Following the events of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, Miles [Moore] has been doing the classic Spider-Man thing: juggling his responsibilities as a student, keeping the city safe, and trying to connect with his parents as a growing teenager. What’s more, he laments the absence of his friends and mentors; most notably Spider-Woman, Gwen Stacy [Steinfeld]. Unbeknownst to him, however, there is a multiversal network of Spider-Men/Women/People/Animals, all of whom have been brought together by Miguel O’Hara [Isaac] to keep the threads that bind their worlds intact. And Miles quickly discovers he’s not only been intentionally excluded from this group, he holds the key to the fate of every universe in existence.
Into The Spider-Verse was a literal game changer. I appreciate that phrase gets thrown around a lot, but in terms of what animated films could say, do and accomplish, this frankly unwanted feature (honestly, no one cared about an animated Spider-Man film among the furore and speculation of the Sony/Disney compromise) went on to inspire the entire medium. And the ripples of its impact are only just being felt, as scores of animators are pleading with their bosses and studio heads saying “See! If you just let me create something bold and artistic, we could also make a boat-load of money and win Oscar glory!”
In true cinema fashion, it’s assumed that this awaited sequel will take the baton, go bigger and really blow people away. But it also needs to follow a sort of unwritten rule of a second instalment or middle chapter of a trilogy: to become the infamous darker second act, where everything falls apart, feelings are betrayed and the stakes couldn’t be more personal or higher. It’s been 5 years since the lasting outing and, as with the Harry Potter franchise, the tone has intentionally matured and evolved with its audience to create something edgy, dynamic and unabashedly honest.
Visually, Across The Spider-Verse continues to push so many envelopes and boundaries, presenting audiences with an undeniably stunning spectacle that creates a legitimate urgency – making it fatal to look away for fear of missing things. Granted, this could feel like a bit of a sensory overload akin to staring at the fluctuating details of the surface of the sun. But everything is designed to be paused to pore over the details, to initially marvel at the scope, and then drill down into the intricacies of what’s on display. Making Across The Spider-Verse a film very much in response to the era of film analysis. Essentially equally concerned with hunting for Easter eggs, as it is with plot layering and character development.
In terms of acting talent, this movie has hoovered up some of the best. Already coming out swinging with amazing range from Moore and Steinfeld, they also had an out-of-left-field charming take from Jake Johnson and nurturing impactful presence from the likes of Luna Lauren Vélez, Brian Tyree Henry and Mahershala Ali. But to bring people like Oscar Isaac, Issa Rae, Daniel Kaluuya into the mix, just shows they can get whomever they want and bring the very best out of them. On top of that, when you consider there are reportedly around 250 different Spider-people filling up the frame, the possibilities of what we could end up feel truly endless.
Accompanying this strong diverse cast, the plot steps up with the prominent stance of actively challenging established canon. Which, since its inception, the very idea of Miles Morales (a mixed race POC Spider-Man) has had to deal with on a daily basis. Thankfully, owing to the directors and the writers bringing the cast into the room to get the cultural notes right, this movie speaks to a 2020s audience. It’s a bold take that puts authoritative representation front and centre in the most natural and organic way possible, to bring to life a film for everyone.
We also can’t forget the audio. As much as the visuals are heavily (and deservedly) praised, your ears are offended long before your eyes are. The sound design is magnificent, the score from Daniel Pemberton effortlessly glides and skips across disparate genres. And in an age of backward-facing nostalgia sparking soundtracks, Spider-Verse continues to be a contemporary aural time capsule, once again feeling like a mixtape playlist for teens of today.
**a handful of very light spoilers until the final paragraph**
So, this is a perfect film, right? A solid 5/5 to sit high on the mantle, alongside Into The Spider-Verse. Well.. not exactly, so brace yourself for some unfortunate nitpicking. While O’Hara is positioned as an absolute antagonist, he’s not necessarily the villain of the piece. That spot is reserved for Jason Schwartzman voicing Dr Jonathan Ohnn, also known as The Spot. On the one hand, you could say his arc is quite similar to that of Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (albeit with better execution). And given the structure of this film, his evolution unfolds largely in the background. Again, not a huge fault at this point, and by the third film, it will likely be an extraordinarily rewarding transition. But this peels the edge of this film’s greatest flaw: the pacing. There is significant front loading of character development and foreshadowing – which audiences could consider a slow or stunted start. And as this movie wasn’t heavily marketed as a part one, the build to the cliffhanger close, could also feel somewhat unsatisfactory or jilted.
And before people jump down my throat, I’m trying to highlight that there is an imbalance in how this film progresses. If you take similar opening halves, such as Avengers: Infinity War or Dune: Part One, those stories all felt like they came to enough of a conclusion, whereas this film (if you’ll forgive the comparison) feels more akin to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.
And while I’ve extolled the virtues of the sheer visual feast on display, the incorporation of the
live-action elements are a little jarring and end up feeling like very overt fan service and oddly cheap. I’ve sat with that word “cheap” for a long time and I think it’s just the fact that with everything the animators are achieving, to shot filmed footage feels flat and unimaginative.
On top of that, we need to have a bit of a multiverse conversation. The early 2000s was all about the origin stories, the 2010s was concerned with how many team-ups and crossovers could be generated, but the 2020s is set on exploring the idea of numerous versions of the same character. And unless these movies can find a genuinely unique take for these stories, we’re going to get a lot of very samey narratives. Not to mention the raising of a very important question: do consequences on an alternate world have enough of an impact if we don’t have the necessary connection with them? When does a world of infinite possibilities to cast, recast, sell and re-merchandise become overplayed and tired? For the time being, the Spider-Verse films seem concerned with simply celebrating every iteration of the character thus far and forging their own path. And getting out ahead of everyone else has absolutely paid dividends to date. Arguably, it all comes down to how this trilogy closes out next year, and if that truly is a neat end for this saga.
But regardless of the minor detractions, Across The Spider-Verse built on its already astonishing performance, and handed audiences a phenomenal heartfelt film, that some may not be ready for. Does it pale in comparison to its predecessor? A little, in terms of mirth and adventure. But isn’t that merely a reflection of life and growing up? And shouldn’t we embrace that with both hands and see where that journey can take us? The answer to that rhetorical question, if you haven’t already guessed, is a resounding “yes.”
02 June 2023
The Scene To Look Out For:
As previously stated, this is a movie that knows not only its fanbase but the internet generation as a whole. There is no one scene, one moment, or one visual gut-punch that can be highlighted above the others. Instead, there is a jam-packed carousel of splendour that will be adored, reproduced and lionised for years to come.
Not enough can be said for Hobie Brown. Daniel Kaluuya’s Spider-Punk is charming, anarchic, disruptive and everything a young teenager wishes they could get close to (for better or worse).
“Bad things are gonna happen, it makes us who we are. But good things happen too.”
In A Few Words:
“Being a troublesome middle child, there are a handful of minor gripes present, but in terms of the wider picture, to focus too heavily on them would be a mistake.”
Total Score: 4/5