****/**** Image A Sound A Extras A-
screeplay by Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman
directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, hereafter Spider-Verse, is a game-changer. It's American anime, essentially, an Akira moment for our film art that will sooner or later be identified as the definitive event where everything tilted forward. I hope sooner. More than beautiful, it's breathtaking. More than kinetic, it's alive. And more than just alive, it's seething with possibilities, self-awareness, a real vision of a future in which every decision in Hugh Everett's quantum tree produces an infinite series of branches. It's a manifestation of optimism. There's hope in Spider-Verse, along with a reminder that more people in these United States believe in progressive values than don't, no matter who the President is. Empathy and compassion hold the majority; there's a recognition we are essentially the same--the same desires, the same disappointments. When a father tells his son he's proud of him, it makes us cry because we identify with the entire spectrum of complexity such a conversation entails. When it happens in Spider-Verse, the son is unable to respond and the father is unable to see why, and the visual representation of the distance that can grow between fathers and sons is astonishingly pure. Turgenev never conceived a more graceful image on the subject. It's perfect.
Spider-Verse is the creation story of Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), a Brooklyn kid, the child of black cop Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) and a Puerto Rican nurse, Rio (Luna Lauren Velez), who speaks to him in a lilting Spanglish. He's lotteried into a private school but feels like an outsider. His parents force him to go because they want him to have every opportunity to thrive. One of his teachers there presents Miles with a test on which he's scored "0." She asks him what the score would be if someone just guessed and, because he's very good at math and science, he answers "50%." You have to know the right answers to get them all wrong. Miles is trying to be something he's not because he believes he's affecting something he isn’t. He spends time one night with his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), doing his graffiti art in an abandoned portion of the subway, when he's bitten by a radioactive spider. But there's already a Spider-Man, Peter Parker (Chris Pine), and during a battle with Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) in some sort of dimensional portal the crime boss is constructing to bring over versions of the family he's lost, Spider-Man is killed. The portal is open long enough, though, for a multiplicity of other Spider-Mans (Spider-Men? Spiders-Men?) to get through, including another Peter Parker (this one voiced by Jake Johnson) and, with him, another chance for Miles to gain a mentor.
The film is about Miles seeking out mentors. His father is ultimately too stentorian, his uncle too permissive, but Peter is perhaps just right, if not for his sadness and injured self-esteem. Miles needs, as all young men do, to find a way for himself into an adulthood where he can be happy and productive. Spider-Verse tells his journey with animation and graphic design that's indescribable and stunning. The creative team sees Brooklyn as an infinite probability curve: the city is impossibly vibrant, impossibly huge. There's too much to see, though you try. It evokes somehow the feeling of visiting New York for the first time--a nexus between something eternal and the future unfolding. When Kingpin gets his contraption up and running again with the help of brilliant Doc Ock (no telling), the city literally unfolds. The final battle is fought in a collision of ideas. Miles's friends each offer to sacrifice themselves for the greater good once Miles shows he's not ready to be a hero--and it's their example of selflessness that finally teaches him. "It's a leap of faith," says Peter. Taking one is the only way Miles is able to figure out who he really wants to be. It's the only way anyone ever figures out who they're going to be, and it's terrifying to discover what's there underneath your mask. The moment Miles reveals his suit, the way he's customized it for who he's becoming, reminded me of the scene where a black woman lets her natural hair down in Beyond the Lights. I cried a lot in that movie, too. I'm 45 years old this year, and I thought I knew everything there was to know about myself only to discover, standing there on the edge of a great drop, hand to my heart, about to take another leap of faith, that I don't know anything.
Spider-Verse is an instant classic, not for visuals that will, after all, only be singular until the next ground is broken, but for the tremendous care it's taken in finding Miles's heart and then things to fill it, break it, strengthen it. It's as good a film about adolescence as you could imagine, made better by how kind-hearted it is. Funny, too. At the end of one of the worst years of my life--in a lot of our lives, of course--to be able to warm myself next to this movie is a gift, a surprise of the most extraordinary kind. Let me tell you about another scene: Miles has met the new girl in class, Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), and as he tells Uncle Aaron about her later, he tries to hide his excitement, but can't. In a movie of huge moments and literal rifts in reality expressed in splashes of paint and motion, it's these little observational touches that align it with the great Japanese masters. Miles runs through a series of facial expressions--embarrassment, excitement, curiosity, caginess--and his uncle does the same. They move around on the couch and the directing trio knows where to put the camera. And in the end, as his uncle teaches Miles how to make a very innocent move on Gwen, there's a brilliant, true moment of shared elation between them. Spider-Verse is a film made with love about love. Miles is a mixed-race kid from a working-class family who counts among his new powers situational invisibility* and the ability to manipulate electricity. He learns how to use them with the help of his new friends, who respect him, and his family, who adores him. Even the villain is motivated by love, and so there's a conversation to be had about how love can turn into obsession and violence if you're not careful. Anyway, I'll be seeing it again soon. I bought a couple of Miles Morales Spider-Man back issues, too--you know, because my kids. Well, because me, too. Originally published: December 12, 2018.
