Friday 16 June 2023

The Flash (Movie Review)

The Flash finally graces cinemas this weekend after spending nearly a full decade in active development. But following the lukewarm reception Shazam! Fury of the Gods had received during its shortened theatrical run, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was just another remnant of the DCEU as started with Man of Steel back in 2013. The question then is does this new movie actually warrant going out to see or are you better off waiting for it to hit streaming or skipping it entirely?

The film centers upon Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), the titular metahuman who is having trouble balancing his role as a member of the Justice League with working to prove his father's innonence in the case of his mother's death. And the fact that he is able to speed through the world around him isn't exactly helping. But when he inadvertently discovers that he also has the ability to phase through time, he makes the decision to travel back in time to save his mother from dying in the first place. Except this ends up having dire consequences on the current timeline as well as wide-reaching ramifications for the multiverse as a whole.

Stop me if it sounds like you've heard that plot synopsis before because it sure seems like multiverses are Hollywood's current obsession. And in the wake of the recently-released Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the bar of quality has been raised tremendously high for these types of movies. Gone are the days when a few throwaway cameos and visual gags were all it took to get us hooked and invested. Nowadays, audiences are sophisticated enough to demand that those cameos serve the narrative ala Spider-Man: No Way Home or at the very least bring something of substance to the movie.

I say all that to explain how the landscape had changed since the first trailer for The Flash dropped and why I had approached the film with some measure of apprehension, even as I was eager to see how it would build upon the events of the DCEU and the larger DC library of stories. I basically wanted to know what it did with the foundation already laid by Zack Snyder and others and if it pushed the narrative forward in any meaningful way or if it merely served as the reset button for the franchise many believed that it was.

Thankfully, it didn't take too long into the movie before I discovered that I had very little to worry about. Director Andy Muschietti clearly has a deep understanding of the title character as well as the famous Flashpoint storyline and he indeed manages to do both justice (no pun intended) over the course of his movie. The film respects the existing canon while still finding fun and inventive ways to expand upon it. A lot of it can be considered nostalgia bait though, as it did tend to lean heavily into the Easter eggs and references without really giving most of it any real narrative weight.

The film also has some truly impressive action setpieces that rank as some of the very best in the DCEU. The Flash's abilities are used to great effect throughout the film and they never ceased to be fun to look at. The third act did fall into the trap of being too reliant on spectacle though and the stylistic way some of the CGI characters were rendered might rub some people the wrong way as it creates an uncanny valley effect that feels out of place in a production of this size and budget.

But the area where the film really excels in my opinion is in its heartfelt narrative. As tired as the time travel trope might be nowadays, it is the very real emotions that propel our heroes to do the things they do that kept me most engaged with the movie. Their real-life shenanigans asides, Ezra Miller absolutely shines in the dual role of Barry Allen. It was also nice to see both Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton reprise their respective roles as Batman, although a part of me wishes that the former was given a bit more to do in the film.

The Flash is the closest thing to a fitting swansong that the DCEU could possibly hope to get at this point. It is also a fun and action-packed superhero romp in its own right, one that is elevated by the performance of its lead star. Whether you choose to go out and see it should probably come down to how much you valued the entries that came before it. And as a fan of the overall DCEU, barring one or two weaker installments, I'd say it is one of the better ones in the entire collection.

Friday 2 June 2023

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Movie Review)

Spider-Man swings his way back into cinemas this weekend in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. This is the eagerly-awaited sequel to the Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a movie that not only introduced moviegoers to Miles Morales but showed us that he was just as capable as the various Peter Parkers that came before him. And like any good sequel worth its salt, this one sets out to expand on the titular Spider-Verse while giving fans more of what they really loved about the first film. But does it manage to achieve either of those two goals or has it perhaps grown too big for its own good?

The film is set a year and a half after the events of the previous one with Miles (voiced by Shameik Moore) still struggling to juggle between schoolwork and his duties as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. In that time, he has amassed his very own rogues gallery of villains as well as some notoriety. He is soon sucked into a brand-new multiverse-spanning adventure with a fresh cast of Spider-People along with some returning favorites. And with a new arch nemesis hellbent on revenge to contend with, Miles would quickly find out that he needs all the help that he can get.

My expectations heading into Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse were about as high as you can imagine being the massive Spider-Man fan that I am. The first film had immediately won me over with its uniquely beautiful animation style which sought to replicate the look and feel of a comic book within a three-dimensional space. But it was its heartfelt story and great characterization that ultimately made it one of my favorite films of 2018, long before it went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. And since then, Spider-Man fans have been treated to gem after gem across the various entertainment media with video games like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and live-action movies like the two most recent ones in the MCU.

But just when I thought things had gotten as good as they could get in Spider-Man: No Way Home, the crew at Sony Animation scoffed and asked us to hold their beer. Because you'll have to believe that I am not being hyperbolic when I say that this is now possibly my favorite Spider-Man movie of all time. That's high praise indeed considering that Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 had held the title of my favorite comic book movie since its release in 2004. And much like that movie had managed to take its predecessor to the next level, this one shoots everything that came before it into the stratosphere.

The animation is just as vibrant as it was in the first film with each variant of Spider-Man given their own unique animation style. This extends to the worlds they inhabit as well, with each one sporting a distinct look and feel. It would appear like we've been inundated by a heavy dose of multiversal adventures lately, between the MCU's recent movies and the impending release of the DCEU's The Flash. But nowhere has the multiverse been as clearly and as fully realized as it is here, not even in the Best Picture-winning Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.

But the real highlight in my opinion is once again the stellar characterization. Miles is as fully formed as he has ever been and we get to watch him grow even further into his Spider-Man-sized shoes. We also gain new insight into Gwen Stacy's backstory with the film spending a significant portion of its runtime fleshing out her character. The same holds true for several new characters like Miguel O'Hara and The Spot, although fans of the first film might wonder what happened to the likes of Peni Parker and Peter Porker, but at least they'll get to instead witness Peter ParkedCar in all its glory. And no, I'm not making that up.

Another highlight worth mentioning is the curated soundtrack by Metro Boomin, several songs from which could be heard playing throughout the film. The one that stuck out to me the most was Mona Lisa by Dominic Fike, with its earworm melodies fitting the joyous thrill of watching both Miles and Gwen swing through New York like a glove.

The only real criticism I can give to Across the Spider-Verse is the fact that it ends on a cliffhanger as it sets the stage for what is sure to be an epic conclusion in Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse next year. Its extended runtime also keeps the movie from feeling as punchy and precise as its predecessor even though it does manage to cram in a lot of characterization and world-building into that runtime, not to mention the countless Easter eggs that are sure to have diehard fans going back to watch the movie over and over again.

It's a great time to be a Spider-Man fan and nowhere is that more evident than in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. The film serves as another celebration of the webslinger's storied history even as it attempts to tie it all together in its very ambitious narrative web. That it largely succeeds while doing so speaks to a deep understanding of the superhero and his various iterations as well as a mastery of the art of storytelling by all those involved in crafting the film. This is the Spider-Man film to rule all Spider-Man films and one can only wonder where they could possibly take things next.