SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018) – Animated Spidey Feature Decent, Not Outstanding

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spider man into the spider universe

So, I went to see SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018), a new animated Marvel superhero movie, because the initial reviews were off the charts wild.

Best animated movie of the year! Best Spider-Man movie ever!

That’s some high praise, and so while I don’t usually catch animated films at the theater (I save those for Netflix) I decided to see this one to judge for myself: best Spider-Man movie ever?

I’ll save you the suspense: Nope!

While I enjoyed  SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, to call it the best Spider-Man movie ever is an overstatement.  SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017) with Tom Holland was a better movie, as was Tobey Maguire’s SPIDER-MAN (2002) way back when.

The theme of SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is that Spider-Man is not the only game in town. We are all superheroes. We all have value. It’s a message of inclusion that resonates, not only because these days promoting messages like this seem to be an uphill battle, but also because it was an ongoing theme in the work of Marvel giant Stan Lee, who just recently passed away.

Speaking of Stan Lee, he lent his voice to this one before he passed away, and so yes, there is yet another Stan Lee cameo in this movie, albeit an animated one.

When the movie opens, Spider-Man boasts that he’s the one and only Spider-Man. But then young Miles Morales is bitten by a radioactive spider, and soon he finds that he too possesses Spider-Man’s abilities. Then, when Wilson Fisk’s secret weapon opens up portals to different dimensions, other versions of Spider-Man enter our present reality. Together, they have to fight Wilson Fisk and also find a way to return the other Spider-Beings back to their proper realities.

As stories go, it’s ambitious but handled in a way that made me cognizant that I was watching an animated feature. The pace was nonstop, which for some folks is a good thing, but for me I just wanted it to slow down a bit. It simply never resonated as well with me as it would have had it been a live action flick.

Regarding the boast that it’s the best animated film of the year, while I haven’t seen enough animated films to comment on the suggestion, I will say that the animation didn’t impress me. Again, maybe I’m showing my age.  Things moved so fast, especially the action scenes, that I found them difficult to follow. The animation also appeared blurry at times, and I felt as if I were watching a 3D movie without 3D glasses.

I actually enjoyed the personal story of Miles Morales more than the Spider-Man plot and the battles with Wilson Fisk. Miles is in a deeply troubled relationship with his dad Jefferson Davis, who wants the best for his son but can never seem to say the right thing, constantly coming down too hard on the teen. To further complicate matters, Miles relates much better to his uncle Aaron, his dad’s brother who is viewed by Miles’ dad as not being a very good role model, and for good reason. This story works well and for me was the best part of the movie.

The voice work is pretty impressive throughout.  Shameik Moore is excellent as young Miles, making the teen likable and sympathetic.

Mahershala Ali knocks it out of the park as Uncle Aaron, which comes as no surprise. Ali is one of my favorite actors working today, and he show here that he can even dominate a movie just by using his voice.

Also lending their talents to this one are Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy, Brian Tyree Henry as Jefferson Davis Morales, Lily Tomlin as Aunt May, Jake Johnson as Peter B. Parker, Nicholas Cage as Spider-Man Noir, Liev Schreiber as Wilson Fisk, and Chris Pine as Peter Parker.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE was directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman. Rothman also co-wrote the screenplay with Phil Lord.

And like most other Marvel superhero movies, there is an after-credits scene, and you have to wait until the very end to see it. As after credit scenes go, I found this one a head scratcher. Don’t expect to see Thanos turning anyone to dust.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is a decent enough Spider-Man movie, and is sufficiently satisfying to make it a solid animated film.

But the best Spider-Man movie ever?

Not even close.

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PICKIN’ THE CARCASS: THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (2013)

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Last Days on Mars - posterPickin’ The Carcass:  THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (2013)

by

Michael Arruda

Welcome back to Pickin’ The Carcass, that column where we scour the sale bins and Streaming movie queues to find those undiscovered gems of horror movies we missed the first time around.  Or, as often is the case, we find yet another dud, which would explain why we missed them in the first place.

Today on Pickin’ The Carcass we look at THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (2013) a science fiction horror movie starring two actors I like a lot, Liev Schreiber [DEFIANCE (2008), X-MEN ORIGINS:  WOLVERINE (2009)]and Elias Koteas [THE FOURTH KIND (2009), LET ME IN (2010)].  So, with eager anticipation, I sat down to watch THE LAST DAYS ON MARS on Netflix Streaming the other night.

