“Everyone keeps telling me how my story supposed to go.”
Across the Spider-verse embraces its multiverse glitching conceit from its opening logos which flash between styles, displaying a time-consuming attention to detail that is the hallmark of this bigger and bolder sequel that once again outdoes the majority of its live-action counterparts. Whilst Miles Morales originally took us Into the Spider-verse and remains front and centre in the marketing, Across the Spider-verse feels as much Gwen Stacy’s story. She embodies the themes of isolation (“This line of work, you always end up a solo act,” she explains after quitting her band) and Hailee Steinfeld’s voice acting captures a yearning for the understanding and acceptance she found in Miles. In a more overt way than the Loki TV series, we are presented with an interesting view of “the canon” as either inescapable destiny or a restrictive refusal to try to change things — it reflects the artistic conundrum of entertaining audiences with nostalgic familiarity retold in a new guise or seeking growth with something new that could result in disaster. Lesser-known, bumbling villain Spot provides the story’s catalyst, but it is Miguel — the severe leader of a Spider-Society working to protect the canon — who acts as Miles’ chief antagonist. Unfortunately, Miguel remains largely unknown even as the credits roll and this feeds into the film’s structural weakness as an incomplete story: by not marketing itself as a two-part story, Across the Spider-verse is likely to leave many unsatisfied by a truncated ending to be concluded in next year’s Beyond the Spider-verse. Everything else is an elevation of its predecessor’s artistic flair, irreverent comedy, and earnest narrative. The anarchic Spider-Punk is a perfect example, initially feeling about four decades out of date with his newsprint styling, but becoming both characterful and plot-relevant in his anti-authoritarianism. Deeper and perhaps less joyful than its predecessor, Across the Spider-verse is another high water mark that highlights the staleness of the live action superhero genre.
“This dream you’re chasing, where you end up at the top of the mountain, all eyes on you… it’s the dream you never wake up from.”
Marketed as an extraterrestrial mystery, Jordan Peele’s third feature seems structured haphazardly as it morphs into a classic monster movie befitting the 70mm projection I saw. Its intention to obfuscate emerges from its opening with two separate and bloody prologues, followed by a long and meandering opening act that follows two sibling horse-wranglers — one laconically disengaged and the other energetically grating. The most enjoyable films of this type either trim the fat and dive straight into the meat like Tremors or focus almost entirely on the human relationships like Monsters. Nope lies somewhere between, though it tends toward the latter with Peele’s script exploring the capitalist tendencies that lead the siblings to an obsession with capturing footage of the UFO that they can exploit, whilst a nearby amusement park owner seeks to turn it into a crowd-pleasing spectacle. A particularly uncomfortable scene demonstrates the extent to which Yuen’s character is willing to market his own childhood trauma, a discarded subplot that is arguably more interesting. The film’s second half is more straightforward but also more successful, with familiar scenes as the characters learn the rules of interacting with the entity, and jury-rig solutions out in the California desert, its wide expanse of hills and skies captured dramatically by Hoyte Van Hoytema. With its overarching themes about humanity’s desire to control and exploit nature — and the risk in attempting to do so — Nope is not really covering new ground for the genre, but it is still an impressively-made throwback.
“This is uncharted territory for them. You know, I don’t want to get chased off the lawn with a shotgun.”
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut wants to get under your skin in every sense. As is often the case with high concept horror, the less you know going in the better. Thematically, though, this is about the racial paranoia of being a minority in a white space — Chris reads into every cue, is made uncomfortable by the most casual of remarks, but is constantly second-guessing his own reading of the situation. It is an astute depiction of how exhausting such social interactions can be. The film’s opening scene is a statement of intent, with a black man walking through an affluent suburb, trying to avoid confrontation and clearly terrified of being shot. Like his comedy writing with Keegan-Michael Key, Peele is intent on confronting contemporary racial issues directly in order to provoke discomfort and conversation. In that, Get Out is a resounding success.
“You’re a good man with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be king.”
A triumphant take on the superhero movie that offers not just a new aesthetic (like Doctor Strange) but is steeped in black culture throughout. It bridges the divide between African and Black American culture but also pits them against one another, considering colonialism and interventionism from the perspective of the technologically advanced but isolated African nation of Wakanda, whilst recognising black anger that atrocities past and present are allowed to happen. It also does not shy away from ritualised displays of strength and violence, but they parallel the respect and empathy felt by T’Challa for his adversaries. Such nuance is unusual for a superhero, particularly one that is meanwhile challenging conventional Hollywood wisdom that a blockbuster with an overwhelmingly black cast would not be profitable.