Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)

In 2018, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a breath of fresh air.  While not as stale as it is now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was starting to show some problems here and there, and along came an animated movie with a character - Miles Morales - that most people with just a passing knowledge of Spider-Man wouldn't necessarily know, but who perfectly captured the idea of what it is to be Spider-Man.  It also introduced the idea of the different versions of Spider-Man from down the years being from a number of different universes, something that became important in the live-action films by Spider-Man: No Way Home.

The important difference is that the "Spider-Verse" concept of a multiverse is quite different than the MCU one.  It's specifically centered around different iterations of Spidey himself rather than logically realistic realities.  That means the first sequel, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, often walks a line between silly and imaginative, while managing to tie in all the Spider-Man movie franchises. 

Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) has returned to her own universe but is having trouble adjusting.  Peter Parker, rather than becoming Spider-Man, became the Lizard, forcing her to stop him.  As a result Spider-Woman becomes the prime target of her father, Captain George Stacy (Shea Wigham), and things don't go well when he learns the truth.  With no other option, after helping to stop a version of the Vulture that appears as a Renaissance drawing, she joins two other iterations - another version of Spider-Woman (Issa Rae) and Miguel O'Hara (Oscar Isaac), aka Spider-Man 2099, in trying to undo the damage done when the way to other realities was opened previously.

Meanwhile, Morales (Shameik Moore) has settled into his role as Spider-Man in his own world.  Unfortunately, it is causing problems for both his academic and home life, especially as his parents are starting to suspect something is going on.  With the advent of a new villain called the Spot (Jason Schwartzman), who gains the ability to travel between Spider-Verses without the help of a stabilizer to keep him from glitching, Morales is eventually reunited with Stacy.  However, the Spider-Verse, and Miguel himself, have some hard truths in store for Morales, ones that he will have to face as he matures. 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a complete surprise to me as I didn't know what to expect from a cartoon version, and it was one of the more imaginative superhero films I had seen.  It was quite successful so I was surprised that the story wasn't followed up on.  Part of that reason, like most things, was COVID-19, and others were studio delays in releasing just to give it a chance.  What is rare is to see serious American animation like this, especially exceeding the two-hour mark, do well in the U.S.  While suitable for about anyone 12 and up this is not a dumbed-down kid's version of Spider-Man.  Some of that may be because Sony still owns the rights to the property rather than Disney, thus they are not afraid to take more chances with it. 

Miles's parents Rio (Luna Lauren Velez) and Jeff (Brian Tyree Henry) figure much more prominently, as does the relationship between them and their son.  Many of the themes revolve around family as well as accepting change and people becoming what they are supposed to be.  While the emotional parts are piled on thick the writing is good enough that it doesn't come out as saccharine or maudlin.  The Moraleses just seem like a family anyone would be lucky to have. 

As a villain the Spot isn't great shakes, and he's not really the focal point anyway.  He is a means to an end, as explained by Miguel that certain "canon events" must occur in each universe where there is a Spider-Man, and they are important to holding their realities together.  Freed from having to concentrate on a villain the movie is able to focus on Miles's place in everything, which is much more interesting.  It also lets the artists realize Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's story in a number of creative ways, although if one is looking for a true representation of multiple universes, like in Everything Everywhere All at Once, be warned that even though this now officially ties in with the other Sony and Marvel films that the universes depicted are those imagined by numerous Spider-Man creators.  This means there is everything from the 1970s cartoon to a Lego world and a Spider-Man that is a Tyrannosaurus rex. One of the best new characters introduced is Hobie Brown (Daniel Kaluuya), who is from a universe animated like a Sex Pistols album cover. 

Some of the iterations from Into the Spider-Verse come back, particularly Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) and LYLA (Greta Lee).  Sometimes I do think things feel a bit cluttered and rushed and hard to keep track of visually, which is a problem I have had with later seasons of Rick and Morty and other modern cartoons as well.  Animation allows for so much that live action and even CGI does not, and sometimes animators forget there is only so much the eyes and brain can process at one time.  It is best when it slows down, and it does so often, particularly when it is important for the characters to carry the plot.  

At this point it is the most financially successful animated film from the U.S. (previously it was The Smurfs, which says a lot about how bad feature-length animation in this country is), and it deserves it.  It also manages to do more with the multiverse concept than the entire last phase of the MCU did over the course of two or three years.  Also, unlike current Marvel films, this feels like it was written for - and made for - humans.  

Spider-Man: Acros the Spider-Verse (2023)
Time: 140 minutes
Starring: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Jake Johnson, Jason Schwartzman 
Directors: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson



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