THE LAST DAYS ON MARS takes place on a scientific base located on— well, Mars, of course.  The scientists are led by their commanding officer, Charles Brunel (Elias Koteas) and all is well on Mars-land until one of the scientists discovers what he believes to be evidence of bacterial life.  When this scientist disappears, seemingly falling into a huge pit, Brunel orders a rescue party to enter the pit to search for their missing team member.

No!  Don’t go into the pit!

 Unfortunately, they didn’t listen to me.

The strange bacteria their missing friend discovered has an even stranger effect on the scientists.  It’s like a Martian version of THE WALKING DEAD, as suddenly members of the crew start dying, only to quickly come back to life as murderous unstoppable zombies.  And that pretty much is the plot of THE LAST DAYS ON MARS:  scientists vs. zombies on a Martian base.  It actually sounds better than it is.

THE LAST DAYS ON MARS is a very top-heavy movie.  In other words, a bunch of action happens early on, and nearly the entire cast is done in before this film even reaches its halfway point, and I found myself asking, what’s up with this?  Where can this film go now?  A flashback perhaps to reveal a missing piece of the plot?  No.  Nothing this creative or clever.  We simply continue to watch the last couple of crew members fight to survive.  Needless to say, the first half of this movie is much better than the second half.

But the biggest problem I had with THE LAST DAYS ON MARS was the muddled direction by director Ruairi Robinson.  In spite of its simple straightforward storyline, this movie unfolds in a rather confused pattern of scenes.  Early on before the zombies show up, it struggles to tell its story, as a lot of what’s going on is unclear.

The pacing is also incredibly slow, which for a science fiction tale, isn’t all that bad, but it fails to really gain any momentum once all the horrific things start happening.  It also forgets to have fun.

The screenplay by Clive Dawson based on a short story by Sydney J. Bounds is fairly routine and not all that creative.  The reanimated corpses make for some suspenseful scenes, but we know nothing about these creatures other than what we can infer by watching their actions.  We know even less about the characters, as the character development here is practically nil.  The screenplay is based on a short story, so I’d have to say Dawson did a poor job of fleshing the story out.

Liev Schreiber gets most of the screen time as crew member Vincent Campbell, and I like Schreiber, and he does what he can in this central role.  I enjoyed watching him as the main guy who’s able to fight back against the threat in this movie, even though I learned nothing about who Vincent Campbell was.

Unfortunately, Elias Koteas has a much smaller role than Schreiber, and they’re barely in this movie together at all, which is too bad, because had Koteas been in the film longer, he could have added a lot to it.

Olivia Williams is on hand as fellow scientist Kim Aldrich, and she gives her character more personality than the rest of the folks in this film, but sadly, like Koteas, her screen time is limited.  We saw Williams earlier this year in the Arnold Schwarzenegger action pic, SABOTAGE (2014), and she was good in both movies.

Romola Garai is also very good as Rebecca Lane, as is Johnny Harris as Robert Irwin, two of the other crew members who along with Schreiber get the most screen time.  I have no problem with the acting in this one.  The players pretty much all do a good job.

The make-up on the reanimated crew members isn’t bad, but it’s nothing to write home about, either.  The best thing I can say for it is it’s not fake or cheap looking.  The entire film actually looks very good.

THE LAST DAYS ON MARS is a pretty mediocre entry in the science fiction horror genre.  It benefits from a professional cast doing a pretty decent job all around, but the story it tells is nothing we haven’t seen before, and there’s nothing really new about it, neither in the actual story or the way it’s presented.  Had greater care been put into some of the shock scenes for example, then this one would have been a more memorable film experience.  I didn’t find anything scary about this movie.

Had the film fleshed out its characters more, that also would have been a huge plus.  As much as I like Leiv Schreiber, his character, Vincent Campbell, is pretty much a cardboard cut-out who could have been played by any actor.

If you have nothing better to do, you may want to check out THE LAST DAYS ON MARS, but I certainly wouldn’t rush out to buy this one or put aside major plans to watch it, unless of course you’re a hardcore space-movie junkie and like to watch any movie which takes place in space.

For the rest of us, THE LAST DAYS ON MARS might remain the last movie in our queue.

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