What it about? Awkward teen Miles Morale is bitten by a radioactive spider and develops unwieldy arachnid powers. This occurs just as the more famous Spiderman (who in a one-minute origin story we recognise as the 90s Maguire/Raimi version) is killed whilst trying to shut down a dimension-warping super-collider. Unbeknownst to Miles, this machine has also sucked in alternative versions of the web-spinning hero from different dimensions.
The Best Bit:
New York reels from the death of their Friendly Neighbourhood superhero. On the Brooklyn Bridge, or as they walk down subways steps, people stop and look at their phones; the light from their screens illuminate faces of shock, sadness, distress. In voiceover, Parker’s wife, MJ begins her eulogy, and we see Miles join a line of others buying Spiderman masks and costume. “My husband was an ordinary man…” says MJ, and we see her speech it is to a huge crowd of mourners, most dressed in ill-fitting, baggy Spidey costumes. Miles tugs on the costume in a public bathroom - but instead of leaping into action, he joins the crowd, listening to the final words of MJ’s address: “We all have powers. In some ways, we are all Spiderman. And we are counting on you.”
Miles repeats her words. “They’re all counting on me.” Another kid, also wearing the costume, leans over and comments: “Probably not you specifically. I think it’s a metaphor.”
What could have been a throwaway gag is actually a perfectly pitched end to a moving sequence. It underlines Miles’ floundering attempts to “wear the mask” and step up to the hero’s role; and the fact that if he does, then he will be anonymous. It also foreshadows the film’s main concept: that there are an almost infinite number of Spideys (not all men, not all even human) in an infinite number of universes.
In the following scene, Miles bumps into ‘Peter B Parker’. We run through a repeat of the earlier ‘awesome’ Spidey’s origin story, with notable differences: Peter B is still a superhero, but he’s past his prime. He's middle-aged and overweight, disillusioned and lazy. His one-minute origin story sees him turning into a kind of spider-schlub: he went bankrupt from bad investments, and endied up divorcing MJ. He's also a wonderful ‘real-world’ iteration of Spidey, and the perfect mentor for Miles.
John McTiernan, director of Predator and Die Hard, recently explained his dislike of current superhero films. The problem, he said, is a lack of ‘moral feasibility’. The heroes of McTiernan’s films are ordinary humans (beat cop, soldier, CIA analyst) pushed into heroic actions by extraordinary circumstances. These are ‘moral role-models’, McTiernan said. Characters we can look up to because, if put in their dangerous situations, pushed to our extremes the way they are, we could be them - and that is incredibly empowering. Superheroes, by contrast, are gods - even the more ‘human’ (Batman, Iron Man) are multi-billionaires controlling resources and technology none of us will ever possess. Aided by photo-realistic CGI - instead of in-camera stunts - superheroes suspend our disbelief… but only until the lights come up.
Spiderman has always been a more relatable superhero, a geeky kid forever thrilled by his own powers, but Spiderverse takes this idea to heart. It provides us with an array of alternative Spideys, but most importantly with a recognisable ‘street’ Spidey in Miles (he's an aspiring graf artist), and a ‘morally feasible’ role model in Peter B Parker that I think McTiernan would approve of.
Those who liked it said… "...exuberant, inventive, and thrilled by heroism in a way that many of these films forget to be." - David Sims, The Atlantic
Those who didn’t like it said… *contact me if you find a negative review!*
If you like it, check out… Spiderman: Homecoming
What’s it about? A troupe of dancers finish rehearsal in an isolated hall, and descend into both agony and ecstasy when someone spikes their after-party sangria with LSD
The Best Bit:
The first post-credit scene is an audacious six minute dance routine. All the troupe’s bonds, tensions and desires are contained within it. The dancers are incredible: they vogue, krump, thrust, writhe and strut at incredible speed. Their limbs often seem like separate entities, angular serpents that twist and twirl around spasmodic torsos. Different social groups - boys and girls, blacks and whites, gays and straights - synchronise and unite, facing off against their opposites in a way that hints at the aggressions the drugs will later unleash. In this opening number, though, the collective energy drives their bodies to adopt and reject each grouping. Individuals align with partners, they fall into rhythm, other join in - then the group shatters apart, becoming a jump-up rave, before everyone reforms in a different social structure. Macho posturing is met with pulsating erotic energy, aggressive krump-battle moves countered by queer euphoria. Tensions between individuals are celebrated and transcended in the velocity of the dance.
