Spider-Man/Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animations’  SPIDER-MAN™: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE.
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ review: A dazzling reminder of what superhero movies can be

‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ review: A dazzling reminder of what superhero movies can be

Spider-Man/Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animations’  SPIDER-MAN™: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE.

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is awash with stories: its first five minutes or so, an apparent prologue, is a dynamic tragedy in miniature, and that’s only the first five minutes — all built around an idea that one of its characters pitches during an equally informative voice-over: “They’re going to do things differently.” That’s exactly what the film’s predecessor, the rightfully Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” did four years ago, picking up on a well-worn concept (a Spider-Man origin story? Still?) and transforming it into a real masterpiece built on a wealth of stories, new and old, told with legitimate energy and innovation. And that’s what Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson attempt to replicate in their sequel, a goal that pays off enormously.

Set one year after “Into the Spider-Verse,” “Across the Spider-Verse” makes a pit stop with Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) before checking in with our hero Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) and further forge the duo’s special bond as Spider-Woman and Spider-Man, respectively. Since we last left her, Gwen’s universe has gotten even more complicated — girl, hasn’t it? —but other issues besides her web-based issues prevented her from jumping across the multiverse to see Miles in hers. According to that full prologue, Gwen soon finds herself fighting alongside Miguel O’Hara (a vampire ninja Spider-Man, voiced by Oscar Isaac) and Jessica Drew (a pregnant, motorcycle-riding Spider-Woman, voiced by Issa Rae), coming to his universe to essentially clean up some collateral damage that threatens the multiverse of all the wild stuff that happened in the first film. Eventually, the villainous duo get her into their crime-fighting fold when they realize how dangerous the world has become for the older Spider-Gwen.

They’re part of the Spider-Society, and while we won’t get a real sense of the dazzling extent of that particular group — all Spider-People, all the time — until the film’s third act, it’s well worth the wait. (But we won’t even wait to say more in the context of this review, because it’s just too good. It would be impossible to name even a fraction of the different Spideys that appear in the film in general and the Society in particular after just one viewing – every frame that involving the various webheads is full of jokes, gags, entertainment and information – but suffice it to say that if there’s a particular flavor of Spider-Man you’re looking for here, you’re probably going to get it/her/them.LEGO Spider-Man! Spider-Man as a car. Spider-cat! Spider-Cowboy! Spider-uhhh-T.Rex! Spider-Everyone, OK? Now let’s get back to that.)

Spider-Man (Shameik Moore) and Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) in SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE from Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation.
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”Sony Pictures Animation

In Miles’ world, things are mostly going well. He’s a little tense from the whole being-Spider-Man and totally normal teenager too, but what He has not Did Spidey hold his own throughout this iconic story? When a wacky new villain shows up (his name is Spot, he’s voiced by Jason Schwartzman, he’s perfect), Miles takes this particular “villain of the week” in stride. That’s about the worst thing he could do to Spot, who is filled with ineffectual rage, an insatiable hunger to pump his own powers, and a burning desire to punish Miles.

“I’m your nemesis!” Spot yells at Miles, who spends most of their first battle texting his parents. That means it’s too late when he realizes that Spot actually AND someone to be afraid of.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” Sony images

The multiverse is already in a tenuous state, and Spot’s growing ability to create his own portals, hopping and leaping from world to world on a whim, is about to crack it further. And this is only part of this story, written by producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (in addition to the screenwriter of “Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings” David Callaham) and happy to grow and mature together with Miles.

“Into the Spider-Verse” was wily and funny, complicated and thrilling, unique and daring, and its sequel only grows and expands on these goals. If the first movie showed what superhero movies I could well, “Across the Spider-Verse” goes even further: it shows what they Should To be. In a genre built on the literally super and special, these films aren’t afraid to stand out and do something truly different, something that pushes the envelope, to showcase the genuine range available for this subset of stories and feel damn good about the process (and look , dare we say, even better).

Much of that is surely down to their distinct animation style, which in its second iteration looks even more jaw-dropping, more tactile, more True in its distinct unreality, because all that jaw-dropping animation is really in service of the story and its emotions. Colors and shadows, a glance and the flex of a hand, comic-style captions and piquant digressions, all exist to advance the story, not to distract it. The action sequences unfold with their own kinetic logic but remain fully cohesive (something the vast majority of our current crop of live hits can’t claim) and engaging to the point that audiences may forget to breathe during them.

