mule ($9,040,000)
Vice ($5,803,490)
Second Act ($4,910,000)
Ralph Breaks the Internet ($4,685,000)
Holmes and Watson ($3,400,000)

Next weekend will feature some bigger competition of dogs, clones, and soft human drama. A Dog’s Way Home, a spiritual sequel to A Dog’s Purpose, will debut in 3,000 theaters. Replicas, a sci-fi thriller starring Keanu Reeves, will hit 2,500 theaters. The Upside, a dramedy where Bryan Cranston plays a paraplegic and Kevin Hart is an inept assistant, will premiere to 3,000 theaters. The battle is ultimately between A Dog’s Way Home and The Upside but I’m willing to bet a PG dog movie will take the top spot or about as high a spot it can muster with Aquaman still in play.


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