Jake’s review published on Letterboxd:
Fuck Infinity War.
Look I’m not trying to earn ire here, I’ve been very outspoken on my opinion of that particular film, but when you’re surrounded by people who are so passionate about the MCU and you don’t really connect because you’re not one of them, it feels a bit alienating. I feel like this year has been a total snoozer for me when it comes to these. Deadpool 2, a movie that isn’t so much a comic book film as it is a vehicle for Ryan Reynolds to be in decent action comedies, was the closest I got this year. Black Panther was good, but in all honesty I have legitimate trouble remembering anything from that film that wasn’t Killmonger and his fucking incredible speech at the very end. Infinity War, as I said in my video and two reviews on here, is about 2 and half hours of a party that I felt like I wasn’t invited too even though I knew everyone at the aforementioned party. Ant Man and The Wasp is a movie I feel like I didn’t even see because it was so thoroughly devoid of anything I look for in these movies. And look, I try to be open minded, but Aquaman does not look like it will be my cup of tea, and I’m certainly not going to pay to see it. But, after all this, after my waning satisfaction and ultimately growing apathy, there is one superhero property I have almost slowly come to despise over the years.
That property is Spider-Man.
Now I think it’s worth noting I’ve read a fair bit of Spider-Man in my middle school and high school days once I could actually access comics. I’m familiar with Ultimate and 2099 the most, but I’ve dabbled with a few more here and there, and that’s because I like the character and the world. The emphasis on Spider-Man is that life is fucking difficult even if you have powers that make you superhuman, Hell, ESPECIALLY if you’re superhuman. I find comfort in the pathos of these stories because it highlights an important part of the human experience, that being that any talent, drive, or advantage we as individuals may have, is always a double edged sword. It can make us or break us. Make us succeed or fail. Give us power or take it away. The key to the way we solve this problem: responsibility. The ultimate balancing act. Spider-Man as a character works because something is always wrong, and something always needs to be fixed, and sometimes YOU have to be the one to do it.
This is what makes me angry about Infinity War, it’s that the movie isn’t about anything. For all of it’s nonsense, even Deadpool 2 had an emotional core, regardless of how it was executed, there is indeed a message. Infinity War? There’s just no humanity that I can find in it. No soul, none but the desire to give a large audience what they wanted, and that’s fine, but from my perspective it’s just not something I can get anything from. Even the best mindless action movies have strong emotional cores. I feel like a lot of defenses of the movie are arguments to grade it on a curve, to make excuses, and I know that sounds elitist... but I just don’t care. I can’t keep applauding a movie for not being a total disaster. It just keeps reinforcing the idea that we should alter our standards for these and go in expecting something different from normal films and I just cannot do that anymore.
Because Into the Spiderverse is not content with ‘good enough’ or fulfilling the expectations of its audience, or pandering, or imposing stakes that don’t mean anything, or being so cheap that the strings on the Marvel puppets are too hard to ignore. It decides to do something woefully different: be a good fucking movie.
I’ve been burned by this property enough. The people on film twitter and LB who constantly argue about the Spider-Man films (any of them, really) drive me up the fucking wall more than any “fanbase” this side of Star Wars. I grew up with the Raimi movies, and to a certain extent I see why people like the first two, I’m not a soulless stick in the mud who can’t recognize positive qualities when he sees them, but MAN do I have problems with them, but I can’t ever bring them up without being shouted at and called an idiot, which is something I’m developing less and less tolerance for. I hate Maguire as Spider-Man. He’s as wooden as a mannequin and I never buy a single line of his flat monotone delivery, and no, I can’t justify his performance by saying that Peter Parker is a character who is kind of wimpy and lame because there’s a difference between a performance that conveys these ideas and a performance that needs their excuse to be considered acceptable. I think the screenplays of every movie in that trilogy are an absolute mess that have character motivations that feel so contrived it makes me feel like I cannot remotely connect with any character, and when your Spider-Man story can’t convince me to like an identify with Spider-Man, I’m sorry, but you have already failed. The ‘Amazing’ Spider-Man films did not fair much better. While I viewed them as an improvement when it came to consistent screenwriting (not structure, mind you) and characterization as well as performances, but it came with the sacrifice of any and all personality Raimi brought to the table. Garfield is a fine Spider-Man but he’s trapped in movies too mediocre and flat out dull to support him, or anyone else. Homecoming finally gave me the Spider-Man movie I wanted, and basically takes the title of ‘one of the only three MCU movies I have any strong feelings towards’ because it nailed the character and Holland gave a performance worthy of that, and it was a whole lot of fun too, something I didn’t have with the others. But this isn’t a review of those films, right? Get to the point Jake. Yeah yeah I know, I just want to establish that my baggage with this property is kinda... unique and weird. This is my perspective after all, so it’s best conveyed when you know how exactly it is I’m looking at this film.