THE 4K UHD DISC
by Bill Chambers Sony shepherds Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse onto 4K UHD disc in a combo pack with the retail Blu-ray and a voucher for a digital copy of the film. To my knowledge, there has yet to be a CG-animated movie "finished" at a resolution higher than 2K because of the sheer processing power that would take, but Spider-Verse looks as good upscaled as any native 4K presentation I've seen. While some of that owes to how capably it resolves fine details (such as the ubiquitous halftone dots), the 2.39:1, 2160p transfer is finally superior to the 1080p alternative because of how well it utilizes HDR. The saturation is arguably no less intense on the attendant Blu-ray, but the bold splashes of colour can often seem radioactive, in competition for attention rather than all of a piece, with subtle tonal variations, the way they are in the UHD version. And HDR highlights make an already-tactile image that much more engaging: When Miles and Aaron graffiti the bowels of the subway, the halogen lamp they've set up to work by has that ineffable halogen glow. It doesn't just suggest light, in other words--it suggests a specific quality of light that one only encounters in otherwise-dark settings, underscoring the intimacy and secrecy of Miles and Aaron's act of rebellion. (Ditto the radiance of Miles's phone screen: it doesn't merely project out onto the darkness, it pierces it.) During the ill-fated first test of Kingpin's collider, the commentary participants mention the "physically illogical" lighting shift that casts the walls mint green, and in HDR it feels like that hue is actually being created by light, i.e., expressionistic, whereas in SDR it feels like it's being created by paint, i.e., contrived. Our commentators also frequently mention how exquisite Spider-Verse was on the big screen in 3-D, and I felt considerably less FOMO hearing them say this while watching it in 4K, as the picture never wants for depth. As for the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, great Caesar's ghost! I audited the 7.1 Dolby TrueHD core of it but the mix loses little of its envelopment in the absence of height channels. There's a layered complexity to the sound design that's on par with the visuals and similarly will reward repeat viewings, along with a bassy heft that puts Disney's most recent Marvel and Pixar titles to shame. Crank up the fight between Spidey and Green Goblin in chapter 4 to curl your hair and terrorize the pets.
The Blu-ray's extras have been pared down on the 4K platter to the commentary track, bonus cartoon, and startup trailers for Spider-Man: Far from Home and Men in Black: International, which are notable for being in UHD with HDR embellishments. (I'd personally never encountered a trailer in HDR before.) Directed by Spider-Verse storyboard artist Miguel Jiron, Spider-Ham: Caught in a Ham (4 mins., 1080p) is an aggressively meta piece in the style of old-school 2-D squash-and-stretch; Looney Tunes, from remarks made elsewhere, is clearly what it aspires to, yet in its emphatic linework and unsavoury winks at Spider-Ham's cannibalism--our hero is kidnapped while trying to enjoy a delicious hot dog--it comes closer to evoking Nickelodeon staples like "The Ren & Stimpy Show" and "Spongebob Squarepants". John Mulaney returns to voice the title character. The yakker, meanwhile, is one of the more harmonious group commentaries I've encountered. Co-writer/producer Phil Lord, producer Chris Miller, co-writer/co-director Rodney Rothman, and co-directors Bob Perschetti and Peter Ramsey shed much light on the whys and hows of the film's comic-book aesthetics, revealing, for instance, that any motion blur was generated not by the virtual camera but by the artist's hand, using dry-brush techniques and the like. Discussing an early whip pan, they practically dare the viewer to step through the movie frame-by-frame--and I did. Easter eggs are scrupulously pointed out, including Doc Ock's cluttered laptop screen (a spoof of Lord's own). Speaking of, they hope that Kathryn Hahn gets to take a "victory lap" now that her role isn't top secret; she's just one of the many, many collaborators who come in for praise, with production designer Justin Thompson singled out early and often for his integral contributions to the film. Alas, nobody brings up Solo; they're better men than I am, Gunga Din.
