For fans of animation, 2018 has been a better-than-average year. Although Early Man was not up to the level we have come to expect from Aardman, Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs was an utter delight, while Pixar’s Incredibles 2 and Disney’s Ralph Wrecks the Internet both raised the bar on what we expect of cartoon technology on the big screen. The year wraps up with a work that many will feel blows all the competition out of the water, and not merely because it’s a Marvel Entertainment product: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
If you’re not an obsessive vacuum-upper of all things Marvel, the best news about this new movie is that it doesn’t occupy a static place in the timeline of megabudget Avengers-related stories. You don’t even need to have seen any of the many previous Spider-Man movies or television series in order to figure out where this new chapter is supposed to fit in. That’s because the story unfolds in a sort of parallel fictional subuniverse known as Ultimate Marvel. It could have happened anywhen. Main characters can even be killed off there without consequences in the mainstream Marvel Universe – that is, of course, until characters begin traveling between dimensions, which is getting to be about as commonplace in the comic-book medium as hopping aboard a bus.
So it is that a reviewer can announce right up front, without being accused of being spoilery, that Peter Parker (Chris Pine) gets killed by the Green Goblin in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It’s entirely possible that he’ll find some way of being revived in some sequel (as moviegoers are already expecting will happen with many if not all of the Avengers offed with a snap of the fingers by Thanos at the finale of Infinity War). But more importantly, he’s only one of a smörgåsbord of Spider-Persons taking part in this tale. Being blond, he looks like our homeworld’s Peter Parker; but this is the Ultimate Marvel universe, so who even knows what planet in what dimension is our narrative starting point? And die he must, to make room for the introduction of half-black, half-Latino Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), the Everyman destined to take up Spidey’s mantle next.
Interdimensional travel via a supercollider being developed by villains Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn) is the crisis that brings together all these random Spider-People in the new movie. The lineup of visitors from alternate universes includes an older, surlier, paunchier brown-haired Spidey (Jake Johnson), who’s divorced from Mary Jane Watson; Spider-Woman/Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), who’s surreptitiously monitoring young Miles at his charter school; Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), who talks like Bogey and can’t figure out how to work a Rubik’s Cube because he can’t see colors; Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a spider who was bitten by a pig; and Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), an anime-style tech wizard with a spider robot sidekick. Miles’ challenge is to weather their collective skepticism while honing his awkward new spider-powers to a point where he can fulfill his deathbed promise to Peter: to disable the supercollider with a thumb-drive MacGuffin.
Much of the fun in Into the Spider-Verse derives from the snarky banter among this mismatched assemblage of arachnoid superheroes. The human pathos is grounded in Miles’ testy relationship with his straitlaced cop father, the oddly named (for a black dude) Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry), and in his misplaced admiration for his sketchy uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali). Family turns out to be important (surprise!), and even Peter’s feisty Aunt May (Lily Tomlin) puts in an appearance.
Story isn’t really the driver here. It’s not very profound, even judged by comic-book standards. What is truly special about Into the Spider-Verse is how spectacularly the animation melds gorgeous high-tech CGI with the ’50s/’60s aesthetic of the pop medium that cultural commentators nowadays dignify with the term “graphic novels.” If grids of painted panels could come to life, this is how they might move, with psychedelic dazzle and action-thriller dynamism. There’s an occasional deliberately over-the-top rendering of a comic sound effect, such as the words “clackity-clackity-clack” unrolling next to a keyboard being typed upon; but it doesn’t come off campy, like the 1960s Batman TV series with its “Bam!” “Oof!” cue cards. It’s a more genuine and affectionate act of homage.
This film, as a visual entity, serves as a stylish and eminently satisfying bridge between media – and works far more consistently than Kingpin’s glitchy particle accelerator to unite the worlds. As with Incredibles 2 earlier this year, Into the Spider-Verse masterfully serves to reinforce the question: Why even bother making live-action superhero movies anymore, when contemporary animation seamlessly makes comic-book fantasies all come true?
– Frances Marion Platt
New Paltz offers family-friendly New Year’s Eve
The annual New Paltz Eve celebration on Monday, December 31 will include free activities for all ages. From 1 to 3 p.m, there will be a scavenger hunt at the New Paltz Youth Program, located at 220 Main Street in New Paltz. From 1 to 4 p.m. there will be a “Fun Fest” with origami, crafts and circus arts for ages six and up at the New Paltz Community Center, 3 Veterans Drive. There will be a story and craft hour for 3-5 year-olds at the Elting Library, 93 Main Street from 3 to 4 p.m., followed by storytelling with Lorraine Hartin-Gelardi from 4 to 5 p.m. From 5 to 7 p.m., there will be a dinner at the New Paltz United Methodist Church, corner of Grove and Main streets. The menu will include a selection of chili (beef, turkey and vegetarian), baked ziti, salad, rice, cornbread, dessert and beverages. Finally, from 6:30 to 7 p.m., you can bring your movie coupon to New Paltz Cinema and exchange it for a ticket to watch the show of your choice playing that evening. To get a movie coupon, just attend any of the New Paltz Eve festivities. For additional information, call (845) 256-5014 or visit newpaltzeve.org.
New Year’s for kids at Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum in Poughkeepsie
Why can’t little kids get in on the New Year’s Eve fun, just because midnight is way past their bedtimes? The Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum on the Poughkeepsie waterfront makes them welcome during daylight hours on December 31 for its biggest party of the year. The whole family can enjoy a dance party with DJ Dominik, light refreshments, hands-on maker activities and a balloon drop, with a surprise happening every hour as participants count down to noon. A new feature this year will be a live bagpiper band playing “Auld Lang Syne” for a singalong finale.
It all goes down from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Monday, December 31. Admission costs $14, $10 for museum members.
Holiday Swing at Woodstock Playhouse on Sunday
The Patrick Bartley Orchestra and the Copacetics join forces for a night of nostalgic holiday classics and swingin’ hot jazz to ring in a red-hot New Year, one day early, at the Woodstock Playhouse. Vocalists Tatiana Eva-Marie, Sasha Masakowski and Charles Turner III and tap dancer Dewitt Fleming, Jr. front a little big band that includes Patrick Bartley, Alphonso Horne, Joe McDonough, Nick Russo, Chris Pattishall, Brandi Disterheft and Ben Zweig, ably assisted on the Djangoesque guitar licks by Amos Rose.
The show begins at 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 30. Tickets go for $55, $50 or $40 depending on location, $15 for students and children aged 16 and under. To order, call (845) 679-6900 or visit www.woodstockplayhouse.org.
Sunday, Dec. 30
103 Mill Hill Rd., Woodstock