Of all the outstanding and satisfying things this movie accomplishes, it finally gives me a reason to tell the people who constantly berate me for not thinking the Raimi films are God’s gift to cinema (look I don’t mean to dwell on this point but I wouldn’t be so bitter if y’all weren’t so damn intolerable and keep flooding my twitter mentions totally unprompted and being generally snide sarcastic assholes who populate the cesspool of the Internet. Hats off to the people who disagree with me and manage to hold a civil discussion about it all) that we have a movie so far beyond what came before it that trying to argue with me why the other films are just “objectively” (I do not hate any word in the English language more than that I swear to God) is a moot point because this is where my heart is staying: Into the Spiderverse is the best comic book film we’ve gotten in a long, long, long time.
I think the reason I became extra sour on Infinity War was because of what happened to Spider-Man in that film (no spoilers) Which was something that made me genuinely emotional on first viewing until I realized the reaction I was having was totally unearned and meant nothing because there are no stakes in these movies, you can literally kill off every character but one and we can be sure they’re all coming back. But Into The Spiderverse not only made me give a shit, but made me give a shit so much so that I became emotional. My followers know me well enough that if I have a strong emotional reaction to a film, I will love it or hate it, and why wouldn’t I? Our emotions are the most important part of how we engage with art and storytelling. Our analytical brains may tell us a lot and let us uncover a lot of things, but at the end of the day, how you feel about something is how you feel, for whatever reason. And for whatever reason, I got teary eyed four times in this movie. Is this because I’m an emotional manic bipolar with depression whose also very sensitive when it comes to a lot of things? Most certainly, but I can’t change that. Admittedly, one of these times was when I saw the cameo of the recently departed Stan Lee, which is a cameo that feels like it carries far more weight than it may have intended to. The other times were moments when our main character, Miles Morales, goes through the kind of shit that anyone goes through. You don’t have to be a superhero to experience tragedy, which is why this character works with people, and especially with kids. My favorite scene in Homecoming was the second act low point when Peter can’t even finish a sentence to his Aunt May and just breaks down crying and hugs her. Wanna know why? Because I’ve been there. We’ve all been there. It’s simple, but it got to me way more than the listless stare and cgi tears we found in the Raimi movies, or the emotional clusterfuck of the Marc Webb titles. This movie understands what makes this premise and theme work: that we are all Spider-Man.
And sure, yeah, cheesy message. But honestly, that’s why it works. Spiderverse is bold and unafraid to be what it is, in a way that puts the other films to shame. This is most obvious through the animation which is just.... fuck me... what do I even say??? The trailers didn’t not sell me on the visual style, but actually seeing it was something I can’t even accurately describe. Imagine Satoshi Kon and Edgar Wright directed and edited a superhero film with animation designed to look like a literal comic book but without sacrificing good character designs. Everything is so expressive, vivid, and most importantly FUCKING COLORFUL. Jesus H Christ how do we live in an age where superhero films are more common than STD’s in a New Jersey suburb and have so many of them look so BLAND. I mean sure Homecoming was competent when it came to this, but nothing I’d call exceptional. I’m just so sick of movies that seem to be scared of the very medium they come from. Comics are COLORFUL. USE COLOR FOR CHRIST’S SAKE. I am easy to win over when it comes to this as long as it’s visually distinct, and man oh man Spiderverse is. I caught myself noticing how impressive the animation is on a number of times, and that does not happen often. If it weren’t for two Japanese releases this year, then this would easily be the best animated film of the year, no contest.
