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Sunday, 6 January 2019

2019 Movie Time - #1 Into The Spider-Verse / #2 Bumblebee

So my lovely readers - welcome to a brand new feature.

I'm going to make a concerted effort to watch more movies, this year. So you're gonna get movie reviews - maybe in ADDITION to your weekly dose of whatever you read this blog for.

This being the first of the new feature, I'm going to dedicate the weekly blog to it, as it is the coolest thing that has happened to me this year so far, in its infancy.

I'll make sure these are labelled well and tagged so, frankly, if you don't want to read my opinion on movies both new and old - feel free to avoid them. Otherwise, welcome!

Also I will endeavour to avoid actual spoilers, and if you want to talk to me about spoilery things you probably know where you can find me, but be warned - I may infer things in the review which you may prefer to not know when you walk into the movie. Reader, beware.

So without further ado.

#1 Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)

I have been hype for this since the first trailer.

Why, you ask? Well, because we've had - in the past 20 years - seven movies featuring three different Peter Parkers, and if we're fair, only half of them have been good Spider-Man movies. Spidey is great, and I love him, but - it wasn't until Homecoming that he actually changed up, stepped into the modern age.

So imagine my joy when I see that this one? This one is about Miles Morales - whose existence is hinted at in Homecoming. It's just a throwaway line, but a fan-pleaser.

Miles is a teenager from Brooklyn. He's from an intersection of multiple worlds. He's witty. He's funny. He's awkward, but not in a truly cringeworthy way until, well, certain things happen.

He, of course, ends up in the same shoes as Spider-Man. But he isn't the only one.

I'm not going to go into specific plot details - it's a good plot, and there's a lot of neat twists. The characters that you think you know really well, turn out to be a little different, and... I can't think of any way in which that turns out to be a bad thing. It's a very aware movie, too. Lots of injokes, lots of easter eggs. Love letters to various bits of Spider-Man's history. Yes. Including the Japanese show.

Why is it such a good movie?

For one thing - I laughed. I laughed a lot. I laughed myself into a coughing fit, with tears in my eyes. It is genuinely very funny, visually and verbally witty. If you don't come away from the movie loving Miles, then part of you is dead. If you don't laugh, then MOST of you is dead. The comic timing of the movie is superb, too - edited together in a way that modern comedy movies can't really hope for.

The action choreography, too, is fantastic. The agility and motion is just absolutely pitch perfect. Spidey moves and jumps and swings and twists and turns with the best of them - and the brilliant kinetic motion of the entire thing isn't just reserved for when he has his mask on. The bad guys he ends up facing off against (I am not telling you who they are) make a great counterpoint - for the most part, serious and solid sluggers, who provoke the Spiderpersons to acts of acrobatic mayhem just to stay ahead of the game.

Which in a movie animated like this, looks absolutely spectacular. It's 3D animated - and yes, people will hate it immediately for that. You will probably forget that partway through. The texturing, the mix of different animation styles for the individual characters, the way everything looks and feels on screen - the only complaint I have is that there's a lot of flashing interspersed throughout the movie, so it's really not great for those who are photosensitive.

I really liked the soundtrack. Loved it. The score and the soundtrack alike, in fairness. There's a few standouts, but the songs themselves - while great - are that much better in the context of the scene that they're used in. There's some neat surprises in there, too.

Fine details - there's things they didn't need to get right, that they did. The texturing on the characters, on the suits. Little background bits that you don't really think about. Phrases that characters use. How seamlessly Miles slips into Spanish when spoken to in it. The things in Miles' room, in his possession. The fact that Steve Ditko gets literally name-dropped in the movie in a salute to the creation of Spider-Man as a whole, as does Brian Michael Bendis, the creator of Miles Morales himself. The fact that Brooklyn LOOKS like Brooklyn. It FEELS like Brooklyn. It's enough to make you believe that they cared about this when they made it, not just to entertain kids.

The thing that Spider-Verse does so well is that it draws you into believing.

A big thematic of Spider-Man's is that, when the rubber hits the road, he finds what he needs inside himself to keep going and to get back up. Tenacity. Digging deep. Being on the lowest ebb, grabbing a double fist full of whatever it is that drives him, and carrying on. You've seen it in the setpieces of the movies - stopping the train, holding together two pieces of a broken ferry, trapped under the rubble. You are taken on that journey with Miles, and when he falls, and when he digs deep, you dig deep with him. You believe in him, with all your heart.

If that's not worth price of admission, I don't know what is.

