‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ – Our Friendly Neighborhood Web Slinger Thrills Us Yet Again
Just when I find myself getting increasingly weary of superhero/comic book movies, along comes another “Spider-Man’ installment. This friendly neighborhood web-slinger has succeeded in maintaining a high batting average on the silver screen, and this continues to be the case with “Spider-Man: Across the Spider Verse” which has as much heart, soul and endless creativity as do the best entries in this franchise. I figured this would be the case as the opening credits proved to be a kaleidoscope of crazy colors and images much like the ones Gaspar Noe used in the opening credits of “Enter the Void.” And when a certain character says, “Let’s do things differently this time,” you better believe many will.
We catch up with Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) who is ever so busy with his crime-fighting as his universe’s Spider-Man to where his parents keep wondering where he is most of the time. Never on time for his school counseling appointment or for the party celebrating his father’s promotion to police captain, he is still unable to tell mom and dad he really is Spider-Man as the truth of his alter-ego may put them in grave danger.
In addition, we meet up with Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld) who is going through some serious issues in her own universe. A tragedy has devastated her, leaving her antisocial among her peers and her dad believing Spider-Woman committed murder to where J. Jonah Jameson is calling for her head on a stick. Even if Gwen does have the time to give her dad a big hug, there is still a distance between them which needs to be dealt with.
Eventually, Gwen reunites with Miles in his world, and it proves to be one of the most heartfelt moments as these two can relate to one another in ways they cannot with anyone and everyone else. But their reunion coincides with the arrival of Dr. Jonathan Ohnn, a former scientist who has since been transformed into the supervillain known as The Spot. Voiced by Jonathan Schwartzman, he starts off as a comedic character who pursues a life of crime as his transformation cannot allow to pursue a regular job. Granted, putting down on your resume that your body is covered with interdimensional portals which allow you travel through space and time may not get you that first interview. But as this film goes on, we come to see The Spot will prove to be one of Spider-Man’s most dangerous foes as his power grows and grows and grows.
Like any “Spider-Man” motion picture, “Across the Spider-Verse” deals with those heavy themes of tragedy and responsibility. As with its predecessor, this installment reminds of the loses Spider-Man and the other Spider-Men in the multiverse have suffered and of responsibilities they are forced to live up to where it is inevitable that any and every web-slinger is destined to suffer an unavoidable tragedy. But when the possibility of this is explained to Miles Morales, he won’t accept any such fate for himself or those he loves, and this leads him on a spectacular mission which will have the audience wondering if free will can prevail over predestination, an argument which never gets old.
“Across the Spider-Verse” plays on our knowledge of Peter Parker and of what he has experienced in the live action films, and we know of the sacrifices and challenges Peter has had to endure while fighting crime through his secret identity. While this animated film could have simply trodden over familiar ground, it instead deals with variations on this character both literally and figuratively speaking. As you can expect, there will be an endless number of Spider-Man incarnations on display, and it all gets to where you have to wonder not who could be Spider-Man, but who couldn’t be him (or her, or they, or them, or it).
The animation here is incredible, and I swear there were moments where, if you look in the background, it seemed like live-action elements were added in to where it seems seamless. The visuals are also given a depth which shows in scenes with Miles and Gwen as they stand on top of tall buildings and structures overlooking the crazy city they live in. Seriously, I almost got a case of vertigo looking at these heights, and I never an animated movie to make me feel this way.
As for the action sequences, they are nothing short of spectacular and exciting as Miles is forced to fight off hundreds, maybe even thousands of Spider-Men while determined to make certain changes the multiverse will not easily allow. All of this is aided by the terrific and propulsive music score by Daniel Pemberton.
The entire voice cast is fantastic. Shameik Moore continues to do great work as Miles Morales, but the real standout for me was Hailee Steinfeld who continues to remind us what a wonderful talent she has proven to be following her star-making performance in “True Grit.” As Gwen Stacy, she gives the character’s animated form a true emotional depth which makes her actions and decisions all the more enthralling to take in. Schwartzman succeeds in taking The Spot from being a joke of a burglar to a infinitely dangerous villain who is determined to make Spider-Man suffer to his last breath. It is great fun to have Jake Johnson back as Peter B. Parker as his Spider-Man is now a dad and still a gas to be around. Issa Rae makes her Spider-Woman of Jessica Drew a rough and tough version of the web-slinger whose dedication to her job leaves no room for doubt or uncertainty. And when it comes to Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez, they have wonderful chemistry and many warm and funny scenes together as Miles’ parents, Jefferson and Rio.
Are there any problems with “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse?” Well, I didn’t catch all the dialogue being uttered to where I cannot wait for the 4K/Blu-ray release so I can rewatch the film with closed captions. Even with a running time of 140 minutes, I would have liked for things to slow down a bit so that I could take in more of the action and story. While movies these days tend to be longer than they should be, this one could have been even longer if it wanted to.
Also, there are scenes where we see Miles and Gwen standing upside down on very tall buildings. Now I know Spider-Man has special webs on their hands and feet which allows them to climb buildings, but these two are wearing shoes which makes their ability to hang out upside down rather impossible. I mean, can their webbings penetrate the soles of their designer shoes? Besides, Miles has a pair of Air Jordans, and those shoes are never cheaply made.
There is a lot more I would love to tell you about “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” but I am not about to spoil any of its surprises. Besides, there are so many easter eggs to take in to where a second viewing is completely mandatory. Spider-Man has always been one of my very favorite comic book characters this side of Batman, and I am happy to say his adventures are still thrilling even as comic-book movies are starting suffer a bit. When it comes to Miles Morales and his alter-ego, however, there is no stopping him. It makes me very excited for what will come next, and there is still more to look forward to in the next year.
* * * ½ out of * * * *