By Marc S. Sanders
Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse is a gorgeous kaleidoscope of color and kinetic energy. Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K Thompson are a directing powerhouse trio making every scene, moment, or caption completely unique from anything you’ve seen before. This movie never stops being inventive with itself, all the way down to its end credits.
Within the first half hour of the film, two stories unfold where two “Spider heroes” from different dimensions are struggling with maintaining their costumed alter ego while grasping with lying to their families. Reader, having just seen the 2023 live action interpretation of The Little Mermaid, I can tell you that in comparison, Across The Spider-Verse is more frank and honest in its characters with what makes them tick and what pains them during their adolescent years. The acting in this film of various forms of animation is sensational. Often, animated films don’t let up on the high energy, like the Minions movies for example. It can get tiring. This Spider-Man picture allows those quiet intimate moments where it is hard for any teenager to come to terms with his or her parents. Gwen and Miles are fearful of disappointing those that are close to them. They’re also reluctant to surrender the secrets they value only with themselves. Thus, it puts a strain on their respective familial relationships.
Eventually, the two friends must even come to grips with secrets they’ve kept from one another. It doesn’t matter that these characters are superheroes. This is a coming-of-age film on the same level and maturity that writer/directors John Hughes and Cameron Crowe approached with many of their films. Most teenagers have something unusual in them, and part of growing up is sometimes struggling with whether to ever let our guard down. The conflicts that Gwen and Miles experience are trying to figure out what is best for themselves and the relationships they have with their parents. I really felt for them in those quiet moments when the music was turned off and the fast paced scene changes that moved the film’s adventures came to a welcome pause. Santos, Powers and Thompson know the beats to uphold their story.
Gwen Stacey (Hailee Steinfeld) is known as Spider-Gwen. Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is known as Spider-Man, residing in different dimensions of Earth separate from Peter Parker’s interpretation that most people are familiar with. Complications arise when an inventive new villain causes mayhem in Miles’ neighborhood. This guy is known as Spot (Jason Schwartzman), who opens holes or portals for him to transport objects like, say an ATM machine from one spot to another as he tries make way with his robbery loot. Seems like a simple villain of the week, but then Spot gets some ideas and before you know it, Miles is following Gwen into another alternate dimension in pursuit of the dastardly mischief maker.
Much like we see in time travel films like Back To The Future, if you mess up what was meant to be, it could alter everything else a million fold. Just one tiny pebble rippling across the water can cause all sorts of trouble, and without even realizing it, Miles’ heroics may have caused a problem that can’t be undone. This only invites more trouble for the poor kid.
The real treat of Across The Spider-Verse is what Gwen and Miles encounter, which is pretty much the entire history of the most famous Marvel Comics character of all time. So many different interpretations of Spider-Man eventually lend to this story, and each one serves a purpose within the two-hour film. My comic book experience allowed me to recognize so much from cartoons of the 1960s to the Saturday morning series of the 80s, and all the way through the various iterations found in newspaper pages and comic magazines. The last 20 years of films are also given their due. It’s unbelievable how deep the filmmakers go. Still, you don’t have to know about one single Spider-Man to follow this picture and appreciate all of its frolics.
Beyond a Best Animated Film Oscar, here is an animated film worthy of a nomination in film editing. Miles and Gwen call it threading. I love that term! When they are swinging over skyscrapers and then down into the valleys of the metropolitan city streets alongside the multi lanes of traffic, buses and cabs, through alleyways, over sidewalks, and then up into the skies again, only to run atop an elevated train, the action moves so fast and seamlessly. It’s a glory to watch it play out. It feels like a wonderous amusement park ride. The action is bridged together beautifully in different shades of reds, blues, greys, pinks, and purples. This is how you assemble a film and take passion in the project.
I did think the movie ran about ten or fifteen minutes too long. However, the ending packs such a punch. When the film finishes, I defy you not to hearken back to the first time you saw The Empire Strikes Back, or The Fellowship Of The Ring, or Avengers: Infinity War. The preview audience that my Cinemaniac pal Anthony and I were a part of roared with cheers at the conclusion of this film with tremendous applause. Put it this way, reader, sadly the theatre we saw this film at left me wanting a better sound system. The volume was way too low. However, it never hindered the thrilling experience we had with this inventive picture story. (That’s another recommendation. See Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse with the best sound system you can find on the best screen you can uncover.)
Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse may be one of the top 10 best films of the year. I know I’ll be considering it for my list come late December/early January. Few films get as inventive as this, and it is definitely one of the best Spider-Man films to ever grace a movie screen.