In 2018, Sony and Marvel blew the doors wide open on both Spider-man and animation in general with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was ground-breaking both in terms of storytelling and visuals. They’ve upped the ante with part 2, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.
The story takes place sixteen months after the events of the first movie. Gwen and Miles, are in their own universes, each with their own Spider-person problems, teenage and beyond. Miles encounters a villain named, The Spot, which sets off a series of events that pull him into an adventure spanning the multiverse. He is forced to question whether he has to accept certain things will always happen to Spider-people, or whether he can change them.
Wow. First of all, I think they have managed to upgrade the design and the art. In the first film, we saw characters from different universes manifest with their own looks, from anime to black and white noir. But this one busts it wide open because we’re seeing into those universes now instead of just seeing emissaries from them. The art hints at different historic and brilliant comic artists from Steve Ditko to Bill Sienkiewicz.
Story-wise, there is a lot going on; enough that I’m going to need to see it a few times to really unpack it all. But there are some great themes about living up to expectations, family, and other familiar ground for fans of the books.
There’s also a lot more insight into how the multiverse functions. Across the Spider-Verse managed to keep me excited about the concept, which is no small feat. To be honest, I’m pretty over the multiversal storytelling. Partially because it’s constantly trumpeted as being this novel, new, unique thing, when it’s actually old hat to sci-fi and comic book fans (in fact, much of what we see in the Spider-Verse is basically the Council of Ricks from a more recent show, Rick and Morty). But worse, the multiverse bugs me because it has given Hollywood license to bring back old IP for nostalgia’s sake, which often litters the movies with memberberries in place of good storytelling.
The structure is fascinating and perhaps wouldn’t have worked in a lesser movie. We start off without our expected main character, Miles. Instead, we see Gwen’s life. This ends up being awesome though, finally fleshing out Gwen’s character further from the original film, drawing us deeper into things. And when we do see Miles and he meets The Spot, that villain quickly disappears from the movie. Again, in a review of another movie, this would be unforgivable, but here we can see they’re playing the long game; the story is a two-parter and when we see The Spot again, he’ll no doubt be a force to be reckoned with.
This does lead to one of my complaints, the fact that it ends on a cliffhanger. It’s a minor quibble, because so does one of my favourite movies of all-time, The Empire Strikes Back. However, in Empire, we do sew up the story we’re telling and the cliffhanger comes up at the end to lead into Return of the Jedi. Across the Spider-Verse feels more like we’ve cut off the story halfway through, which also makes it hard to know how they’ll do with some of the themes they’ve set up. It’s easy to say they’re great themes now, but if they don’t stick the landings in part 2, then it’s all for nothing.
Some audiences might feel overwhelmed and probably won’t understand everything being thrown at them. However, the story is so well told that this won’t matter. You’ll get the idea, even if you don’t catch every little nuance. And like I said, I think even I will need to see it again to absorb it all. So don’t feel dumb if you feel a little lost in the multiverse.
One of the things the movie does best is straddle the line between the serious and the ridiculous. A great example of this is a standout character, Hobie/Spider-Punk (who’s art is also amazing, a Sex Pistols gig poster come alive, bursting with punk anarchy). But it’s a character that I should dislike; the idea of a punk rocker dressed as Spider-man with an awkward guitar slung on his shoulders just seems so cheesy. But somehow, between that sick art, the actions of the character in the film, and Daniel Kaluuya’s voice acting, it bloody well works.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a beautiful contradiction. It’s deeply emotional, serious and resonant, while also being alive with irreverence and web-slinging fun. It can be a serious FILM and it can be a hilarious meme at the same time. It’s a comic book movie elevated to poetry in motion. It’s post-modern and hilarious, with style and wit, melancholy and glee.
It really does remind me of the experience of reading comics when I was a kid; it’s a Saturday morning cartoon with the beating heart of an artist running the machinery inside.