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Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Review

June 2, 2023 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE Image Credit: Sony Pictures Animation
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Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Review  

Directed By: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson
Written By: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Dave Callaham; Based on the Marvel comics and characters
Runtime: 140 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated PG for sequences of animated action violence, some language and thematic elements

Shameik Moore – Miles Morales/Spider-Man
Hailee Steinfeld – Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman
Oscar Isaaac – Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099
Jason Schwartzman – Jonathan Ohnn/The Spot
Brian Tyree Henry – Jefferson Morales
Luna Lauren Vélez – Rio Morales
Jake Johnson – Peter B. Parker/Spider-Man
Issa Rae – Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman
Daniel Kaluuya – Hobart “Hobie” Brown/Spider-Punk
Karan Soni – Pavitr Prabhakar/Spider-Man India
Greta Lee – Lyla
Shea Whigham – George Stacy
Andy Samberg – Ben Reilly/Scarlet Spider

Miles Morales’ identity as Spider-Man is put to the ultimate test in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. In Miles’ continuing adventures as his dimension’s friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, co-writers and producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have devised an incredible, emotional, and thrilling experience that pushes the envelope from both a technical and visual standpoint, and rivals the best of the narrative motion picture adventures of Spider-Man. Across the Spider-Verse is an epic, ambitious adventure where young Miles must ultimately defy the laws of causality, and it’s a moving, emotional coming-of-age story as well.

Picking up just over a year after the origin of his hero’s journey in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Miles (Moore) is reaching an important crossroads in his life. He’s growing into adulthood, and his work as a full-time scholarship student and New York’s greatest superhero can be challenging for the 15-year-old. Miles is already exploring studying at Princeton University after he graduates, but his parents Rio (Lauren Vélez) and Jefferson Morales (Tyree Henry) are growing impatient with their son’s frequent absences, usually due to his web-slinging activities.

Unfortunately for Miles, a new villain has emerged in the city, The Spot (Schwartzman), who can create literal tears and portals through the fabric of reality. The Spot was once an Alchemax scientist tragically caught up in the dimensional collider shenanigans in the previous movie, sparking his birth into super-villainy. At first, Miles takes The Spot a bit too lightly. Wanting revenge against Spider-Man, The Spot seeks a means to amplify his powers, which catches the attention of the Spider-Society, led by the Spider-Man of Nueva York in 2099, Miguel O’Hara (Isaac). O’Hara has formed a veritable army comprised of Spider-Heroes from across the Spider-Verse. Wilson Fisk’s messing with dimensions seems to have caused some residual effects, and O’Hara and his crew contain inter-dimensional villains who are still leaking through. The Spot’s powers, which enable him to bounce through dimensions, are now starting to become a significant threat to the Spider-Verse, bringing Miles back in contact with his long-lost comrade, Spider-Woman, aka Gwen Stacy (Steinfeld), another recent recruit of the Spider-Society.

Seeking to help Gwen and the other Spider-heroes contain the ever-growing threat of The Spot, Miles breaks the rules by following Gwen across dimensions. Unfortunately, Miles’ actions are causing problematic ripples in the fabric of the “Spider-Verse,” this film series’ unique iteration of the Multiverse, bringing Miles into conflict with the Spider-Society and their stoic leader. O’Hara has a legion of Spider-heroes on his side and the seeming webs of fate to back him up, forcing Miles to fight back not only against the other Spider avatars, but the very will of existence.

Visually, Across the Spider-Verse is an amazing animated triumph. Co-directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson do not rest on the laurels from the work done in the previous film. From a visual and technical standpoint, Across the Spider-Verse far surpasses the original. In the first film, different characters from different dimensions were rendered, in diverse visual and animated styles. That’s the case here, but it’s pushed a step further by showcasing the various unique dimensions where the other heroes reside. Miles Morales’ dimension resembles dynamic, mainstream popular superhero artwork to an extreme degree. Imagine looking at a comic book with a magnifying glass, but this visual style was present in the first film. Each dimension has a unique look and feel. A significant amount of time is also spent in Gwen Stacy’s dimension, which features lovely splashed, hand-painted backgrounds. The colors blare and change in Gwen’s dimension as a seeming reflection of her mood and feelings. The directors and animators have created a Spider-Man adventure that’s wild, dynamic, and unique. The film’s visual storytelling brings multiple art styles to vivid life.

