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MOVIES: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse - Review

Spider-Verse: Across the Spider-Verse is kind of an underwhelming sequel if only in part due to how good the first one is when it's a perfectly fine movie on its own accord. It expands on the world(s) of the first film and pushes our character Miles Morales; one of the freshest comics creations of the modern era, into a multiverse where every world has a Spider-Man. Every world but the one the spider that bit him came from, which ended up in the wrong dimension, as we learn fairly early in the film: Miles was literally not supposed to be Spider-Man. With the stakes about being the character and wearing the mask thrust into the spotlight, the character reunites with Gwen – Hailee Stenfield’s Spider, who’s having issues to deal with of her own: on her world, her dad blames her for the death of Peter and doesn’t know she’s Spider-Woman. When the two are reunited; the news breaks, and the ramifications change everything.

After a series of stop-starts on the plot it takes a while for Across the Spider-Verse to get going; functioning like the structure of a comic as opposed to a typical movie structure. It’s very much a Part One – much like Fast X and presumably, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One is going to be, to the point where Part I is still in the title in some countries. It’s a morbid affair: falling pray to the weakest of the part one tropes, it’s all about set-up for the next one and never feels like a complete movie in on itself. There’s character arcs for Miles here, learning to trust – but the whole arc about Miguel O’Hara isn’t even a surprise as it’s spoiled for you if you watched the trailers in the lead up, robbing any chance of suspense, and even if not – it’s hardly an unpredictable or unprecedented development. The multiverse felt tired as a concept long before Across the Spider-Verse, and if even the follow up to the genre-defying Into the Spider-Verse can’t make it interesting then we might as well take the concept to a farm upstate and move onto something else.

That’s not to say Across the Spider-Verse isn’t a bad movie. It’s fine! 3.5/5 stars, if I was giving it a rating. The artwork is stellar and the fact that this isn’t ashamed to be a comic book adaption speaks volumes – Sony are tackling the medium head on. The stylistic touches like the editor’s notes and the comic issues featuring were something that I loved; even when the abundance of multiverse Spider-Men and Women felt a bit too much even for the abundance of multiverse Spider-Men and Women that this film is about: it felt like one, to coin a phrase, glup shitto too many. What separates it from being irredeemable is that it kind of has to have these characters in order to work: the love of the existence of comic books, the medium as a whole, is unparalleled – visually inventive, and you can see the heart bleed through the screen.

If anything about the multiverse worked it was showing the sheer variety of how inventive comics can be, which kind of further increases a showing of how boring and safe a certain major comic book franchise has been playing it lately. Look at this! *this* is the sense of fun that we could be having. Whilst it’s nowhere near as good the fact that it takes so many cues from The Matrix Reloaded is exactly what I want from my blockbuster sequel: grand, operatic and bombastic in a way that pulls all its punches: the chase sequences, emotional heavy weight moments: the small-scale stuff is where the film’s heart lies and I cared more about Miles’ relationship with his parents than anything with Spider-Man of Earth whatever.

That said, there are some cool creations; the punk-rock Hobie – Spider-UK – who makes this film a livelier presence just by being there, and the return of the always reliable Peter – Miles’ mentor, baby Mayday now in tow. I also like Spider-Gwen’s arc that she has this time out, Hailee Steinfeld putting in some excellent voice-acting work to give the film its core emotional depth – the cold open is ripped straight from her comic, and might as well be a word-for-word retelling. Spider-Gwen’s introduction remains just as compelling as Miles’ original creation: both characters gems and the freshest of new bodies in Marvel’s stable after the legacy characters. I’m glad they’re being given time to shine.

The visuals are eye-popping and as someone who used to write comic reviews they deserve to be treated like the own “art” review segment of a comic review. It’s spectacular: the term “animation is cinema” was coined by Del Toro to be all-inclusive; not a validation of those who just watch children’s animated films but an encouragement of those to watch films like Loving Vincent and My Life as a Courgette - whilst building on the premise of that they don't have to be viewed as purely kids films because they're animated.

Across the Spider-Verse exists as a subsequent split between the two, able to entertain adults as easily as kids: in fact, the adults in my screening were the majority of the audience there. It’s got mass appeal that rivals the best audience friendly movies: completely inventive and completely watchable – even if it’s a touch to friendly to the guys who like to turn up to movies and clap when they spot a character they recognise. The art style soars: I love the unique touches applied to Gwen’s hair, for example – and Hobie’s costume. The different Earths all have their own personality, colourful figures and creations: you can tell when they world-travel and it doesn’t just feel like an exact clone of the Earth that they left behind.

Its handling of the multiverse is accessible to a wider audience, most of whom will be familiar with the concept already by this point. It’s a better take than say, the more mainline Marvel universe, but the fact of the matter is there’s few new ground to be covered here. It just feels tiresome as Marvel’s mainline multiverse saga is barely getting started: not a good sign. This isn’t Sony’s fault, per say, but the fact of the matter is there’s just sometimes a thing as too much, and Across the Spider-Verse lacks the freshness and the originality of the first Spider-Verse as a result. The art style is great yes but take away that and you get a standard superhero crossover event complete with the ending cliff-hanger that tells you to come back for the next one.

I love how Across the Spider-Verse doesn’t rush through each scene and instead takes its time with it to let the moments sing. They’re inventive, powerful and the heart in each moment really gives the film the emotional depth that it needs to land its more effective moments. The character arcs are where the film is at its best; giving rise to Brooklyn and a powerful identity that the city has to offer is captured on screen from the off: this is a city that feels like a character even in a universe where it’s one of many. Shameik Moore, Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Laren Velez’ voice acting skills show the family connection and devotion that these characters have to Brooklyn; and each other – and without it Across the Spider-Verse wouldn’t work as quite frankly, it loses me when we go into all this multiverse nonsense almost completely - the concept of canon events are nonsense. That said the stakes are high for Oscar Isaac's Miguel O'Hara and the movie makes a good job at fleshing out his character as a vampire Spider-leader.

It's worth mentioning: this is a movie that confirms Sony really have no business in giving up the Spider-Man rights to Marvel anytime soon. People have been wanting the rights to Spider-Man to go back from Sony to Marvel for years, but based off recent quality – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 aside; you’d be hard pushed to argue a reason to why they should. Even Across the Spider-Verse – by no means a masterpiece – is a movie that shows what can happen when the creators believe in their project; it feels like what would happen when three different directors, Joaquim Dos Santos, Justin K. Thompson and Kemp Powers, are fully in sync on a project and working as a team rather than competing with each others’ visions with a guiding hand from Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, two of the most talented blockbuster writers of the current generation.


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