WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse – amazing, spectacular, and superior!
Just like its young protagonist, the Spider-Verse has matured and proclaimed it can do the impossible — match its monumental predecessor.
Ditching the worn-out Peter Parker story to give the more modern incarnation of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) a chance under the webbed mask — and by also boasting a visual style unlike anything else out there — 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse wasn’t so much a movie as it was an epochal event. There’s a definitive “Before Spider-Verse” and “After Spider-Verse” marker on the entertainment biz timeline. The Oscar-winning animated blockbuster would become almost universally regarded as the best Spider-Man movie ever made, but everybody knows that the problem with reaching the top is that there’s nowhere to go but down. Here’s the thing about Spider-Man though: he can always swing higher!
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the next chapter in this planned trilogy (originally titled “Across the Spider-Verse Part 2”, Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse is already queued up for March 2024) and it would be easy to dismiss it as just another franchise cash-grab. However, much like Miles himself boldly declaring that he can achieve the impossible, directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K Thompson, working off a script by writers/producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller with David Callaham, have somehow managed to make that rare sequel that actually exceeds its already-brilliant predecessor.
And right from the get-go, Across the Spider-Verse swings for the stratosphere as we check in with fan-favourite Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) aka Spider-Woman in a captivating prologue. Like so much of what would transpire over the course of the breathless 140-minute runtime, this short sequence, delving into Gwen’s past while also catching us up with what she’s been up to since she helped Miles save the multiverse and returned to her own universe, is steeped in emotion.
This is possibly the big noticeable difference with this sequel. In the time since the events of the first film — much to the dismay of his wonderfully relatable parents, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) and Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Vélez) — Miles has grown up… and so has this franchise. Into the Spider-Verse had plenty of emotional beats, but this time things are “darker” even though there’s plenty of silliness and levity throughout. An early sequence introducing Jason Schwartzman’s villain, The Spot, as Miles’s new “nemesis” is a barrel of laughs. Rather, the animated Spider-Verse has matured — characters are confronted with weighty family issues tinged with heartbreak, twists and revelations are dramatic gut punches, and almost the entirety of the frenetic, action-packed third act will have you holding your breath in dread anticipation.
It’s actually goofy D-lister The Spot’s exploration of his powers that kicks off this rollicking ride, which in turn leads to not only Gwen Stacy’s return to Miles’ life, but also the introduction of the Spider-Society, a group of Spider-People from hundreds of different parallel realities, led by the intense Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac) aka Spider-Man 2099 on a mission to safeguard the Multiverse. Also introduced into the mix is a pregnant, motorcycle-riding Jessica Drew aka Spider-Woman (Issa Rae); the magically powered (and magically haired) Pavitr Prabhakar aka Spider-Man India (Karan Soni); the anarchistic, anti-establishment Hobie Brown aka Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya); and the return of Miles’s mentor, Peter B Parker (Jake Johnson), who has since become the father to a super-powered baby. There are far more blink-and-you-miss-it cameos, and even a shout-out to “Doctor Strange and the little nerd back on Earth-199999”, with each character rendered in a distinct style.
More than just their looks though, the characters get really strong story arcs, allowing the voice actors to properly dig in their proverbial teeth (special mention to Moore, Steinfeld, Vélez, and Henry). If there’s a criticism to be made, it’s that Across the Spider-Verse can get chaotic in both its overarching plotting and beat-by-beat action at times, but when it comes to characterisation for the likes of Miles, Gwen, Peter, Rio, Jefferson, and even The Spot, the filmmakers never let the reins slip.
What helps sell all of this character drama, emotion, and breakneck action is a combo of head-bopping pop tunes underpinned by Daniel Pemberton’s gravitas-laden score, and, of course, the jaw-dropping “Just give them the Oscar now!” animation on display. Action beats are somehow bigger and more inventive than the first film, with more spider-y spectacle on display. It’s the sort of dazzling creative work that if you were to pause this film at any point and make a screenshot, you would have a piece of art you would want to hang on your wall.
Whereas Into the Spider-Verse was set in Miles’ pop-art-inspired rendition of Brooklyn, with half a dozen uniquely styled characters from different universes just crashing his party, here we actually get to explore some of those multiversal locations. Gwen’s Earth-65 universe is a particular standout as a painterly creation of moody colours and jazzy highlights that drips and runs based on the emotional context of the scene. It’s just one of many such distinct vistas we’ll zip to in this truly cinematic multiverse of madness, mixing together numerous art styles and even several live-action bits.
The result of all this increased maturity and elevation of creative filmmaking is that Across the Spider-Verse is essentially the Empire Strikes Back of this trilogy. All in all, this is not just the newly crowned champ of Spider-Man movies, but one of the best comic book movies ever made. To borrow from the many adjectives used to preface Spider-Man’s comic book titles, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is amazing, spectacular, and SUPERIOR! DM
This story was first published on Pfangirl.com
Spiderman: Across the Spider-Verse is available in South Africa in cinemas, including Imax, from 2 June.