Miles Morales is back and swinging through Australian cinemas in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. The second instalment of Sony Pictures Spider-Verse saga sees Miles, voiced by Shameik Moore, reunite with Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld). He is propelled across the Multiverse and encounters the Spider Society, a team of Spider-People, tasked with guarding the Multiverse’s very existence. Things go awry when villain Spot (Jason Schwartzman) arrives. Miles is conflicted with the other Spiders and sets out alone to save those he loves.
Screenwriters Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and David Callaham pick up the narrative approximately one year after Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018). While it is not strictly necessary to have seen the first film before the second, you would be a fool not to. Having won an Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, and Critic’s Choice Award for Best Animated Feature Film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is exceptional.
It lays the foundation, narratively and artistically, for the second film. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse builds on that groundwork…and blows it out of the stratosphere.
To say this film is good is a gross understatement. It is extraordinary. It is remarkable. It is outstanding. It is an injection of freshness and innovation the Marvel Universe needs for sustainability.
Lord, Miller, and Callaham’s script fuses the traditional and the contemporary. Themes include family and the inevitability of loss as a means of growth. Mile’s parents, Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry) and Rio (Luna Lauren Velez), are again integral characters, as is Gwen’s dad, George (Shea Whigham). How their importance in the overall narrative is captured via the exposure of cannon events is ingenious. Once uncovered, the revelation is somewhat of an ‘aha’ moment.
The introduction of new Spider characters adds a fun element to the story. Jessica Drew (Issa Rae), the Spider-Woman of Earth-404, Pavitr Prabhakar/ Spider-Man India (Karan Soni) from Mumbattan, Earth-50101, and Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya) are all welcome additions. Peter B Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Man of Earth-616 and a character in the original film, returns as the comic relief. His inclusion is the quintessential juxtaposition to Miguel O’Hara/ Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), the leader of the Spider Society.
Where Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse excels is with its animation. Visually, this film is spectacular. It earnestly uses several animation styles to reflect the varying Earths and plot points. Gwen’s home, Earth-65, was designed to mimic watercolour paintings from the Impressionist Era. The palette evolves as Gwen’s emotions do. Conversely, Nueva York, the futuristic New York City in Miguel’s Earth-928, is established from the neo-futurist illustrations of Syd Mead.
Spider-Punk is the most visually complex character in the film. He and his Earth-138 are informed by the punk movement. The animation combines hand-cut, drawn, glued together, and photocopied imagery appropriated from magazines and the like. It has a greyed-out quality representative of the toner in a photocopier running out.
It is a risk to adopt such a haphazard approach. Nevertheless, the gamble pays off as it works. The transitions between animation styles are seamless and produce a breathtaking final product that can be itself considered a work of art.
It is difficult to find fault with this film. It would be splitting hairs to say it is too long. At two hours and sixteen minutes, there were times interest waned slightly. Some may disagree, including the fourteen-year-old sitting beside me, who was engaged the entire time. Having said that, how the narrative unfolds justifies the length. When the final jaw-dropping scene occurs, it all makes sense.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the must-see film of 2023. Fans of the franchise and Marvel Universe will be in awe at the spectacle. General film goers will be too. Expect it to win a slew of awards next awards season because it is highly deserved.
Movie Review By Anita Kertes