Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)

Genre: Superhero Running Time: 2 hrs. 20 min.

Release Date: June 2nd, 2023 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson Actors: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac, Brian Tyree Henry, Issa Rae, Daniel Kaluuya, Jason Schwartzman, Karan Soni

 


 

A

fter successfully foiling Kingpin’s plot to open alternate dimensions with a particle accelerator, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) attempt to return to their respective universes and lead their typical – though not-so-normal – lives as teenage superheroes. The young girl struggles balancing masked crimefighting with her police officer father’s quest to put Spider-Woman behind bars, while the young man mismanages his time combating middling villains and planning for out-of-state college. When Gwen encounters Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), a Spider-Man in charge of an elite group of dimension-hopping peacekeepers, she’s quick to join the likes of Jessica Drew (Issa Rae), Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya), and Pavitr Prabhakar (Karan Soni). During a mission to stop a teleporting madman (dotted with black splotches like a cow or Dalmatian), she finds herself on Miles’ Earth – and, against the orders of her superiors, can’t stop from reconnecting with her friend. But their reunion is overshadowed by the discovery of The Spot’s (Jason Schwartzman) true intentions: a deadly scheme that will force both Miles and Gwen to question what – and who – they are fighting for.

“Let’s do this differently this time …” The frenetic animation style, while once incredibly unique, now feels familiar, even if it has changed modestly to become even more hectic (the three-dimensional quality from before has become much rougher, with border-breaking edge-lines looking like sketches, and shading that resembles vintage comic book paper). With various featured universes, the stylization continues to shift, almost as if glitching continuously (like the opening credits), hinting at the unstable malfunctioning of cross-multi-verse inhabitants. It’s all so much more busy and chaotic, proving to be less visually pleasing in the process, even when brief, individual moments showcase exceptional animation techniques and ideas.

Once again, the action sequences are the big draw, using that topsy-turvy arrangement of extreme athleticism and faster-than-lightning reflexes to demonstrate Spider-Man and his gang’s ability to outmaneuver every potentially fatal disaster. The Spider-people are essentially invincible, which certainly doesn’t help during scenes in which they’re intended to appear vulnerable; as with every Marvel (and superhero) property before it, when anything is possible (thanks to the sci-fi nature of the premise) and protagonists routinely engage in superhuman activities, nothing seems substantial. Every time Miles is in danger, there’s no real sense of urgency. Amplifying that notion is the nonsensical skepticism by nearly all of the ordinary human personas. Their everyday experiences involve alien creatures from other dimensions or mind-boggling tech run amok; why would they be alarmed by an armadillo monster or some random, flying supervillain turning up to demolish a building or railway (and why is none of that tech used to better arm the authorities)?

Also as expected, the first film didn’t resolve much; the Spider-Verse is still entirely accessible and manipulatable. Problematically, however, this sequel introduces “canon events,” which are excessively inane devices used to suggest that, despite the infinite variations of Spider-entities and timelines, every one of them must undergo specific tragedies. Also, every timeline has a Spider-Man, which makes the Spider-Verse a specifically contained grouping of realms seemingly independent of other superhero worlds (or ones in which all coincidences and circumstances don’t align to produce the incredibly precise Spider-character). It’s a bizarre and unconvincing method of saying that the Spider-Verse is something of a preset, unalterable, single path, regardless of whether that predetermined story is undertaken by a Spider-humanoid or a Spider-animal.

Nevertheless, since the previous film established the major roles, this follow-up gets to spend more time fleshing out relationships and choreographing city-leveling showdowns (some of which are awe-inspiring, while others are mostly a blur of colors and sounds). The notes on family and parenting are repetitive and unmoving, again due to the presence of constant superhero shenanigans (and the fact that humor, though effective by itself, is used unendingly to thwart the sincerity of fights), but Miles and Gwen’s budding romance is engaging and genuine, as it focuses on two people who can’t possibly fit in with their ordinary surroundings. And the action shots undoubtedly mimic a comic book come to life, not just with the panels and word bubbles that flash onscreen, but with the posing, sketch-like depictions, voiceover narration, and boundary-obliterating scene transitions.

“It’s what happens when you break the canon.” A few new Spider-variations are enjoyable, exhibiting the creativity of unrestricted hero variants (one of the Spider-Man types, featuring in just a single scene, is a T-rex); Miles is still a fitting lead with a perspective infrequently examined in big-budget ventures; and the soundtrack is bold and thunderous. But, taking a cue from “Avengers: Infinity War,” this sequel isn’t even close to being a complete story, overstaying its welcome at a whopping 140 minutes and abruptly stopping with a “to be continued” intertitle. While consistently entertaining, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is basically the “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” equivalent in the “Spider-Verse” series – an action-drenched bridge to lead to an actual conclusion.

– The Massie Twins

  • 7/10