14 Jun 2023

Review: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

From At The Movies, 7:08 pm on 14 June 2023

Some 21 years ago, Sam Raimi invented the 21st century superhero movie with Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire.

I recall enjoying it at the time – for the most part – but feeling very disconcerted about the way the aerial scenes of Spidey web-slinging himself around Manhattan looked.

I was old fashioned enough, even then, to think that the camera – even if there’s no such things as a camera in a digitally created image like that – that the camera should be in a position that is vaguely physically plausible.

Frame from the animated superhero film Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

Photo: Sony Pictures

In Raimi’s Spider-Man, the camera swooped around the skies as much as Spidey himself, beautiful arcs through the spaces between buildings or across elevated train tracks, but I struggled with the lack of an anchor point – a point of view. I felt a little bit motion sick, to be honest, especially if I was close to the screen.

I couldn’t have imagined how 21 years on, the world would have changed.

Compared with Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Raimi’s version feels as a sedate as the Strauss Waltz sequence in 2001.

I don’t know if I’d call it the best movie of the year, but I would definitely describe it as the ‘most’ movie of the year. There’s so much going on in every frame and in every bit of overlapping wisecracking dialogue.

It’s fun but exhausting.

Five years ago, in Into the Spider-Verse, we were introduced to Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), bitten by a radioactive spider and given strange powers – great power and great responsibility and all that.

By the end of that film, Miles and the audience were aware of the infinite number of universes and the infinite number of pitfalls they present but the machine that allowed for travel between them had been destroyed and, now, Miles’ only problem is keeping his superhero status secret from his doting parents.

In the new film, Across the Spider-Verse, we open on a different version of Spider-Man, known in the comics as Spider-Gwen (with the voice of Hailee Steinfield).

Gwen Stacy – Peter Parker’s girlfriend in most of the stories – has been bitten by her own radioactive spider and been given all the powers.

Wracked with guilt after failing to save the mortal Peter Parker in her universe – and struggling with that annoying inability to tell her father the truth of her identity – she takes up an offer to leave her universe and join the universe cops, all versions of Spider-Man dedicated to preserving the fabric of the multiverse.

But, being as youthfully impetuous as almost all the other Spideys, she stops off to meet Miles in his universe and set the wheels of plot in motion.

Because all the elements come at you at such a rate of knots, it isn’t always easy to put all the pieces of plot together to make a coherent whole. In fact, many of the most important bits of information arrive near the end of this film so that they can be used to set up the final film in the trilogy, Beyond the Spider-Verse which we shouldn’t have to wait another five years for.

I really would need Wikipedia if I had to wait that long.

The strongest story thread – even though I didn’t think so at the time – is the story of Miles’ coming out as a fifteen-year-old Spider-Man to his loving parents (Luna Lauren Velez and Brian Tyree Henry).

If he could simply own up to all that has happened and trust their understanding there wouldn’t be much of a film left behind.

But he can’t and doesn’t, and the resulting pickle he finds himself in requires the intervention of many exquisitely designed and animated spider-men, the boundaries of commercial animation to be pushed in directions that we have never seen before and more visual and auditory gags per minute than a Hollywood movie has ever contained.

Across the Spider-Verse suffers from a villain – The Spot voiced by Wes Anderson regular Jason Schwartzman – who is unmemorable apart from his ability to create the holes between universes required for the plot, and a grumpy antagonist (played by Oscar Isaac) whose backstory we won’t learn until the next film.

The kids I was watching with didn’t seem too bothered and if I watch it again, I’ll make sure to just go along for the ride next time rather than worrying about what the dickens is going on.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is rated PG for violence & coarse language and it is playing all over the motu - now.

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