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Spoiler-Free Review: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)

I have to say: initially, I wasn’t excited about the idea of this film. We have so many multiverse movies now; plus, Latinos finally get a big budget superhero film, and they make his dad a cop? C’mon. That being said, I was happily surprised when this framing was used to explore the human implications of the fraught relationship between heroism and family, the self etc. As we follow Miles Morales and his friends, still trying to prevent even more rips in the space-time continuum one year after the events of Into the Spider-Verse, we get a fascinating deconstruction of the hero’s journey, one which questions whether heroes need to suffer in order to become who they’re destined to be, or perhaps love can be just as instructive. The first thing I thought after credits rolled on this visual feast of a film was ‘that was a lot,’ because it is, in the best of ways. Co-directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson provide one of the most visually ambitious animated movies I’ve ever seen, and it’s jampacked with story, but never feels like too much. Everything is earned (even the cliffhanger ending) and the visual language is incredibly advanced. From the phenomenal voice-acting to the groundbreaking innovations in its animation style, this is guaranteed to be one of the most stunning things you can watch this week!

The film opens in Gwen’s world, and almost immediately viewers know they’re in for a reality-bending rollercoaster. Here, the background functions as a kind of mood ring, shifting colors as she moves through stages of grief, anger and isolation. There are moments where the shapes of background objects become abstract, losing all form. In these moments, the film feels at its most experimental, embracing the maximalist style that the Spider-Verse movies have become known for while deepening our understanding of her character. Each spider-person seems to have their own specific aesthetic, and these small details add up to create a wildly immersive world that draws us further into the themes of the film. To me, this is what separates good visuals from great visuals: the ability to make them matter to the story, and this movie does that over and over again. I really appreciate how all the flashing colors and bold design choices seem to highlight the many strengths of its script.

Building off the previous film’s ideas of familial obligation and identity, this latest entry into the Spider-Verse finds Miles one year into his Spider-Man duties, still struggling with finding a balance between family and heroism, leaving him feeling like a failure on all fronts. These feelings of inadequacy are foregrounded throughout the movie, bringing a deep vulnerability to his character that endears audiences to his journey that much more while also giving us cause to really think about what it means to be a hero. Why does the idea of heroism always have to be tied to tragedy and a deep sense of loss? Can we resist these paradigms? It’s a movie that constantly pushes against itself, either with meta-commentaries on art or its resistance against the determinism often found in heroes’ stories. Its slower, more tender moments are just as exciting as the high-octane, action-heavy scenes. Despite its 140-minute runtime, the pacing is lightning quick, with ideas being thrown at us a million miles a minute, not dissimilar to another popular multiverse movie, Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022). Much like that film, the acting here is key to pulling this movie off.

Without the voice actors each bringing so much nuance and humanity to their characters, it’d be easy for this film to seem like a jumbled mess; but through their delicately human performances, the script and visuals come together to form a complex, entertaining, and thrilling ride. I do wish there was more closure, but that’s how trilogies work, I suppose, and this film definitely left me eager for the March 2024 release of Beyond the Spider-Verse. Catch this film in a theater near you! It delivers on everything promised by the trailer. If you enjoyed this review, consider subscribing to the blog’s Patreon by clicking here! It helps pay the various fees that come with running a website, and keeps this blog ad-free and independent. There are also some cool benefits for those who choose to support the blog in this way including: suggesting which movies I review, getting personalized movie recommendations, access to free giveaways and more!


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