Updated: Aug 30
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Hold on, what the heck is happening here? Brooklyn middle-schooler Miles Morales has just jumped over a taxi after a nasty spider bite the night before.
One of the very cool things about this very cool movie is its references to other Spider-Man flicks.
“SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy; 2018; PG, frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, mild language; Streaming via Amazon Video (4K), Apple (iTunes) (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: It copped the Oscar for Best Animated Feature—gotta go with “Spider-Verse: A New Dimension”
RUN THROUGH the too-cool extras on this too-cool movie, and by all means, run through all of them, and you’ll notice a theme.
One crew member says he couldn’t wait to see what would be invented each day. Another says creating an alternate dimension “forced us to think differently,” and still another says they were after something audiences hadn’t seen before — a flick in which every frame, like a comic book, is a piece of art.
Rule No. 1? “Go even further.”
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” doesn’t just check every conceivable box —artistically, technically, dramatically, you name it — it’s one of those rarities where its considerable hype doesn’t do it justice: It blows every big-screen spin on the friendly, neighborhood wall-crawler out of the water.
Even rarer, here’s proof-positive that the Oscar voters, as least once in a while, get it right. The award for Best Animated Feature was in the bag.
First, let’s dispense with the formalities.
(1) Miles is dropped off by his dad, one of New York’s finest, at the elite prep school that he doesn’t want to attend. (2) See, he’d rather be on his Brooklyn turf with his buds. (3) A budding graffiti artist, Miles shares a close bond with his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali). To say that he’s in for a surprise is putting it mildly. (4) It’s not your garden-variety spider who has a taste for Miles, and you know what that means. (5) One of the many tricks up the animators’ sleeve is using comic book-style graphics to advance the action. (6) Miles is saved by the present-day Spider-Man (Chris Pine) early in the story. The web-slinger makes their connection when Miles’ Spider-Sense goes off.
Brooklyn middle-schooler Miles Morales (voice of Shameik Moore, “Dope”) is bitten by not-just-any spider and … well, you know.
What Miles doesn’t know is he has to learn the ropes while working with five web-slingers from other dimensions: Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson, “Jurassic World”), who, nearing 40, is a touch thick around the middle; super-confident Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit,” 2010); Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn, “Orange Is the New Black”), pilot of the mech suit SP//dr; Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage, “National Treasure”), a two-fisted, 1930s throwback; and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney, “Saturday Night Live”), whose other dimension has to be a Tex Avery cartoon.
Their job? Shut down a collider that the crime boss Kingpin (Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”) is using to look for alternate versions of his wife and child, who died in a car crash after witnessing him beat the present-day Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Chris Pine, the “Star Trek” reboot) to death.
The catch is the other Spideys have to cross through the portal … or else, leaving it to Miles to seal the deal. Complicating things are Doc Ock, Green Goblin, Scorpion, The Prowler and Tombstone.
For all its groundbreaking animation, laugh-out-load humor and references to other Spider-Man comic books and movies, “Spider-Verse” has a lot to say about friendship and family, loss and reconciliation and fitting in and realizing one’s potential. It’s also refreshingly inclusive — Miles is an African-American/Puerto Rican teen—and empowering, to wit, Spider-Gwen and Peni.
How’s that for boxes checked?
(1) Inside the portal chamber. (2) The late Stan Lee makes a cameo as the shopkeeper who sells Miles his Spidey Halloween costume. (3) Miles listens to M.J.'s public eulogy for Peter Parker/Spider-Man. (4) Miles tries to help Peter B. snap out of it when he gets the short end of a confrontation.
The extras, and there’s a bunch of them, deliver, too. They include “We Are Spider-Man,” a feature that convenes cast and crew to talk about the characters; shorts on the cast and creating the film’s good and bad guys, a Spider-Ham cartoon, an Easter egg hunt, tributes to Stan Lee and Spidey co-creator Steve Ditko, and Alternate Universe mode, which splices in storyboards to flesh out characters and expand plotlines.
Co-writer/producer Phil Lord, producer Chris Miller, co-directors Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey, and co-director/co-writer Rodney Rothman also sit down for a chummy commentary that reveals a plethora of juicy nuggets. Exhibit A: Miles’ expression when he’s caught trying to fail out of school was lifted from Barack Obama.
But, given “Spider-Man’s” Oscar-night hardware, start with “Spider-Verse: A New Dimension,” an absorbing feature about the mind-blowing animation. The filmmakers set up a formidable challenge for themselves, creating characters in 2D and 3D, tackling time-lapse animation and drawing up backgrounds that look like a 3D movie minus the glasses. And that’s just for starters.
Did they rise to it?
You haven’t been paying attention.
(1) Things don’t look too good for our Friendly, Neighborhood Spider-Man when Doc Ock reaches out. (2) Peter B. Parker and Miles get a little … uh, hung-up when Spider-Gwen reveals who’s behind the mask. (3) Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and Doc Ock—the voice of Kathryn Hahn in one of “Spider-Verse’s” many cool twists—have a difference of opinion. (4) Lily Tomlin is the voice of the resourceful, take-no-guff Aunt May.
The exquisite animation, a combination of CG backgrounds and hand-drawn imagery, shines: Every frame looks like of a piece of fine art, thanks in no small part to an ever-present comic book print screen dot. Where the HD versions are sometimes over-saturated, colors on the 4K versions (disc and streaming) are controlled, natural and bold without being garish.
Sony Pictures mastered and rendered this Oscar-winner in 2K (2.39:1 aspect ratio), and while the HD versions look excellent, the up-converted 4K outshines them with a higher level of clarity. It’s most evident with facial toning, but especially in the distant shots, like the night street scene of Brooklyn with Manhattan in the background. With the resolution bump and expansive HDR toning, you can see each car, taxi and pedestrian. Highlights and shadows stand out, too.
The animators also changed up the frame rate, using some drawings twice at 12 frames per second compared to the traditional 24. “Your brain fills in the gaps. It makes it feel more graphic,” says Josh Beveridge head of character animation. He’s right.
The 4K (disc and streaming) is coded with the immersive Dolby Atmos eight-channel soundtrack for the complete audio experience — effects and music cues are pushed to your height speakers. The Blu-ray is coded with the six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack, and it holds up quite well, especially when Miles pops over to his uncle’s apartment and drops the needle on “Hypnotize” with its deep bass riff from The Notorious B.I.G. The dialogue is always front and center with both tracks, while the surround speakers get plenty of action when Miles first meets Spider-Man during his battle with the Green Goblin inside a special portal chamber built by the 10-foot Kingpin.
Finally, if you’re streaming “Spider-Verse,” check out the exclusive 39-minute segment of “This Week in Marvel” hosted by Ryan Penagos (aka Agent M) with Moore, Johnson, Lord and Miller. His first question: How did you get connected to Marvel? Lord was 4 years old when he started role-playing on the playground. He and his friends punched out the bottoms of Dixie cups and put them on their wrists because they gave them some kind of powers, then fought over who got to be Spider-Man. At 10, he was riding his bike to a comic-book shop five miles away and spent the day reading comic books and talking with other the kids about their favorite heroes.
No, it doesn’t get any better than this.
— Craig Shapiro and Bill Kelley III, High Def Watch producer
(1) Spider-Ham introduces himself after arriving from his home dimension. Odds are it’s a Tex Avery cartoon. (2) The Prowler doesn’t exactly have good tidings in mind as he hunts down Miles. (3) Wearing a Spider-Man Halloween costume, Miles beats a hasty retreat. (4) Can’t tell the players without a scorecard: Miles Morales (voice of Shameik Moore, left), Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney).