What is the Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse?
After reuniting with Gwen Stacy, Brooklyn’s full-time, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is catapulted across the Multiverse, where he encounters a team of Spider-People charged with protecting its very existence. However, when the heroes clash on how to handle a new threat, Miles finds himself pitted against the other Spiders. He must soon redefine what it means to be a hero so he can save the people he loves most.
SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE is the sequel to SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, by far the most successful of the Sony produced SPIDER-MEN movies after the original Toby Maguire movies. At least artistically. It was a beautiful surreal animated explosion of colors, imagery, and ideas that took full advantage of its medium. So, I was eager to see what the sequel would be like. I even broke my “no theaters” rule that I’ve had for a couple of years. The only other exception being the Dungeons and Dragons film.
The premise, for those who are more interested in more than just the metatext: Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) is not doing great when her attempts to tell her father about being Spiderwoman/Ghost Spider go horrifically wrong. She is promptly recruited by Jessica Drew AKA Spiderwoman (Issa Rae) and Miguel O’Hara AKA Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaacs) to become part of a cosmic group of Spider-People protecting the multiverse.
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), meanwhile, is struggling with his new life as Spider-Man. Much of the typical stuff for Spider-Man affect him like being unable to manage his civilian life with his superhero identity. A chance encounter with what should have been a minor supervillain, The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), ends up becoming much more difficult as said baddie is a lot more emotionally fragile than most Spider-Man foes. Which is saying something.
Gwen finally reunites with Miles as hinted by the teaser in the previous movie and reveals that there’s an entire multiverse out there with people just like them. Unfortunately, the Spider Society turns out to have a dark side and Miles is justifiably horrified. Lots of references to the vast canon of Spider-Man is made and I enjoyed all of the in-jokes, even the ones I didn’t get.
Without getting into spoilers, I love this movie because it’s another of those “meta plot” movies where the movie can be read as a literal plot in its own right and the next is of the entirety of a writer’s relationship with a canonical character:
1. Spiderman must look this way
2. Spiderman must have these events in his life
3. Spiderman can never really grow or change.
This movie is all about trashing those expectations and the villain being about the belief “This is how it HAS to go because it is CANON.” It shows what kind of insane and crazy universe that could exist if fans weren’t so obsessed with Spider-Man wasn’t just a specific way. The characters, the art, and the plotting are all tremendously done.
I think the best part of the film is the fact that it really does challenge who Spider-Man is and who he is for, with the movie directly saying, “Everybody. Spider-Man is for everybody.” I also appreciate the treatment of Spider-Punk by the movie as it’s rare we get anyone who could actually be called an anarchist in the film.
Villain-wise, I have to give credit to Jason Schwartzman as the Spot, who manages to do right what was done wrong with Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. A nerdy schlub like Peter who proceeds to break bad as opposed to becoming a good guy. He’s humorous, pathetic, and sympathetic until he realizes the full extent of his powers. That’s when the character becomes genuinely dangerous and I hope this influences the comic Spot. Really, of all the Spider-Man villains to adapt, I thought he would be one of the last.
The real villain, though, is the idea of Spider-Man having to be defined solely by the tragedies of his life. One of the elements in the comic is that Peter self-sabotages himself and can’t allow himself to enjoy the success he’s capable of because he doesn’t believe he deserves to be happy after Uncle Ben. The idea these thousands of Peters might buy-into the idea that it was all for a greater good is believable to me but I suspect more of them would not be willing to go along with the idea it was all for a greater good.
If I have any complaints about the movie, it’s the fact that it is a little bloated at 2:30 hours when it could very easily be trimmed down considerably. There’s a lot of repetition about Miles’ issues in school and his life that could be cut without much issue. I also feel like retreading the “should I tell my parents my secret identity” plot was worn-out in the Sixties. I would have probably ended the movie about ten to fifteen minutes earlier and started the next film with what they did here. The previous movie just feels far more efficiently paced.
The fight scenes are incredibly imaginative and take full advantage of the medium to do things you could not normally do in live action. The color palette of the film is really one of its strongest strengths as the vivid colors and graffiti-like atmosphere plus varying art styles creates a unique visual experience (well for except for the first movie). One amazing scene has Spider-Gwen fight a black and white Vulture based on Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketches.
Seriously, see this movie.