- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Academy Award-winning effort that brought Marvel Comics’ popular web-slingers to big-budgeted, animated life swings over to the ultra-high definition format in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, rated PG, 117 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $45.99).

The multicultural, multidimensional dramedy features six versions of Spider-Man working together in New York City to stop the Kingpin from destroying multiple universes as the crime lord attempts to restore versions of his deceased wife and daughter.

Specifically, cracks in the multiverse caused by his powerful particle accelerator bring together Peter B. Parker (an older, chubbier Spider-Man), Peni Parker (keeper of a Spider mech suit), a brooding Peter Parker (known as Spider-Man Noir), Gwen Stacy (Spider-Woman) and Peter Porker (Spider-Ham).

The group gets help from the latest Spider-Man in the making, Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales who lives with his New York cop father and nurse mom. The awkward lad is bit by a radioactive spider during an underground graffiti session with his Uncle Aaron.

The team eventually battles super villains such as Dr. Octopus, the Scorpion, the Prowler, Tombstone and a vicious Kingpin as the heroes try and destroy the accelerator.

Loosely adapted from a 2014 Marvel comic book series, the tale offers one of the best examples of dynamic super heroic storytelling that mixes humor, loss, teamwork and the emotional struggles of characters and a close-knit family.

The story also embraces the nearly six-decade-old Spider-Man mythos in comics and cartoons offering fans nostalgia nuggets such as the Spider Buggy, Stan Lee selling Spider-Man costumes or a version of the Green Goblin nearly plucked from the Ultimate Spider-Man comics.

And, best of all, directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman have developed a quirky and innovative animation style that mixes multiple retro and digital techniques.

The voice-over cast also really shines, led by Shameik Moore as Miles, Jake Johnson as the chunky Spider-Man, Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen, Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir, Liev Schreiber as the Kingpin and Lilly Tomlin as Aunt May.

When all the webbing settles, viewers will stay mesmerized by movie’s brilliance and will want to watch this multiverse epic again and again.

I have to believe Spidey’s late co-creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko would be grinning with delight and approval from the great beyond over ” Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

4K in action: I can’t think of a better way to examine every frame of this innovative masterpiece than through a 4K UHD window. The format offers crisp clarity to watch a mashup of at least six animation styles loaded with brilliant color and exposed using high-dynamic-range enhancements.

The directors tap into styles that range from traditional Looney Tunes (via Tex Avery and Chuck Jones), comic artist Jack Kirby’s flair for adding globular splotches of color, Japanese anime (when watching Peni), the monochromatic (Spidey noir), fluorescent-colored street graffiti and Pixar quality, life-like digital animation.

The resulting animation also often looks like a 1960s pulp art comic book (think Roy Lichtenstein dotted homage to the genre) set in motion.

However, it’s worth noting the film’s style takes some getting used to.

It occasionally looks like it should require wearing 3D glasses as the edges of the background look out of focus due to some artist trick with chromatic separation and a lack of motion blur.

Additionally, under further mirroring a comic book look, viewers get dialogue boxes popping up on the screen, multiple panels that sometimes break up the action and onomatopoeia (sound words) that explode during the frenetic battles.

Yet, the most compelling reason to celebrate this daring attempt at originality, that is as jarring as eye-popping at points, is that I am hoping it lights a fire under super hero cartoon competitors.

Suffice it to report, watching this visually complex film in such a high-end format makes clear that the gauntlet has been spectacularly thrown down and to the viewer’s benefit.

Best extras: Stick with the 4K release to first get an optional commentary track with Mr. Rothman, Mr. Ramsey, Mr. Persichetti and producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

The group does a great job of dissecting the film from all production and story angles detailing the animation process (touching on chromatic separation and aberration); mentioning character creation (Kingpin was a living embodiment of a black hole); and offering nuggets such as B. Bendis (comics writer Brian Michael Bendis) being listed on Miles phone and Stan Lee appearing as an extra in many background shots.

And, most importantly, they let viewers know that the end game was to make every frame of the movie look like a stand-alone piece of printed art.

The disc also offers a 4-minute Spider-Ham short using a Cartoon Network animation style with a Tex Avery level of chaos.

The 4K extras are duplicated on the included Blu-ray disc that also heavily expands the bonus content.

Pop that disc in first to watch the movie in an Alternate Universe mode. Introduced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, it offers roughly 50 extra scenes presented as unfinished, slightly animated storyboards with full character voice-over.

The new cut adds roughly 30 minutes and includes more exposition on Miles transformation into Spider-Man and lots of scenes with roommate Ganke Lee.

It’s not quite as impressive as the producers gushing, and I was actually hoping for more of a popup fact track with intertwined filmmaker interviews.

Of the remaining seven featurettes (roughly an hour), viewers will first enjoy an 8-minute homage to Lee and Ditko that basically offers a montage of vintage Ditko comic art flashed on the screen supplemented with interviews with Stan Lee, Brian Michael Bendis (an 18-year writing veteran of Spider-Man comic) and some key crew members.

Also worth noting is 15 minutes on the voice-over cast and a 5-minute look at a few of the film’s Easter eggs such as a background television in Aaron’s apartment showing actor Donald Glover dressed as Spider-Man and a beautiful scene of the Kingpin with his family that was inspired by the work of comic book artist Bill Sienkiewicz.

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