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Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse – Review

// Reviews (Film)

© Sony Pictures Animation

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse does not push the boundaries of animation. How can you push the boundaries of something that has none? When critics spill out that line it’s based on their own projection of the limits live action has onto a medium which refuses to abide by them. That thinking is backwards, Newtonian, animation is better described by the works of Niels Bohr and Steven Hawking, quantum, impossible to pin down, existing in multiple states and all at once, still not fully understood by the layman. 

Therefore, the story of the Spider-verse movies is not one of boundary pushing, rather this project, this experiment, exists to surrender itself to the whirlpool of animation, letting all its styles, from the stoic to the formless, wash over it, absorbing lessons, techniques and visual languages from each one to tell a story like so many others. Yet, I don’t say that to call Across the Spider-verse ordinary. Cramming all existing animation styles into a single story should be an impossible task leading to an incomprehensible product, but we forget that animation does not deal in impossibles. 

© Sony Pictures Animation

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is a year older, suffering from the mid-teen angst for freedom. His yearning to forge his own path sees him come to blows with his parents and an entire multiverse of Spider-people attempting to mould Miles in their own image. Namely Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac) and The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), antagonists who, for very different reasons, believe in the necessity of Miles’ suffering. Sacrifice is part of the deal when being a Spider-Man, but also when being a teenager. Miles stands in defiance of his expectations, whether they’re as quaint as improving on his Spanish grade, as emotional as being there for his family, or as overwhelming as his duty in preventing a potential multiversal collapse. The latest instalment of the Spider-verse franchise sees Miles torn between finding freedom and a sense of belonging,

Across the Spider-verse treats the general audience to visuals unlike anything they would’ve seen in the last 40 years from a major motion picture, it shows animation nerds conflicting art styles they didn’t know could co-exist and it gives tech nerds a software-based headache trying to grasp how on earth they taught a computer to colour outside the lines so playfully. Furthering its miraculous status is the film’s almost omnidirectional praise. Experimentation is bound to leave some in the dust. How did so many audiences keep up with a film that runs through visual styles almost as quickly as it runs through dialogue? We see dimensions that look like the film has been shot through a prism, neon-lit dreamscapes, Mumbai-New York blends taking inspiration from 70s Indian comics, live action sequences and a paper mache British Spider-guy share the screen within minutes. 

Across the Spider-Verse Trailer + The Directors Speak!

Recent months have seen live action filmmakers like Ari Aster and Damien Chazelle take wide swings which bisect audiences. There’s something about the maximalism of Babylon and the unpredictability of Beau is Afraid which seems to leave some fulfilled and others enraged. How did Kemp Powers, Joaquim Dos Santos and Justin K. Thompson pull off a film that is even more maximalist and unpredictable? The answer is (predictably considering the rest of the article and the theme of the publication you’re reading) animation. Animation forces you to let go of your frame of reference, it makes you leave a sense of reality behind. Only in animation are stories like Across the Spider-verse possible. 

© Sony Pictures Animation

Sony have not introduced a third style of animation to lump in with the 3D Pixars and DreamWorks and the 2D classic Disneys and Ghiblis. To think in this way is only to scan the surface of what’s being achieved artistically. We want to say something is completely new because we feel like it validates our love for it. What Across the Spider-verse does, which is so rare, is wear its influences on its sleeve and execute them to the highest possible level. 

That is why this film will be talked about for years when we talk about animation. Fans and artists specialising in every corner of animation will gather to worship at its feet. 

While Across the Spider-verse acts as a breathtaking construction of all we know animation to be, its successes as a story come from the deconstruction of the superhero tale. The tale of Spider-Man feels as old as time, and virtually is for my fellow Gen Z-ers. Across the Spider-verse offers playfully meta alternatives to how we know these stories are “supposed” to go and deepens the relationships between characters we feel familiar with. Miles Morales is older now, things are harder, being a good friend is harder, being a good son is harder and the introduction of the multiverse-hopping villain The Spot makes being Spider-man harder. Miles is tasked with finding his place, not only in the world, but in every world, the perfect metaphor for the heavy weight of teenage metamorphosis. Watching Miles’ exuberance be tempered by jaded adults is jarring and further endears the audience to Miles’ point of view. 

© Sony Pictures Animation

Across the Spider-verse sets up a trilogy worthy of a swan song for the superhero film as a genre. Is superhero fatigue real? For how long will audiences find these stories interesting? I sense that after this trilogy is complete, there won’t be much ground left to tread. The snake would have consumed itself. 

Few times in a decade do we get the chance to bask in the glow of an industry-defining piece of art. I liken the feeling of walking out of this film to the experiences of hearing Frank Ocean’s Blonde for the first time, my first playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild comes to mind, as well as watching the original Spider-verse for the first time, 4.5 years ago. In 2023, two of those titles returned to redefine what we know about those mediums. We have the most exciting years of animated cinema ahead of us. 

5/5. We will be talking about it for years. 

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is in Theatres now.

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