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SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE

Written By:

Hayden Mears
Spider-Man Across the spider-verse part one teaser still

by Hayden Mears

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is best prefaced with a close read of writer/creator commentary. When any great storyteller opens up about their work, pay close attention to how they discuss the concept of story. Last week, Succession creator Jesse Armstrong said this about the series finale: “The characters’ stories don’t end. They will carry on, but it’s sort of where the show loses interest in them because they’ve lost what they wanted.” Author Sue Monk Kidd’s words echo Armstrong’s sentiment in their own way: Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” 

Both writers discuss story as a living thing, as something that must leave our heads to thrive. Across the Spider-Verse embraces this truth and quickly becomes one of the best, most innovative animated films to grace the screen. Directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson, working from a script by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and David Callaham, have encapsulated Spider-Man’s appeal with more heart, splendor, and grace than nearly all of the character’s big screen outings.

Just over a year after putting Kingpin behind bars, Miles Morales/Spider-Man (Shameik Moore) gets an unexpected visit from Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld). Gwen has recently joined a multiversal task force led by Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac). Miles is pulled into a conflict with The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), a terrifying dimensional threat hell-bent on revenge.

The voice cast impresses again, with Moore, Isaac, Steinfeld, and Schwartzman making especially strong cases for themselves as perfect fits for their respective roles. Moore and Steinfeld, functioning as dual leads for most of the movie, turn in heartfelt, show-stopping performances worthy of their characters’ challenging arcs. Schwartzman’s initially comedic take on The Spot becomes more sinister, more powerful, and more tragic as the story progresses, while Isaac, imbuing O’Hara with a combustible mix of drive, rage, and self-righteousness, proves himself a formidable antagonist for Miles.

Yes, Across the Spider-Verse is a lot. When the credits roll, though, and the film’s power settles, it’s difficult to advocate for a shorter cut. Every moment, every creative avenue the writers take feels earned and justified. Rather than speak for every experience, Across the Spider-Verse stands up for them. As much a sledgehammer to ‘should’ as it is a welcome mat for ‘be’, this big, dense, beautiful odyssey nails who Miles is, what he stands for, and where he fits in the multiverse. It’s like comfort food with health benefits. Gravy-drenched mashed potatoes that don’t accelerate arterial blockage (a glutton can dream).

Even more so than its predecessor, Across the Spider-Verse combines the compatible strengths of the comic and film mediums (panel structure, absence of a panel structure, etc.) and alchemizes them into art we won’t see done quite the same way again. That isn’t because the creative team can’t. It’s because they won’t. In keeping with the idea that stories are singular and alive, the creative team treats each instalment as its own entity. Every aspect of this production, from its many, many animation styles to its brilliant use of onomatopoeia, reflects a passionate faithfulness to this principle. And the humour is gut-busting. If you’ve never seen a sack of bread fall out of a guy… well, this’ll be a first for you.

Narratively, the manner in which Miles Morales’ story plays out inverts how Peter Parker’s has nearly always unfolded: rather than frame maturity through the idea of Spider-Man, Miles spins it, framing his superheroics around the concept of maturity. Peter’s decisions as Spider-Man define and inform his approach to being a person more often than the other way around. Miles’ decisions as a regular guy, as a son, a young man, a lover, and a fighter, inform his choices as Spider-Man.

Across the Spider-Verse never feels starved for lessons to impart, but it’s particularly resonant as an ode to personal agency. A reminder that we’re all worthy of the space we occupy. It’s a grab-bag of unsolicited – but always welcome – wisdom that makes you better for having heard it, that affirms your worth, and pulls you into a firm spider-hug. It’s the next-level, no-holds-barred moviemaking Spider-Man was always destined for, the kind of mind-nuking animated fare you have to feel your way through to come away changed.

stars

SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE is available to buy digitally

Hayden Mears

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