Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Review – Transcends Genre to Be One of the Most Enjoyable and Engrossing Releases of the Year

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is not only an antidote to superhero fatigue it is genuinely one of the most beautifully rendered animated features in years and possibly the best tent-pole release of 2023. Although it ends on a cliff-hanger, the story is written with distinct care and brings Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) to the status of co-lead with Miles Morales (Shameik Moore). The film concentrates on family, sacrifice, and consequences with Miles and Gwen having to come to terms with what being a Spider-Person means for them as people, not just heroes.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse begins with Gwen banging a drum in pain and anger. Back on her world she is alone and feeling the pressure of being hunted by her father, Captain George Stacy (Shea Whigham) for the tragic death of her best friend Peter Parker. Eventually Gwen has to show her father that she is Spider-Woman, and he chooses to arrest her, leaving her friendless and without a parent. Her world is animated in a painterly style, soft watercolours that bleed in a spread in a melancholy fashion. Soon she is brought into a new world, one run by Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac) who has gathered Spider-Folk from across the multiverse to protect the Web of Life and Destiny from anomalies. One such anomaly is Miles Morales himself.

Back on Miles’ earth the fifteen-year-old is juggling his hero duties with his school and home life. He’s become a better Spider-Man but as much as he tries otherwise, he’s a worse son. The film gives time to developing his relationship with soon to be promoted to Captain Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) and his mother Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Vélez). Fighting off the “villain of the week” The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) who was created by Miles’ actions in the previous film sees him meeting a dimension hopping nemesis who has garnered the attention of Miguel O’Hara and his elite Spider team which includes Spider-Woman Jessica Drew (Issa Rae), Spider-Punk Hobie Brown (Daniel Kaluuya), and Gwen.

It isn’t long until Miles is hitching a ride across the Spider-Verse where he meets new faces such as Pavitr Prabhakar/Spider-Man India (Karan Soni), Spider-Byte (Amandla Stenberg) and a familiar person from his past, Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) who is carrying his baby Mayday with him to fight crime, the baby that he was convinced by his time with Miles to finally have with MJ.

The dramatic tension comes from the fact that Miles was never meant to be a Spider-Man, the radioactive spider that bit him was from world 44 and brought to his earth by Kingpin’s machine. Although Miles has faced loss, he was never given his defining moment – the sacrifice that makes all Spider-Folk. His world was supposed to have a Peter Parker who lived. Miguel O’Hara explains that there are fixed points that keep the multiverse from imploding and Miles by dent of his existence, and by wanting to be able to save people from so-called pre-determined fates is an unwanted cog in the multiversal wheel.

Directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson and writers Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and David Callaham expand on the already frenetic and exquisite Spider-Verse. The animation is as mind-blowing as the audience comes to expect. Hobie Brown is made up of zine styled photocopies befitting his Punk name and attitude. The world of Pavitr Prabhakar pays homage to Bollywood. Every space the Spider-Folk travel through is a stunning collage of comic book art, fine art (Jorma Taccone’s The Vulture is a Davinci drawing), and cultural specificity. The writing is fine-tuned to give the characters space to have distinct personalities and ponder what being a hero means. There are plenty of well-placed visual gags, connected universes, and a surfeit of meaningful moments that underpin the tragedies that make Spider-Folk who they are.

The action set-pieces are kinetic and frankly astonishing. The film balances its drama with the chaos of the multiverse, something that a certain Doctor Strange movie could have done much better. The question “Do you sacrifice a whole world to save one person?” is at the core of the film – for Miles the answer is why does it have to be a choice? Once he learns the true stakes at play it is up to him to decide if he does things his own way.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is as perfect a movie can be both as animation and as a superhero narrative. This perfection isn’t dulled by the fact that it is part one of a two-part story. Like the comic books on which it is based it manages to be complete within itself but also something that will have the audiences hungering for the next issue. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a brilliant film with empathetic writing and characters we care about not to mention a visual masterpiece. It transcends genre to be one of the most enjoyable and engrossing releases of 2023.

Directors: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson

Cast: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac

Writers: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Dave Callaham, (based on characters by Stan Lee)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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