Top 10 Films of 2018, No. 2 – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an animated superhero movie directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, and written by Phil Lord and Rothman. This film follows Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), a teenager growing up in Brooklyn with his Puerto Rican mother Rio Morales (voiced by Luna Lauren Velez) and African-American father Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry). Miles is an aspiring artist, specializing in graffiti, but one night when he is painting in an abandoned subway station with his Uncle Aaron (voiced by Mahershala Ali), he is bitten by a radioactive spider, which ultimately provides him spider-like capabilities. Miles eventually crosses paths with the infamous Peter Parker/Spider-Man (initially voiced by Chris Pine), but then Parker is murdered.

Spider Gif 4Miles then decides to purchase a Spider-Man costume and assume the mantle in an effort to take town the crazed Kingpin (voiced by Liev Schreiber) before he and his mad-scientist cohort, Doctor Octopus (voiced by Kathryn Hahn), can destroy the world via an unstable technology that creates a hole in the multi-verse. This hole eventually causes multiple timelines from alternate universes to intersect, bringing Miles face to face with five other versions of the webslinging superhero, who team up with Miles to defeat Kingpin.

tumblr_plegq4boAw1y38s31o5_500Obviously when I was younger, I loved animated movies. But throughout my college years and even thereafter, I was admittedly slow to embrace them anymore. However, over the past few years, I’ve found myself opening up to animation a bit more again – especially with the undeniable prowess of Pixar’s products, the unique usage of the technique in stop-motion fashion in Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs, and the refreshing storylines in films like The Lego Movie. Mentioning The Lego Movie is especially noteworthy here because that film was written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who also teamed up to direct 21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street), while Into the Spider-Verse was co-written by Lord and produced by a team that included both Lord and Miller. These two truly revolutionized superhero animation with their Lego franchise, and Spider-Verse benefits profoundly from their involvement.

Spider Gif 6As I mentioned in my review of Black Panther, I have never really been a huge fan of the live-action Marvel movies (with the exception of a few), but in this animated story, I believe I have found my new favorite movie from the entire Marvel Universe. Not only is the storytelling an exhilarating, witty, and refreshing take on the classic Spider-Man narrative (based on the Miles Morales character that was first introduced to the Marvel Comic-Book Universe in 2011), but the production value of the animation is unbelievable. The animation has a smashingly vivid look and is essentially a combination of modern street art and classic pop art. This movie epitomizes the phrase “visually arresting,” and its highly stylized (but undeniably mesmerizing) action is ambitious and innovative.

Spider Gif 3With the help of this amazing animation, Into the Spider-Verse builds an entertaining storyline (which includes an exploration of dimensional physics) around some of the year’s most amusing characters (and voice actors). At the center of the action, Miles Morales is a compelling young character that stands for the proposition that in this universe, anyone can be a superhero – Shameik Moore knocks the voice acting out of the park in his portrayal. As alluded to above, the story also injects five other versions of Spider-Man into the fold: Jake Johnson voices another version of the Peter Parker character, but instead of resembling the customary Spider-Man that we meet toward the beginning of the film (voiced by Chris Pine), this one is a bit washed up; Hailee Steinfeld voices the famed Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman; Nicolas Cage brilliantly voices a noir version of Spider-Man; Kimiko Glenn voices the anime-inspired Peni Parker (SP//dr); and John Mulaney nearly steals the show as the hilarious Peter Porker/Spider-Ham. Each iteration of the superhero has unique animation variations that mimic their respective personality and universe, and these characters set the stage for many potential spin-offs in the future. (In fact, the first spin-off is already in development, centered around Gwen Stacy and other female characters from the Spider-Man universe.)

Spider Gif 1I fully expect this film to not only withstand the test of time, but also to enter legendary status within the Marvel Universe’s complete catalog of films. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse trailer:

Academy Award nominations for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse:

Best Animated Feature (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, Phil Lord, and Christopher Miller)

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 15 – The Lego Movie


The Lego Movie is a film written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. The film follows an ordinary Lego minifigure named Emmet (Chris Pratt). Emmet is an average Lego—he always follows the rules and gives into the mindless lifestyle that is demanded of him. However, when he is mistaken for an extraordinarily special person that has been prophesied to save the world, he is thrust into a thrilling quest with a band of Lego strangers to take down the evil despot, Lord Business (Will Ferrell).

Lego5Traditionally, I am not a huge fan of animated features. My feeling is that most of the modern animated films, with only a few exceptions (e.g., most Pixar films), are senseless, poorly written stories that are meant to simply target children and achieve immense box office success through that exploitation. I have no issues with this business tactic by the animation studios, but my point is only that it does not make for good film. However, The Lego Movie breaks the mold for modern animation storytelling. It does an incredible job of appealing to young kids who play with Legos with its music, humor, and positive story, but I was most impressed, as a twentysomething, with the film’s ability to appeal to adults. The jokes, plot, and character arcs are obviously appropriate for children of all ages, but they seem hilariously crafted with those of my age group in mind. Additionally, the story ever so gradually tugs at the heartstrings of anyone that has ever played with the world-famous toys in their life. It not only allows children to see their favorite toys on the big screen, but it also brings back a wealth of memories from days gone by from adults’ (and specifically, my) creative adventures with Legos. The film has won a number of awards already for being the Best Animated Feature of 2014, which is why I am appalled that it was snubbed by the Oscars in that category. In recent memory, this is the worst snub the Academy has made.

Lego 4Everything discussed in the previous paragraph is directly attributable to the well-crafted script and the exceptional direction from the film’s creators, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. This duo has a unique filmography, writing and directing Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and directing both 21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street. Their experiences with animated films (they also wrote the script for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2) is starkly different to that of their R-rated Jump Street comedies, but the Lord-Miller team gets the best out of both worlds for The Lego Movie. It is a remarkable achievement that has already garnered its creators a series of spin-off films that are in the works, not to mention a sequel to The Lego Movie. These guys are becoming a staple in the world of animated film, and we are all luckier for that.

Warner Bros. Pictures Los Angeles Premiere  'The Lego Movie'The script is as solid as it gets, but naturally, it still needs a group of talented actors to breathe life into its characters. Voice acting is always a unique challenge, but Lord and Miller put together an all-star cast for the task. The film has a wide range of standout performances from its actors, including Chris Pratt as Emmet, Will Ferrell as Lord Business, Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle, Will Arnett as Batman, Nick Offerman as Metal Beard, Alison Brie as Princess Unikitty, Charlie Day as Benny, Liam Neeson as Bad Cop, Good Cop, and Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius. Make sure to check this one out if you are looking to see a perfect comedy—it is by far the year’s best. At the very least, you will be left with one of the greatest songs in film history stuck in your head…”Everything is awesome!!!” The Lego Movie is rated PG for mild action and rude humor.

The Lego Movie trailer:

Academy Award nominations for The Lego Movie:

Best Original Song: “Everything Is Awesome” (Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson)