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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

“Mary Poppins Returns” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

The first thing “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” made me think of was 2004. This is because 2004 is the last year we got a great Spider-Man movie, with Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2.” While I didn’t exactly hate any of the installments of everyone’s favorite web slinger that came out in the interim, I wasn’t filled with the same awe and joy I felt watching Sam Raimi’s first two movies. That all changed with “Spider-Verse.”

For this outing, Sony Pictures decided to go the animated route and the movie credits three directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman (who also has a co-screenwriter credit). So often this is a sign that a movie will be a disjointed mess (the natural consequence of not having one singular vision), but that’s not the case with “Spider-Verse.” It’s as well made and executed as movies come, and fantastically paced enough so that the one hour and 57 minute run time breezes by in nothing flat. I can practically guarantee that you’ll want more of this visual delight by the time the credits roll.

“Spider-Verse” even owns up to the previous movies—both good and bad. Many of us who enjoyed the original Raimi trilogy remember the now iconic moments like the upside down kiss in the rain, and this movie isn’t shy about reminding us of it. It also very bravely reminds us—while poking fun—of Spider-Man’s dancing in the street “emo” phase from the third movie. A low point in the series, to be sure.

The name “Spider-Verse” is derived from the fact that there are alternate dimensions, all of which have some version of Spider-Man. There is of course Peter B. Parker (voice of Jake Johnson), an older, pudgier version of the Peter Parker (voice of Chris Pine) who we all know and love. There is also: Gwen Stacy (voice of Hailee Steinfeld), whose alter-ego is Spider-Gwen; Peni Parker (voice of Kimiko Glenn), the Japanese anime version of Spider-Man whose costume is a giant robot; Spider-Man Noir (voice of Nicolas Cage), who is what The Shadow would be like if he swung around the city with a web shooter; and last but not least, Peter Porker (voice of John Mulaney), the swine version of Spidey whose gadgets include an anvil and giant mallet. While he may have gags straight out of a 1940s Warner Brothers cartoon, it is interesting that his alter-ego is Spider-Ham. I guess Fox owns the copyright to Spider-Pig due to “The Simpsons Movie.”

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These worlds all collide on Miles Morales (voice of Shameik Moore) who, as tradition dictates, is bitten by a radioactive spider and gets spider powers. His reaction after getting bit is one of the truest and funniest that I have ever seen. I’m surprised it took this long for someone to give such an honest portrayal of how someone reacts to getting bit by a spider. This is one of the refreshing things about this take on the legend. Put it this way: How enthusiastic would you be about jumping off of a tall building for the first time, even with spider powers? This movie has even more good news in store for anyone sick of hearing about how with great power comes great…ugh, even I can’t finish that sentence. You know by now.

In addition to the usual sticking to walls and spidey sense, Miles gets some bonus powers where he can summon electricity and turn invisible. I love this fresh take on Spider-Man! The imagination is off the charts, the clashing animation styles work very well together, and the story is well-grounded in human experience enough to be relatable—even when a talking pig is swinging a big, wooden mallet around. Movies this innovative and exciting don’t come around often, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another recent movie, “Spider-Man” or otherwise, that captures the imagination so exceptionally well. Buy it.

Also New This Week

Mary Poppins Returns

A movie like “Mary Poppins Returns” is the perfect confection. It’s pleasing to the senses, goes down easily, and makes you feel good for a while. Then a short time after the experience is over its empty calories have all but evaporated.

This pitch perfect sequel to the original 1964 “Mary Poppins” updates the time to the 1930s—at least two decades after the events of the original—but not the setting. We’re still in London in the same house. However, it is now occupied by a grown up Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) with his three children Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson). Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer), Michael’s sister, is also all grown up and spends more time at the house than she does her own flat. Where is the children’s mother, you might ask? I will answer that by noting that this is a Disney movie. If that doesn’t answer your question, then you don’t know Disney.

While the Banks children from the original movie may have aged, the magical Mary Poppins has not. Here Emily Blunt takes over the role made famous by Julie Andrews. She’s a bit abrasive and rude when she first comes into contact with the Banks family again after so many years, but quickly lightens up by taking the children on a fun adventure during bath time.

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What’s a “Mary Poppins” movie without a working class cockney? In “Mary Poppins Returns,” that role is filled by Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack. However, instead of being a chimney sweep like Dick Van Dyke’s character in the first movie, Jack is a leerie. This means that he bikes around London turning the street lamps on and off. The leeries even one up the chimney sweeps in this movie. Not only do they have their own dance, they also have their own language, which is basically cockney rhyming slang.

What of the plot? Exactly—what of it? Colin Firth plays an unscrupulous bank owner who looks to cheat the Banks family out of their house. Why he wants the house so badly is never revealed, plus who cares—this is the kind of movie where plot takes a back seat to the vibrant and imaginative dance numbers. Of these, there are many and they are all well done. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I have to say I especially enjoyed the number with Cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep—one of a few great cameos in the movie). The leerie dance number is a show stopper too. Plus there’s a stage performance in the animated world of a china bowl. Yes—you read that right and it really is something that must be seen to be believed. Rent it.

More New Releases: “The Final Wish,” about a grieving son who encounters something strange in his deceased father’s belongings, starring Lin Shaye, Michael Welch, and Tony Todd; “Big Kill,” in which a tenderfoot from Philadelphia, two misfit gamblers on the run, and a deadly preacher have a date with destiny in a boom town gone bust called Big Kill, starring Jason Patric, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Christoph Sanders; and “The Quiller Memorandum,” criminally overlooked and underrated 1960s spy movie that I truly hope gets the notice it justly deserves with this Blu-Ray release, starring George Segal, Alec Guinness, and Max von Sydow.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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