The Blu-ray's biggest selling point, either as a substitute for or an outsourced limb of the 4K disc, is an "Alt Universe Mode" (144 mins., HD) that bloats the running time of Spider-Verse with deleted and alternate scenes presented as thumbnail animatics or partial animation with scratch tracks. (This is basically what rough cuts of animated movies look like at various stages of production.) I confess I skimmed it, but I did smile at the weird bit of inside baseball where Miles and his roommate watch a Will Gluck-helmed Spider-Man, something that isn't so far-fetched in retrospect. (Gluck, the real-life director of Easy A and Will Smith's Annie remake, both Sony releases, could just as easily have inherited the keys to the franchise instead of Marc Webb.) Lord and Miller host a brief introduction to this version. Making-of featurettes begin with "We Are Spider-Man" (8 mins., HD), in which we learn that voice actor Shameik Moore wrote "I am Miles Morales" on the cover of his "magic" journal two years before getting cast in the role. The titular message of Spider-Verse is oft-touted, sometimes to unfortunately comical effect. ("That's the journey we're all on," says Thompson of multiple people and a talking pig becoming Spider-Man.) For some reason, by the way, Marvel honcho Avi Arad is dressed in a skullcap and hoodie for these segments. "Spider-Verse: A New Dimension" (5 mins., HD) is a brief summary and defense of the movie's graphical extremes, which make WB Animation's dabblings in "motion comics" look like amateur hour.
"The Ultimate Comics Cast" (15 mins., HD) begins with Lord saying, "Everything that's unique and imperfect about [a voiceover performance] is what makes animation come to life." Beyond that, it's basically a roll call for the voice talent showing what each actor brings/brought to the table. Liev Schrieber says he stuffed toilet paper up his nostrils in order to sound like Kingpin had broken his nose a few times; Hahn is even more animated than her many-limbed alter ego. "Designing Cinematic Comic Book Characters: Heroes and Hams" (8 mins., HD) is about the conceptualization of the good-guy characters (Gwen Stacy had a bigger tooth-gap at one point) and "Designing Cinematic Comic Book Characters: Scoundrels and Scorpions" (5 mins., HD) is about the conceptualization of the bad-guy characters. These companion pieces feature picture-in-picture windows containing live-action reference video that suggests parts of the movie were rotoscoped--a subject not otherwise broached, here or elsewhere. (Update (3/20/19): I'm told by someone close to the production that nothing in the film was rotoscoped.) "Stan Lee and Steve Ditko: The Spectacular Spider-Creators" (9 mins., HD) pays obeisance to the original Spider-Man writer and artist, respectively, complete with cries of "Excelsior!" Lee himself appears in interview footage that's treated with a tacky Photoshop filter to look more comic-booky, while Ditko is a ghost as usual, solely represented by his dynamic art. The aforementioned "The Spider-Verse Super Fan Easter Egg Challenge" (5 mins., HD) will be largely redundant to listeners of the audio commentary, and I have to wonder what the point of including long-form (6 mins., HD) and short-form (3 mins., HD) music videos for Post Malone's "Sunflower" was, since they're both glorified trailers for Spider-Verse consisting of nothing but clips from the film. Rounding out the BD is a 3-minute, karaoke-style video for Nicki Minaj & Anuel AA's "Familia" (featuring Bantu) with lyrics displayed as graphic text. This is certainly a lot of content, though I suspect only the yakker and "Alt Universe Mode" will appeal to the full cross-section of animation buffs, comic nerds, and curious kids of all ages.
117 minutes; PG; UHD: 2.39:1 (2160p/MPEG-H), HDR10; BD: 2.39:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); English Dolby Atmos (7.1 TrueHD core) (UHD only), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA (BD only), English DVS 5.1, French 5.1 DTS-HD MA, French DVS 5.1 (BD only), French DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1; English, English SDH, French, Spanish subtitles; BD-66 (UHD) + BD-50; Region-free; Sony
*Not unlike the character design for villain Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, also played by an African-American (Jamie Foxx), the manipulation of electricity and the concept of literal or social invisibility seem like callbacks to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. return