Noé’s camera puts us right in the exhilarating middle of this: swiveling and swooping through the contorting dancers. It’s similar to the fight scenes from Gareth Evan’s The Raid, where the shot follows the path of a punch, our eye becoming the fist. In Climax this technique makes for an intoxicating, kinetic immersion which - when used later in the film to follow the character’s madness - is deeply upsetting. If this scene is all about connection, about uniting and synchronising, then the inner infernos that later engulf the characters are the nadir of isolation. Trapped in their own hallucinations, they stagger from room to room clinging to (or attacking) each other in desperate, frenzied loneliness.
I’ve always felt Noé to be a far more optimistic director than many give him credit for. He films the most horrific and depraved acts, but with an invigorating volcanic energy. He also tempers the violence and bad sex with moments of purity and hope. Here, we begin with what looks like future of mankind: near superhuman beings that form kinetic relationships across racial, sexual and gender divides. Even when we later see these energies turn animalistic and destructive, that sense of hope from the opening scene lingers on.
Watch the sequence here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9n-6A6bPBA0
Those who liked it said… "Noé has somehow mulched up the quintessence of dance, cocaine and porn together and squooshed into his camera." - Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
Those who didn’t like it said… "Like watching "Fame" directed by the Marquis de Sade with a Steadicam." - Owen Gleiberman, Variety
If you like it, check out… Suspiria (both 1977 and 2018 versions), Black Swan (Aranofsky, 2010), Magnolia (Anderson, 1999)
Soarsie Ronan as Mary - expressionistic costume design (by Marvel regular Alexandra Bryne) hints historical accuracy is not the priority.
What’s it about? A fresh take on the Mary vs Elizabeth saga, with the emphasis on political skullduggery (written by House of Cards showrunner Beau Willimon) and the precarious position of being a female ruler.
Mary (Saorise Ronan) has fled the murderous intentions of her former allies, and thrown herself on Elizabeth’s mercy. The English queen attends a secret meeting with her Scottish rival. Their rendezvous is staged in a vast barn, hung with sheets of drying muslin. The undulating fabric walls form a sort of maze around which the two queens pursue each other, hearing the other’s voice, but unable to see them directly - until a climactic face-to-face confrontation.
It's a resonant metaphor for the queens' whole relationship. This is the first time they have actually met. For most of the film, Mary and Elizabeth have been like two duellists; only every feint, lunge and parry have been enacted with words alone. Politely firm letters, commands to armies. To add another layer of distance, these words have often been transcribed by the male courtiers or advisors, each with their own agenda. The only time the queens have seen each other’s faces is when, early in the film, they exchange portraits (Elizabeth’s is notably bigger). What do they actually know of each other, that hasn’t been refracted through the prism of their male courtiers’ ambition? Their communication, like the gauzy labyrinth, has been semi-opaque. Letters are sent, alliances are made or bloodily ruptured, rebellions plotted and put down. But all the two women have been able to discern is the ghostly silhouette of their rival, hundreds of miles away, moving behind screens constructed by others.
The scene also reflects what we, the audience, know about the two queens. Pedants for historical accuracy have decried the scene because their is no evidence the meeting ever took place. This is missing the point Rourke is making. We, as spectators, can never really know what Mary and Elizabeth were 'actually' like, just as we can never really 'know' our current royals (or any celebrity). Painted portraits will be idealised, written accounts will either exalt or condemn their actions. History is a series of representations, a (usually male) interpretation of events and people; historical drama even more so. What we see is the past filtered through these accounts. The only ‘true’ impression we can sense - just like the two queens in this scene - is shadow and movement, powerful presences we can discern but never directly see or know.
Those who liked it said… "Saoirse Ronan’s face looms out of the screen like the figurehead on a warship’s prow: fierce, sharp, defiant." - Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
Those who didn’t like it said… "boils down the arcane details of centuries-old diplomacy to a personal beef between two massive celebrities." David Sims, The Atlantic
If you like it, check out: Derek Jarman, Peter Greenaway, Julie Taymor