Writing wise, well, look at who the screenwriters are. It was so nice to not feel spoon-fed in one of these, let alone it being good enough to elicit genuine SURPRISE from me multiple times, but never so far out of left field that they feel unearned, lots of clues pop up that made me have a moment of realization a few times. The dialogue written here is elegant, when I watch a movie and don’t even once say ‘well that was obviously expository’ then it’s doing something right by either hiding it cleverly or just not having any, It all feels genuine and OF this world were treated to. Miles Morales is the best actual incarnation of Spider-Man bar none, and I can’t imagine what it’s like for people (especially young kids) to finally see a person of color, someone who looks like them, as this person, it truly must be wonderful, because I know for me it certainly was. The movie at several points almost veers into predictability and then before you can really realize how, it course corrects entirely and just barrels forward at top speed once the stakes are set in place, which they are very clearly and very early on. And as it goes, there are more characters, more ideas, more things the narrative has to keep doing to juggle it all successfully, and I was on the edge of my seat, WAITING for it to happen, for it to fail, and it just DIDNT. This has been a sin a LOT of the other movies have committed, but this just shows how easy it is to make it all compelling without losing you. I can slightly understand why some people may say it has a bit too much going on, but since we are so anchored to Miles as a protagonist, I think it serves to ground the story around him so much that these ideas, plot beats, and internal machinations appear more as a bonus than as something that weighs the movie down. And for all of this talking about structure and plot and character, the movie is just damn fun. It’s enjoyable. I like a good share of tonally dour superhero films, ie, Logan and the Dark Knight specifically, but those movies don’t work because they’re good comic book movies, they work cause they’re good movies who happen to based on comics. This however, is different, this doesn’t cover up its silly comic book influences via distinctly ideas and methods of storytelling that are OF film and film alone, it almost bends convention so much that it breaks, but it just. Never. Does.
If I had any complaints, and trust me, thinking about them is hard when you enjoy something so thoroughly, but I think the brisk pace of the narrative and abundance of great ideas and general direction comes at the expense of one or two plot beats that are very reliant on coincidence or the stars magically aligning conveniently for our characters, but even then, I don’t really think these things were worth sacrificing for pristine logical consistency. It all just works... and not only does it work, it’s just so damn good at its job. It gets to the core of these stories and the medium of comic books so well, it stands head and shoulders above it’s MCU and DCEU brethren. I know I talked a lot about other films, specifically Infinity War, but I can’t under-sell how much of an achievement it was to get me to like this as much as I did after the vapid experience of Infinity War left me feeling as cold as a refrigerated corpse. It’s just that, when it came to that film, I feel like it was relying too much on what it was and the circumstances of its creation more than being an actual good movie. The characters don’t have to be developed because it’s the Avengers. The movie is allowed to be uneven because it’s the Avengers. It’s allowed to masquerade a villain with a flawed motivation as a profoundly deep and interesting cinematic exercise as some sort of groundbreaking achievement, because it’s the Avengers. I’m just done with making excuses for myself to be okay with movies that are flawed at my own expense. I should be able to enjoy whatever the hell I goddamn please without all of this baggage.
And that’s the best thing about this movie. It has no baggage. It makes no excuses. It just exists as a bold and spectacular foray into the world of comic book films and animation like a slick Sunday breeze, and makes the entire last ten years of this exercise look amateurish by comparison. The movie somehow balances tonal brevity and dramatic weight so spectacularly I actually managed to FEEL something. MULTIPLE. TIMES. Not only that but just from the visual style alone, you can FEEL the unbridled passion from the creators here, in every frame, in every shot, in every cut, and every line of dialogue, as well as the attention to detail in the backgrounds which is just gobsmacking. And goddamn is it nice to see a movie like this do that, and do it well. It managed to effect me as a cynical (if a bit emotional) 21 year old, so I cannot imagine the unbridled joy this will bring to tons of other people like me, and even more tons of kids. We may have seen the worst entry in the Spider-Man mythos to date this year with Venom, a movie that left me so unfeeling I took an astonishing amount of offense because of its brand of lazy and disgustingly transparent greed. If the other Spider-Man movies had to fail for this one to succeed, then so be it.
Because it was totally worth it.