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Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Platform(s): Movie
Genre: Action
Publisher: Sony
Release Date: June 2, 2023


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Movie Review - 'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse'

by Adam Pavlacka on June 2, 2023 @ 10:12 a.m. PDT

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.

"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" was a surprise hit when it debuted in 2018. The animated film introduced the movie-going masses to Miles Morales and a number of different Spider-Men (and women). It also had a defining visual style that was partially traditional animation, partially CG, and wholly comic inspired.

For many (including myself), "Into the Spider-Verse" is easily the best of any of the Spider-Man movies. As a result, "Across the Spider-Verse" had a high bar to meet. While it surpasses the original in many technical aspects, it doesn't quite hit as high when it comes to the story driving all of the action.

"Across the Spider-Verse" starts out strong, catching us up on both Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) and Miles (Shameik Moore). While this is still his story, Gwen plays a much bigger role this time around. The two play off each other well. Even though Miles has grown into the Spider-Man role, he feels alone, not having any way to contact Gwen or the others from since their first adventure. Instead, he's trying to balance being a hero, being a student, and the heavy expectations of his parents.

Parental expectations also weigh heavily on Gwen and serve as a motivation for her throughout the second adventure. It's a topic of bonding for the two, as they test their own boundaries of trust with each other and the multitude of other Spider-Men that they encounter.

Speaking of other Spider-Men, while Oscar Isaac does a fantastic job as Miguel O'Hara (Spider-Man 2099 and the leader of the dimension-hopping Spider crew), the real stand-out was Daniel Kaluuya as Spider-Punk. In a movie that tries to dissect the morality of individual decisions vs. compliance with authority, Kaluuya's Cockney-accented "fight the power" hero is spot-on. He's also an absolute scene-stealer. The Spider-Punk character is relatively new to the comics world, but Kaluuya's take has already become the definitive version.

Exploring the ideas of right and wrong is nothing new to Spider-Man. Taken as individual acts, each sequence is well done and delivers the message. Where the movie falters is in the pacing. In an attempt to include as much as possible (including some amazing cameos), some of the story beats are stretched out farther than they should be. The net result is a cliffhanger ending that feels forced (and unneeded).

The concept of a cliffhanger isn't a bad thing in a vacuum, but unless a movie is advertised as a "Part 1," you expect to have a basic sense of resolution so the story segment is complete. A perfect example is "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back." The bad guys win in that movie. Not every plot thread is wrapped up, but the story itself still had a conclusion and it can stand alone. That's not the case with "Across the Spider-Verse." It just cuts to black with a to "be continued."

Visually, "Across the Spider-Verse" takes what we saw in "Into the Spider-Verse" and dials it up to 11. The contrasting styles of the different characters are much more distinct, with world design elements feeling more like a core part of the story as opposed to cool-looking eye candy. A great example of this is in the intro sequence, where Gwen's watercolor-styled world is invaded by a steam punk Vulture. The fight is impressive, but it's the before and after where the world art shines, as elements shift in color based on the mood of the characters.

That visual splendor was explored further in the Indian city of Mumbattan, where a full act takes place. A cross between Mumbai and Manhattan, it is the home dimension of Pavitr Prabhakar, the Indian Spider-Man who teams up with Gwen, Miles, and Spider-Punk. None of the characters ever look out of place, but all have their own individual animation style to supplement their personality.

Of course, the bit that everyone in the theater was waiting for was the tour through the Spider-Forces base and the hundreds of Spider-variations on-screen. This futuristic environment wasn't as rich as the others, which meant more time to (hopefully) focus on all the little Spider-details that were quickly flashing by on the screen. It's safe to say that no one is going to catch everything on a first viewing. This is a movie that is begging for a Blue-ray release, so fans can pause and inspect it all.

"Across the Spider-Verse" is an impressive, if incomplete, adventure that builds on "Into the Spider-Verse" but doesn't surpass it. We'll have to wait and see if "Beyond the Spider-Verse" can accomplish that feat next year.

Score: 8.0/10

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is rated PG and has a running time of 2 hours and 16 minutes. It is showing in standard theaters and in IMAX.

Editor's Note: There is no after-credits stinger on this one.

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