Spider-Man/Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) in SPIDER-MAN™: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE from Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animations.
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”Sony Pictures Animation

And Dos Santos, Kemp, Thompson and their mighty band of animators don’t skimp on anything, each action-packed sequence – from a big shot that sees Miles and Gwen reunite as they ride across town, to a last-act chase involving a dizzying amount of players and goes on for twice as long as most movies would dare – it’s still thrilling from top to bottom. It’s a mind-blowing and satisfying visual feast to boot. Why can’t all blockbuster movies even attempt half of what “Across the Spider-Verse” so lovingly and so cleverly puts into all of its scenes?

When Gwen finally returns to Miles’ world, she’s forced to hide nearly all of her motivations from her Spider-BFF, who mostly just wants to hang out with her (and, later, her delightfully sarcastic mentor, Peter B. Parker, voiced by Jake Johnson) and fails to see how much his world (his universe) hangs in the balance. Miles has always been exceptional to the point of being the exception, and while he may believe that being part of something greater, perhaps in the form of the Spider-Society, is the ticket, he’s about to learn that that’s simply not the case. As high-flying and heart-pounding as Miles’ next chapter is, it also deftly moves toward a series of massive reveals: the kind that feel deserved, the kind that feel personal and inevitable, a far cry from what-if-the-l ‘whole-universe-will-be-destroyed’ boredom and sameness that so plague this genre – that speak to the signature pleasures of this franchise.

Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) and his daughter Mayday in SPIDER-MAN™: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE from Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animations.
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”Sony Pictures Animation

What is Miles really up against? Nothing less than – stop for this part to really sink in – the canon itself. No, really, the thing that Miguel O’Hara and Jess Davies and Gwen and Peter B. Parker and the rest of Spider-Society are tasked with holding together is the fee. For comic book fans, the implications are clear: the canon is all those accepted stories, classic and traditional, the backbone of the superhero universe, the stuff you don’t want to screw up or go against or break altogether. Miles Morales, from his own creation in both comics and on the big screen, is a new twist on the canon. A Spider-Man who isn’t Peter Parker? Who’s from Brooklyn? Who is mixed race? If you’re still clutching your pearls on creating these kinds of characters or bombing a movie review because it dared to pick a person of color or a different gender than you wanted or screaming about this sort of zany ideology on social media or Anything it’s what you do with your precious time on Earth, “Across the Spider-Verse” has one hell of a message for you. Break the canon? You must do it.

This isn’t something Miguel and company (with a few notable exceptions, including the anarchic Brit Spider-Punk voiced by Daniel Kaluuya) are ready to hear, if only because they’ve become convinced of the power of the Spider-Man mythology to keep literally the multiverse together. Miles, at first purely by accident and then totally by force of will, can’t bear to live at the same pace as the rest of his siblings, and this puts him on an incredible crash course with just about anyone and everything. Miles has always broken the mold, and once he see the mold itself, he has to redo it, in his own way.

Spider-Man (Shamiek Moore) in SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE from Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation.
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”Sony Pictures Animation

And if all of this sounds like a huge amount to fit into a single film, there’s a problem. In a somewhat disappointing twist, “Across the Spider-Verse” is not Truly a single film, is instead half of a planned two-film sequel. The decision to split the sequel into two films seems to have been lost on many fans. Lord and Miller announced the two-part sequel, complete with title additions ‘Part One’ and ‘Part Two’, in December 2021. As of April 2022, the two films have been retitled ‘Across the Spider-Verse’ and ‘Beyond the Spider-Verse”, a move that seems to have caused most of the confusion. Even in this critic’s well-attended screening, the ending reveals what this story is Very much unfinished was met with nodded heads.

That’s a big deal: simply having too much good stuff to fit into one movie, leaving audiences on their toes as to when they can see this particular superhero story actually come to a close (it’s March 29, 2024, by the way). It’s also the only thing about “Into the Spider-Verse” that feels familiar, a choice that puts it on the “Fast X” or “Harry Potter” or “The Hunger Games” course, with one exception: This ending is sure to be worth the wait.

Grade: A-

Sony Pictures Animation releases “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” in theaters on Friday, June 2.

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