Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse lives up to the hype, in a thrilling sequel to the surprise original. But I’ve got a few complaints. Read on for my thoughts…
Miles Morales is grounded; Gwen Stacy is homeless; and they remain cut off from each other’s worlds. But the emergence of a new threat brings them together once more, as they quest to save the multi-verse! Our heroes are aided by a secret multiversal spider-collective led by a man named Miguel O’Hara (AKA Spider-Man 2099).
Across the Spider-Verse begins strongly with a series of dimensionally-shifting production studio logos. This is a fun and clever way to both perform typical film-production housekeeping and subtly prepare us for a multi-versal story. Of course it also reminds us how stellar the animators are at their jobs.
I may as well get this out of the way: Across the Spider-verse is primarily sold on its breathtaking, ground-breaking animation style. Every 1/24 frame is passionately drawn with a jaw-dropping attention to detail; the colors leapt off my screen; and the mix of unique animation styles had me in disbelief.
I can’t comprehend how much work it must have been for Sony animators to make this film– especially those shots where dozens of wholly different-looking spider-men fill the frame at once with ACTION (some of them with altogether different animation styles). I don’t know if I’ve seen such a bevvy of characters onscreen at once, each of them distinctly rendered. Ready Player One is the next closest project which I’ve seen do something similar– but Across the Spider-Verse blows it out of the water! No wonder this film took 5 freaking years to complete…
Yet the gorgeousness of the animation quickly became a double-edged sword for me. ‘Cause my eyeballs CAN receive too much of a good thing. Near every shot in Across the Spider-Verse is so dazzling that I became numb to it after a while. The effects ceased to shock or awe me, and my brain burnt out badly enough that it couldn’t process the visual information as effectively. Gwen Stacy’s world– with its stylized pastel colours– was especially hard for me to watch for long periods of time.
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) continues his streak as a lovable, relatable character. His primary struggle this time around is to uncover the balance between the expectations of others for him and his own moral code. Case in point: he and his parents clash a lot during the film about his lack of transparency, failures to be responsible (for things they want), and general wishy-washiness. His parents see mere problems to be solved, whereas Miles sees these issues as by-products of noble intentions– caused by his time as Spider-Man.
Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), similarly, gains her independence– though she embraces said independence for more jaded reasons. Namely: she believed she had no choice. Gwen’s story was so engaging to me that it near-rivalled that of Miles himself!
Though each of their plots revolves around similar themes: destiny, choice, and control being the main ones. Across the Spider-Verse is about the path chosen for you vs the path chosen BY you. We must respect the wisdom of our elders and learn from them– but when must we break from their expectations to be our own people? And what will be the consequences for our choices? Can we handle them? Across the Spider-verse doesn’t shy away from the complexities of these questions.
However, Across the Spider-Verse frustratingly answers its own questions AND leaves them open-ended. Gwen receives a definitive resolution about the consequences of her choices, while Miles JUST breaks free from his confines as the movie ends. And, depending on how the third film goes, the aforementioned themes of this film might contradict with Spider-Verse 3. So that leaves me feeling like Across the Spider-Verse tells its audience, “This is the correct way to live,” but also “it might be entirely wrong and blow up in your face.”
Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya) is the glue which ties these themes together. His anarchist attitude and extreme edginess offer some of Spider-Verse‘s funniest moments. But, more importantly, he’s a free thinker who lives exclusively by his own moral code– a lifetyle which Gwen and Miles haven’t yet adopted, whether they realize it or not.
Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac) is a perfect showcase for the possibilities of a spider-verse. Because his story demonstrates how vastly different, yet familiar, Spider-people can be from one another (he’s a vampire, for one). O’Hara maintains an edge which sets him apart from the other spider-folks– a dark, driving ambition to save the universe despite how much suffering he must ignore to do so. He’ll make the hard choices, and go out of his way to ensure their outcomes. O’Hara is honestly more threatening than the Across the Spider-Verse‘s main villain!
Speaking of said main villain: I love The Spot’s motivation. He’s considered by everybody as “Barely a villain of the week”, but wants to be known as a worthy adversary to Spider-man. So he increases his power-set and sets his villainous sights on bigger targets than ATMs at the local convenience store.
The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) is introduced as comically inept. You feel kinda bad for the guy. But he progressively grows into a disturbing and menacing threat. Said threat is bolstered by the animator’s second character design for him, half-way through the film. There’s a chance it’ll give me nightmares. There’s nothing innately scary about the imagery, but something about it disturbs me nontheless.
Across the Spider-Verse refreshingly allows its emotional beats to breathe. Multiple scenes feature little more action than characters simply talking with one another– letting their emotions play out how they will. Such competent structure only surprises me because most superhero movies forget their imperative to provide compelling character drama alongside action. And that usually blows up in their face. ‘Cause we tend not to care about the action when we don’t care about the characters.
Though Spider-Verse wisely avoids padding the film with these sorts of scenes– ’cause that might get boring. The story is paced such that we’re given action when we want it and meaningful conversations when we need them.
Of note are the scenes Miles shares with his parents– especially his mother. I’m pleased that she received more to do this time around, seeing as the first film focused more on Miles’ father. But Rio and Jefferson (Lauren Vélez and Brian Tyree Henry) ground the film with relatable humor and heart, as they struggle to understand Miles’ burgeoning independence. Miles’ scenes with them also effectively showcase the film’s themes in a grounded fashion before the plot gets weird.
Across the Spider-Verse offers some of the most efficient exposition I’ve seen this year. Important dialogue is largely blended through actions scenes, such that our time is never wasted. Scenes effectively accomplish multiple story-telling functions at once: they entertain and inform. This deftly-handled balance is made to look easy.
Every Spider-Man fan will be pleased with the abundance of Easter Eggs in this film. Visual and verbal references to specific comic book issues, characters (and versions of characters), voice actors, and even footage from old Spider-Man TV series and movies. Though my favourite is probably when Miles’ roomate plays the Spider-Man video game on PS5 in the background.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse offers its viewers a lot– maybe too much. It’s crowded to the point where its main villain disappears halfway through the film; its plot depends so strongly on the next film that it fails to stand alone as well as i’d have liked; and its run-time is excessive (though undoubtedly ambitious).
Yet Spider-Verse‘s characters are relatable and deftly handled, its action and art style is exceedingly gorgeous, and its story is both entertaining and thought-provoking (for older and younger viewers alike). Here is subject matter which doesn’t look down on its audience or treat us like we’re stupid.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a shining example of innovative animation, and a Must See adventure!
IN-DEPTH ANALYSES OF THE ABOVE, AND MORE, ON THIS EPISODE OF CLOSE UP:
Do you prefer Miles Morales or Peter Parker Spider-Man? What did you think of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know.
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Till next time,