Director: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson
Cast: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac, Jake Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Daniel Kaluuya, Andy Samberg, Jason Schwartzman, Karan Soni, Amandla Stenberg & Shea Whigham
Release: June 2nd 2023
Ok, let’s try this one more time. This is Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse – the animated sequel to the Oscar-winning film, Into the Spider-Verse. It introduced audiences to the world of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), the groundbreaking cultural icon and Afro-Latino superhero who was bitten by a radioactive spider from another dimension and rose through power as Brooklyn’s one and only Spider-Man. In taking his ‘leap of faith’, it re-energised the Spider-Man mythology to embrace a new legacy: anyone can wear the mask. With universal and critical acclaim under its belt, surely, it couldn’t get any better than that, right?
If there were any pressures heading into the sequel, then directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson seemed to revel in the challenge. Into the Spider-Verse was already a masterpiece, yet the sequel – confident in execution and style – raises the bar. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is The Empire Strikes Back in the franchise, a fresh injection that perfectly raises the stakes both in scale and scope and comes out swinging from the rooftops with the acknowledgement that they were not going to rest on their laurels.
Building off the planted seeds from Into the Spider-Verse, we find Miles adapting to life as Spider-Man. Caught in a tangled web of struggling responsibility between his web-slinging alter-ego and being a 15-year-old kid facing the growing expectations set by his parents, on the day of his school evaluation for his college assessment, he encounters The Spot (Jason Schwartzman). Deepened by the multidimensional connection they share, the increasing havoc causes damage to the multiverse, which brings it to the attention of the Spider-Society and Miles’ place within the universe.
Director Guillermo Del Toro was not lying when he tweeted, “we are in a “Spartacus” moment in animation.” Spider-Man’s groundbreaking style and influence can be seen in Entergalactic, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, The Mitchells vs the Machines and the upcoming release Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. Joining the magnificence of Studio Ghibli and Cartoon Saloon, this period feels like an animation renaissance that challenges the status quo from the dominance set by Disney. Stories that go the extra mile with unshackled animation making a declaration on the importance of the medium. And by taking that statement to heart, Across the Spider-Verse takes the franchise to another level deserving of celebration.
Every joyous frame can be traced back to an animator pouring their heart and soul into a scene, embodying the creative freedom and experimentation to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Scenes still carry that ‘pages ripped from a comic book’ ethos but are amplified by the individualistic touches it instils for its multiversal characters. For instance, Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya) is an iconographic homage to The Sex Pistols, full of that anti-establishment anarchy whenever he moves around on screen. The feature takes creative risks by mixing live action with its animation, showcasing there are no limitations to the multiverse. But where they pull off the impossible is with Gwen Stacey, aka Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld).
In exploring Gwen’s world, her emotions take the shape of a watercolour mood board where her inner turmoil changes the palette. Gwen – given the extended agency by starting the film – is faced with several challenges that not only test her relationship with Miles but the growing isolation and pressure of being Spider-Gwen in her world and the toil it takes with her police captain father, George Stacey,, (Shea Whigham). The depth and texture adds to her character, and as colourful expressions go, the visual tapestry is a beautiful sight to see.
“With great power comes great responsibility”, and what makes Spider-Verse so good at what it does is because of its loving embrace of the Spider-Man lore and mythology to once again redefine what it means for this generation. With Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Dave Callaham taking on the writing responsibilities, they weave a coming-of-age story with an incredibly meta subtext that sums up Spider-Man’s history and legacy as a “canon event” – a tragic rite of passage that every Spider-Man has to embrace. Failure to accept this narrative will result in a multiversal collapse, and what the film dares to challenge is the imagination of that scope: who has the authority to decide which stories are told within the canon, and does Spider-Man’s story always have to be tragic?
Across the Spider-Verse ultimately reminds its audience why Miles Morales is such an endearing and loveable character. The celebration of his Afro-Latino roots continues to be unapologetic. The emotional sincerity between himself and his mother Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Velez) continues to be a heartfelt anchor in exploring the conflicting divide between Miles’ growing adolescence and a mother reminding him of his identity. His relationship with Gwen takes on new heights and dimensions (literally), swinging romantically through Brooklyn as reconnecting souls who understand what it means to be part of an exclusive club of Spider-people. And even when the script takes ambitious swings in its storytelling, traversing the multiverse to Mumbattan or Nueva York, it never loses sight of what makes Miles so special. Spider-Man is for everyone, and Miles has every right to belong in that world.
There’s so much to adore in its 2-hour and 20 runtime. Daniel Pemberton’s score is a career highlight, the boundless cameos in its arsenal are delightful, and the humour helps enrich the powerful story at play. I love how The Spot grows from an unserious wormhole villain desperate to showcase why he’s Miles’ arch-nemesis to a consequential one. I love how Spider-Punk scene-steals every moment (including a hilarious metaphor joke about capitalism). I love how Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac) provides the added complexity of a Spider-Man who has everything to lose and will do what is necessary to maintain the multiverse. Without question, repeat viewings are a must.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a cinematic masterpiece and game-changer that takes the franchise to exhilarating heights. With incredible feats in animation and storytelling, not only is it one of the best Spider-Man movies ever, but it swings its way into the higher echelons as one of the best comic book movies ever made. Like all great films, it leaves you wanting more, and 2024 with Beyond the Spider-Verse can’t come any faster.
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