TAS Reviews: Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse
Though I didn't find the first Spider-Verse movie to be quite the masterpiece a lot of people led me to believe it would be, I thought it was a great superhero movie with fantastic humour and animation. The movie grew on me even more across the years: so much so that I decided to skip all the marketing for the upcoming Across The Spider-Verse, so that each frame could land the way it was intended to on the big screen for the first time. Which meant that outside of knowing that actors such as Daniel Kaluuya and Issa Rae would be lending their talents to playing new variants of the iconic Webslinger, I didn't know what to expect in terms of plot, and where the filmmakers would be taking the returning characters to, emotionally and narratively. To my surprise, the movie is hard to summarise, as it doesn't conform to a singular narrative in the way one would traditionally expect, yet the result is an unpredictable, fresh and incredible movie that improves on the original in almost every way.
Into The Spider-Verse movie featured the best animation ever put to the big-screen. Even a movie like Kid Cudi's Entergalactic, which was clearly influenced by that movie's distinct animation style, couldn't emulate the way in which the first Spider-Verse movie blended numerous different animation styles into a smoothie of euphoric goodness. Yet if one movie could outdo it, it's this one, and they most certainly do. Nothing less than serotonin overload, each frame of this movie is crammed with gorgeously dazzling visuals, varied animation styles, easter eggs and an overall sense of unrestrained imagination and unrivalled creatively. As irreplaceable as the first experience of watching the movie is sure to be, I couldn't help but drool at the idea that I could one day watch this at home and pause just to marvel at every ounce of detail and love poured into each individual shot. After watching Everything Everywhere, All At Once, I cherished but also feared that no movie would be able to portray the feeling of jumping from one dimension to another in the way that movie did. With Across The Spider-Verse, I might've been proven wrong, as we are kinetically transported from one world to another, positively overwhelmed with more Spider-Men, Spider-Women and Spider-Related-things than one thought possible.
The central element that held this movie's predecessor together from being an empty stroll though an Spider-Man themed amusement park, it was the story, it's personal approach to it's characters and the way it used the notion of a multiverse to narrative effect. This movie does so once again, grounding a story of dimensional travel and super-heroics in characters that are easy for one to recognise themselves within. Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy are more fleshed out than ever, in part thanks to the fantastic performances from Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld, respectively. When you hear them breathe life into these characters, it's hard to imagine anyone standing in a booth reading lines off a sheet - all one can see is 3-dimensional, fully fledged beings. Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Vélez continue bring a lot of heart to Miles's mother and father, continuing to be the protagonist's north-star in so many ways, yet it's when that north-star becomes challenged that the movie is at it's most profound emotionally. Yet as exciting as the returning characters are, it's the new characters that often excite me more when it comes to sequels and seasons, and the growing ensemble delivers with flying characters.
The new characters, for the most part, are all defined by a unique sense of personality and animation style. I was elated to hear that Daniel Kaluuya would be joining the ensemble as Spider-Punk, and pleasantly, his performance turns out to be much more than a bad instance of stunt-casting. Just about every line that came out of his mouth was hilarious, and I adored how his character was a lovingly crafted satire of punk-rock, anti-authoritarian types. Karan Soni plays Spider-Man: India, and though I initially enjoyed his performance because it was nice to see Dopinder from Deadpool in something again, his humorous performance ensured that within moments, all I saw and heard was this character. Jason Schwartzman delivers not only my favourite performance from him thus far as The Spot, but just might be my favourite antagonist from across these two movies. Yet the scene stealer is Oscar Isaac as Miguel O'Hara, otherwise known as Spider-Man: 2099. With the after-credits scene in Into The Spider-Verse teasing bigger, greater things for him in the future, this movie not only delivers, but exceeds on that promise. Oscar Isaac delivers a terrific, complex performance, which is only outmatched by an overall surprising and unexpected role for the character.
One thing I loved about the previous movie is that outside of the story featuring a music-playing Gwen Stacy (who also happened to be in a band), the movie was accompanied by a great original soundtrack of songs, with artists such as Lil Wayne, Post Malone, Swae Lee and Juice Wrld delivering some unforgettable needle-drops and pieces of music. So I was excited when I heard Metro Boomin, (who I believe to be the best producer working in hip-hop right now), would be producing the soundtrack. And boy, the soundtrack delivered, with pieces of music that enhance already great scenes. The movie also has a terrific original score from Daniel Pemberton. Though few of the pieces from the last film make a return, the new material that he brings to the table is magnificent, breathing life into the emotional moments and the big set-pieces in the way that they deserve.
Spider-Verse comes close to being a masterpiece, but it is impended by a few flaws that prevent it from reaching it's full, unbridled potential. I mentioned loving the new characters, but on the flip-side, one that disappointed me was Issa Rae's version of Jessica Drew, who I was excited to see, but ended up amounting to little more than a device in the larger scheme of the movie, and not a particularly memorable one. Having only seen the movie earlier today, I already can't recall a single line she said. Though Jake Johnson is as lively as ever as Peter B. Parker, his inclusion in the movie can't help but feel a little ham-fisted and underwhelming for a character of his magnitude. Yet my biggest gripe with this movie is it's ending. We knew this movie would be 'Part 1' of a two-part story (with Part 2 coming next year). To no surprise, the movie doesn't quite conclude it's story, and though it's a thrilling place to end the story, the movie is still plagued by an issue that has plagued many two-parter stories, in that it's missing the cathartic type of resolution we get from most movies.
Across The Spider-Verse is the rare kind of sequel that delivers on all the goods of it's predecessors, while improving in almost every conceivable way over the last. Not only might it be the best Spider-Man movie, it's one of the greatest superhero movies ever made - live action or otherwise. A rare action film in which the climactic moments are not only the big action set-pieces, but the emotional moments of two characters talking in a room. Full of surprises, laughter, heart and bedazzlement, it's one that will have you begging for the sequel as soon as it ends.