#2 Bumblebee (2018)

So you would know if I hated this one because you'd get another blog like these two - the one shouting about how terrible Age Of Extinction was, and the follow-up about how awful The Last Knight was.

This isn't one of those.

I've said a similar thing to this about several movies and games in the past, but it bears repeating: I get the impression that the people that put Bumblebee together took a list of the things wrong with the other movies and then set out to fix them one at a time.

What problems, you might ask? Especially if you're unaware of my absolute venom toward the Bayformers movies.

Well, for one thing: this one acknowledges that the Transformers themselves are actual characters.

They have personalities. They aren't just two-bit throwaways. They aren't just there to spit out a couple of lines and then, poof, gone. Like - okay, I want to avoid spoilers, but the Decepticons actually have a personality in this one. They aren't just hurhur evil. Well. Okay. Dropkick kind of is. But the fact that he forms a contrast with Shatter? The fact that they are different, but work together, and communicate, and have plans? That their plan is a deception?

Bumblebee himself goes through an actual character arc. As does Charlie, the human that finds him. They find each other, and they develop in two similar directions. Not the same, though. Not the same at all, even if a key part of what they do is to find out who they actually are, underneath the battle scars.

You learn more about the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, and what is going on IN that war, in the first ten minutes of the movie than the five that preceded it. How is it even possible? How can you go through five movies, and not detail the thing that brings the Cybertronians to Earth in the first place? ...unless you don't care for beginnings or origins, and you just want to show Shia or Mark reacting to them being here. Which was always the problem. Framing Transformers as a disaster movie.

A focus on the Transformers being actual characters in the movie means that thought is given to how they approach things, and how we see them do things. Which means that the fight and action scenes get blocked out better. They're not just a blurry mess - and fully two thirds of the other movie fight scenes were blurry messes. You have these primary coloured characters with distinctive personalities and combative styles, and you can make out what they are doing. You can SEE what they are doing. You aren't left wondering what the hell just happened.

Optimus Prime - yes, he's in this movie - goes HAM, at one point. Just full-blown 1986 movie You Got The Touch Megatron Must Be Stopped HAM. ...does he talk about ripping anyone's face off? Does he tear anyone in half? No. No, he fights. No brutal merciless slaughter. He's fighting against big odds. He's throwing himself into the thick of it to save his people, because that is what Optimus Prime DOES.

It's the first live-action Transformers movie about the Transformers, that seems to remember who they are.

It has a contiguous plot. A plot that makes sense. A plot that has a beginning, a middle and an end, and I would hesitate to identify any single scene that you could cut out and not change the film. And while you get the same "oh god I have to hide these giant robots oh god they are acting out" scenes as from the FIRST Bay movie? We've already established who Bumblebee is. We have already established his character. We CARE about him, and so we care about him not being discovered. And it's... charming. It isn't just tasteless jokes about how clumsy these warrior robots are, or how Ironhide (an Autobot) wants to kill, like, everything.. It's legitimately funny. It provokes laughter.

Because it isn't tacky, which is the word I would stick (harhar) on the others.

There's no jokes about dicks, balls, arses or anything similar. You don't get a long shot of a pair of wrecking balls, and then - just in case you missed the subtext - have a highly annoying and sleazy character that you objectively hate explain the joke to you. I'd struggle to spot random racist bullshit, which is pretty prevalent throughout the rest of the series. Similar on sexist bullshit. Less jokes that middle-school me would have laughed at but that high-school me rolls their eyes at in sheer embarrassment. Ironically for a movie set literally twenty years before the first one in the series, it is far more progressive.

And you know the very, very best thing about this movie? Better than even the soundtrack (which is excellent and ALSO dropped a very special thing in there JUST FOR ME which actually brought TEARS to my eyes)? Better than even the fact that the bot designs don't look like absolute shit any more? Better than even the cinematography, which in various places is gorgeous? Better than how this movie brings the late eighties LITERALLY to life, with a bunch of technology that I remember being around when I was a little kid?

It's the fact that by the time it is over - without a doubt, those first five aren't the canon any more. This is a new, fresh beginning. This is a nod to the past that steps into the future. The future in which Optimus Prime rips off people's faces and demands that people know what his name is, is gone. The hand of fate smoothing the sand of time clean.

Not only did I love Bumblebee - I am excited for the next movie in this franchise. And I know there will be one, even if Travis Knight doesn't direct it.

There you have it.

First two movies I got to see this year at the cinema, and they were both bangers for different reasons. I was more invested in Bumblebee, but I was more surprised by Spider-Man. Both of them are going to end up on my shelf.

Who knows where our journey takes us next, dear reader? Who knows. We'll see.

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