In my review for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, I wrote that the film was a gift that we didn’t deserve. And while I still subscribe to that opinion, its follow up, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is Christmas. A true joy and celebration of all things Spidey, made by people who have endless affection for the character(s) and their history. It’s a film that seeks to pop the hood of the hero’s mythos and lore, bringing us a story approached from a wonderfully unexpected angle. Such angles are only further enhanced by some of the most jaw dropping, awe inspiring, ahead-of-their-times visuals ever committed to the big screen.
Picking up one year and four months after the events of Into the Spider-Verse, Across finds Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) in full swing as the one, the only Spider-Man. And, much like every Spidey out there in the multiverse, he’s having a hard time juggling the life of a superhero with that of a (albeit gifted) student and son. Being a 15 year old can be difficult enough, but add in on-going battles with villains every other week on top of homework and college expectations and it’s enough for even the strongest of knees to buckle. Following an encounter with the latest villain, The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), Miles is reunited with his fellow Spider-person (and crush) Gwen Stacey (Hailee Steinfeld), whose reason for being in Miles’ dimension puts the young Brooklyn-ite on a collision course with the mysterious slab of muscle that is Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac) and the heaving Spider Society.
For an animated film, Across the Spider-Verse explores some incredibly philosophical avenues. No Way Home took the approach of examining Peter’s relationship with his rogues gallery, stopping at the doorstep of a question that this film picks up.
What makes a Spider-Man?
Is it the radioactive spider? The super powers? A life of destitution? Or is it the tragedy that befalls all who pick up the mantle? The sacrifice that turns someone into a web-head. What if the very existence of a would be Spider-Man hinged on that sacrifice occurring? And what if that sacrifice never happened? What if one Spidey decided that being a web-slinger didn’t mean losing someone closest to them in order to be the hero the multiverse dictates they be?
There’s an ongoing discussion online (mainly Twitter), where fans of the comics bemoan the fact that Marvel Editorial will never let Peter Parker be happy, that his whole reason for being is rooted in tragedy. Across the Spider-Verse boldly challenges that notion, and through that challenge adds on layers to a character and a world already complex and colourful, and it’s part of this film’s genius. Directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson, along with writers Lord, Miller and Dave Callaham get to the very core of what makes a Spidey tick. In doing so both Miles and Gwen are given more time, substance and room to spread their wings making them incredibly difficult not to love. There are relatively long stretches of the film where the action slows right down to make way for scenes of pure character and emotional heft. It’s a welcome change of pace in a genre that can sometimes forget that you’re meant to love the heroes. Both Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld continue to prove that their castings were inspired choices. They imbue their characters with such heart and soul that, even at a hefty two hour plus runtime, it’s a simple pleasure to just swing with them.
Earlier I made a meagre attempt, but I confess that I don’t have the words to truly express just how jaw dropping and visually sublime this film is. Into the Spider-verse took a gamble on bringing audiences an incredibly unique take on both a comic book film and animation as a whole. And it paid immense dividends. This go around, the army of artists are digging deep into a well of near endless creativity and continue on bringing lucky audiences true sights to behold. No idea is too big or small, and while it may not be the case, one can’t help but feel that every artist involved was given near free reign to paint, animate and create in the boldest of brush strokes imaginable. At times it’s overwhelming; perfect frame after perfect frame whizzes by you at white hot speed, with nary a moment to catch your breath and take it all in. There’s an adventurous spirit and almost brazenness to it all. Each individual frame oozes love and adoration for animation, and it all comes together as a blindingly dazzling peek into the future of where the medium is headed. I have never seen anything like it.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a movie made by Spidey fans for Spidey fans. Like the web-head himself, it’s brimming with heart, love, emotion, joy, and soul. It’s the perfect film for an imperfect hero. It’ll make you smile like an idiot and cry like a baby. It’s that rare film that’ll have many u-turning to the ticket office for one more round. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse proves that brilliant, heartfelt crowd pleasing super hero films are well within the grasp of the most dedicated of creatives. All it is is a leap of faith.