Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse
"There are some astonishing sequences that leverage the freedom animation has to move perspective."

Superhero movies about parallel timelines are like buses. You wait ages for one and then two come at once. There are other similarities between The Flash and Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse and the humble omnibus, mostly to do with the colour red and following relatively established routes. We could labour further and suggest that like double-deckers they've got more than one story.

Depending on how you count it, we're now on our fifth second Spider-Man film, as 1978's Spider-Man Strikes Back got a cinematic release outwith the US. There are references to those beyond costume designs, though the live action is differently integrated here than in the Lego movies.

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Spider-Man is a hero, like many, whose antagonists are from parallel circumstances. Batman's rogues gallery is full of lone and vengeful wolves on the edge of sanity, The Flash has enough to postulate a sort of supersymmetric speed-force with opposites of opposites, and the Green Lantern has a rainbow coalition of troublesome torchbearers. Spider-Man has a succession of science accidents. He might have been in the wrong place at the right time to get bitten by a radioactive spider, but a lack health and safety in scientific experimentation is a theme.

Once you've got past those who consumed things they probably shouldn't and those who made their own costumes and those who use guns rather than not and those who gained the proportionate speed and abilities of most of a zoo including the wiring and paving, you eventually run out of reflections and reflections and end up with the original.

If you've not seen the first Spider-Verse then it's recommended, not least because Across... builds even further upon its visual style. There are some astonishing sequences that leverage the freedom animation has to move perspective. Miles carrying a cake up the stairs is more kinetic and thrilling than a sequence similarly unencumbered by reality in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3. There are places where the detailed backgrounds drop away to focus on emotional moments and they compel.

In The Flash I'd argue that there was a ceiling for the quality of its special effects. Some sequences are so dependent upon the likeness of actors past (and passed) and recreations of what might have been that there wasn't any point (and undoubtedly not the time or willingness to spend the money) to polish them further. There's references to that of sorts here.

Ben Reilly (Scarlet Spider, voiced by Andy Samberg) might have been created in 1975 but was vital to the Nineties 'clone saga'. Much of what we associate with Nineties comics imagery wasn't just building upon the ostensibly more adult and literally darker art styles but the habits of comics creators who could deliver pages. There are all sorts of shortcuts available, drawing masks instead of faces, drawing pockets instead of muscles, drawing the eye away from the bottom of the frame so you don't have to draw feet...

Not a short-cut is stop-motion. 14 year old Preston Mutanga animated a shot-for-shot remake of the trailer using his own Lego, and here he's been given access to a lot more bricks to build up a great part of the film. In part that's because it features JK Simmons' J Jonah Jamieson, but it's not alone in that.

Having given us six Spider-Men (Spiders-Man? Spider-Folk?) in the first film, we've got orders of magnitude more. The film is a team effort in several (spider-)senses. Co-directors Kemp Powers, Joaquim Dos Santos and Justin K Thompson ride herd on a feast of styles and Spider-Men, each Spidey-er than the last. Powers directed Soul, wrote One Night In Miami. Dos Santos has done loads of animated TV including for DC. Thompson who also production designed, and did the same for Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs and its sequel. They've all animation experience, and it shows. There are so many moments of beauty that it seems pointless to do anything other than point you to look yourself.

Writing duties are split between Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, among others) and Dave Callaham. Callaham's got a few ensemble pictures to his name, The Expendables franchise and the most recent Mortal Kombat among them. He's worked on big ticket comic book movies too, contributing to Wonder Woman 1984 and Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings. He also wrote the Lord and Miller produced, star-studded, and very silly, America: The Motion Picture.

There are so many comic creators involved in the iterations of Spider-Man that keeping it to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko feels lacking. John Romita Sr recently passed, and his work on Amazing-Spider Man in the 1970s helped establish tones and characters like Mary Jane Watson that are still used today. So too Rhino, Vulture, and George Stacy, all of whom have a role here.

Loads of folk return behind the masks too. Shameik Moore as Miles Morales will be many fans' first (and best) Spider-Man, as Kevin Conroy is for Batman. Hailee Steinfeld's Gwen Stacey returns, and in a series known for its origin stories it's close to being hers (again). Jake Johnson is again Peter B Parker, but there are many other new members of a reformed Spider-Gang. It would take a radioactive spider in Illinois happening across Jake and Elwood to get another film so intent on getting a band back together.

New in are Oscar Isaac's Miguel O'Hara, who is also Spider-Man 2099 though the numbering conventions are different. Daniel Kaluuya's Hobie is a Spider-Punk who never looks the same between shots and that is as much a delight as Kingpin's countenance in the first. Karan Soni's Pavitre Prabhakar is Mumbahattan's friendly neighbourhood Makadee-Aadamee (Hindi)/ Karōḷiyo-Māṇasa (Gujarati). That's a town that towers sufficiently to give Manhattan Mumbai's population density, or so it seems, with an astonishing verticality. They're far from the only new Spider-Men but Prabhakar has something against tautology so I'll say no more.

Spot the difference is hard enough, but the different Spot is the villain. Jason Schwartzman is one of many comic actors within the cast who help this manage levity with defiance of gravity. To go into Spot's origin woudl annoy Prabhakar again, suffice to say he's another set of reflections. Having spent so long talking about part and counter-part it's fair to say that it is not a film that is expected to stand alone. It does, and well, but its resolutions are far from Endgame. Beyond The Spider-Verse is due next year and the insect I most feel for its arrival is ant-icipation.

Reviewed on: 16 Jun 2023
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Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse packshot
Miles Morales catapults across the Multiverse, where he encounters a team of Spider-people charged with protecting its very existence. When the heroes clash on how to handle a new threat, Miles must redefine what it means to be a hero.
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Director: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K Thompson

Writer: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Dave Callaham

Starring: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Jake Johnson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Schwartzman, Issa Rae, Daniel Kaluuya, Mahershala Ali

Year: 2023

Runtime: 140 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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