One of the film’s more ambivalent features is the understated, rapid-fire dialogue, which aims for a very realism-based style that almost sounds improvised. The dialogue style that was present in the first film is back and dialed up considerably in the sequel. The characters often recite dialogue quickly and quietly, making it sound understated and quiet. It appears to be an artistic choice. Not all the dialogue exchanges come across this way, but in some scenes, the banter is so understated and quick that it could have used subtitles to catch certain lines and better understand their nuance. Across the Spider-Verse beautifully tells its story through its imagery over the dialogue, but the dialogue sometimes comes off a bit too chaotic and incoherent.

Across the Spider-Verse also nails and understands that Spider-Man is a journey of maturity for its heroes. Such was the case of Peter Parker and now Miles Morales as his journey unfolds. Miles’ challenge is unique because he’s pitted against ideas that are almost abstract and intangible, yet those very things define the lives of those who take up the mask of Spider-Man. The identity of Spider-Man can be both a blessing and a curse, and it requires great sacrifice. Across the Spider-Verse continues to unfold Miles’ journey of what it means for him to exist as Spider-Man.

Gwen Stacy receives an expanded role in Across the Spider-Verse, so much so that she acts as the narrative’s stealth protagonist. In the beginning, Gwen reaches a personal tipping point in her life that ultimately reunites her with Miles, and Gwen’s morals are put to the test. The way the movie develops their relationship is interesting, as Miles and Gwen are two of the only people who can understand what their lives are like. Few can connect on an intellectual and emotional level as they can. It also subtly tiptoes around a potential romance between the two teen heroes, which brings a fresh aspect to the Miles Morales mythos.

Besides the impressive visual style, the directors pull off unique perspectives and angles. Considering Miles and Gwen can walk on walls and scale skyscrapers with ease, they see the world from a different perspective. The direction puts the camera into those unique inverted perspectives and angles, enabling the audience to share Miles and Gwen’s unique points of view as Spider-Man and Spider-Woman. It takes the visual presentation further than any previous cinematic Spider-Man adventure.

In its lesser moments, the narrative for Across the Spider-Verse grows a bit too unwieldy when it starts weaving metatextual ideas into the narrative. It takes a delicate balancing act to make such ideas work, and the execution turns out rather clunky here. Secondly, The Spot acts more like a McGuffin to the story less so as an actual villain. He disappears into the ether in the second half.

The key to Across the Spider-Verse will be how everything is brought home in the next installment, Beyond the Spider-Verse. Across the Spider-Verse acts as one half to a larger story. The biggest drawback is that the story does not stand on its own, so some of the quality and execution of Across the Spider-Verse will hinge on whether or not Beyond the Spider-Verse will stick the final landing. Across the Spider-Verse takes some bold, risky moves that are genuinely shocking. However, the movie only sets up these moves and wants the audience to wait for the payoff, so hopefully the pitch will look as good as the windup. Nonetheless, Across the Spider-Verse is a promising proof of concept that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have their bases covered. Thwip, thwip.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a visually thrilling, eye-popping, envelope-pushing, marvel of a cinematic adventure for the Friendly Neighborhood Wall-Crawler. The production team does not rest on their laurels and goes far beyond what even the first film achieved. Miles' journey is emotionally resonant, heartbreaking, and bittersweet. At times, the story grows unwieldy and throws in too many meta aspects. However, Across the Spider-Verse is a true achievement as a Spider-Man adventure and takes some bold risks. The key will be how the story concludes with Beyond the Spider-Verse.