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‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ review: Swing and a hit

Carljoe Javier

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‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ review: Swing and a hit

Spider-Man/Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animations’ SPIDER-MAN™: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE.

Sony Pictures Animation

'If you’re thinking about seeing it, see it on the biggest screen you can get to'

Riding off the mind-blowing Into the Spider-Verse, we get the second installment in a three-part trilogy starring Miles Morales at the center, and as many other Spider-types (because it’s not just limited to people, of course) as each movie can pack in. And make no mistake about it, Across the Spider-Verse has some real Empire Strikes Back aspirations as the very dark middle section. 

One thing I was saying to the other people I was with in the screening was, this is the first time in quite a while that I haven’t had to apologize for liking a superhero movie – or, well, the first time when there hasn’t been anything to apologize for. Sure, I’ve been to and liked a lot of the superhero stuff that’s continued to come out – liked it and had fun, compared to a lot of people who are not wrong in finding flaws and pointing out that there’s a decidedly “mid” feel to a lot of it. And people who have superhero fatigue, y’all are also not wrong.

Anyway, the point here is, I can go all out and say, Across the Spider-Verse is both a film and an experience. It has aspirations to be a work of art, and while only time will tell if it really is that, in the moment when I was watching it, I was left totally in awe of the work and the outcomes. There’s a concerted, focused, extremely successful effort put into making each frame as beautiful as a painting. 

Not only does each frame aspire to art, but similar to the first film, which blended different animation styles, here we get that and even more art styles and feels. It’s wild, and almost insane, the amount of art that this movie packs in. 

If there were anything to criticize here, it’s that the core concept of this movie and No Way Home are pretty much the same. A Spider-Man causes some kind of disturbance in the multiverse, and it needs fixing. 

But where No Way Home had the constraints of live-action, Across the Spider-Verse totally embraces its format and throws in everything you could imagine doing in animation that would be either impossible or way too expensive to do any other way. It really felt like if there were a dial on creativity, they cranked it past the limit and just kept pushing further than the thing was really designed for. 

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Give me an excess of ideas, of creativity, of artistic expression any day. It’s just that after the credits rolled and people around me were reacting and talking and trying to pull reactions together, I had to sit there for a moment and allow my brain to try and process everything that it had been through. 

I’ve been talking mostly about the visuals, because this whole thing is an expressionistic feast. Not in that they apply that art style specifically (though they do, I think) but in that it’s like a free-for-all for visual expression. 

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However, that visual expression is meaningless without a strong story underneath it. While I mentioned that it is drawn from the same multiverse kernel which, really, in the last maybe decade and a half has served as a typical jumping point for a lot of stories, the narrative execution here is so effective because of how aware the film is of where it lies as a text and meta-text. 

One of the great things about everyone knowing the Peter Parker/Spider-Man origin is at this point everyone knows it. So when films try to retell it (a flaw in some of the live-action adaptations) people kind of just want to fast-forward. It’s also like retelling the Batman origin, and hey, how many times can we watch those pearls hit the crime alley street, right? 

But what Spider-Verse understands so well is that it’s all about the variations. By situating it in a multiverse conceit, you can come up with different versions of the story, each version allowing a unique tweak or idea. Of course, this was explored in the Dan Slott comics, but it’s driven to its most awesome and outrageous expressions in this film. So, you are able to combine the sort of narrative themes of Spidey, the loss and sacrifice, the humor and the pain, the selfishness and the selflessness, and the “core memories” that would define each one, and have it collide against many others. And you can even throw in some memes. 

Most crucial, it’s about the Miles Morales variant, one of the characters who fundamentally helped to change Spider-Man comics, and is now the anchor point of this trilogy. And where we get eye-popping visuals up the wazoo, we are also served authentic, powerful family moments. We kind of know that both Peter and Miles are messes (in any medium, really), but the way that Miles is shown here having to deal with just being a teenager struggling to connect and communicate with parents because he doesn’t know if they can accept him for what he is, that’s a conflict that is so powerful that it is something that all this artistry can be built upon. 

If you’re thinking about seeing it, see it on the biggest screen you can get to. –

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