Miles Morales Returns In Hyperkinetic Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

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It’s not often that a film has six people credited as screenwriters and directors. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is one such film. Considering how confusing the concept of the Marvel Multiverse can be, even for longtime Marvel Comics readers, maybe this should be the norm. Screenwriters Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Dave Callaham and directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson. Keeping track of dozens of Spider-People swinging through scenes and mixing and matching and occasionally, dramatically, mismatching dimensions would be a daunting task for anyone to undertake alone.

The bigger feat here is how this tremendously talented group of creators wove a web of classic and new versions of Stan Lee’s amazing wall-crawling superhero while keeping true to the central theme of family, both the one you’re born into and the one you build for yourself through various relationships. This keeps the movie from just being a parade of Spider-People for the sake of showcasing the collective imaginations of all of the writers and artists who have worked on the many Spider-Man comic books over the last sixty-plus years (not that the comic book creators don’t deserve much more credit for their work because they absolutely do). It also makes the 2 hour 20 minute runtime go by so fast that I never even opened my Red Vines!

One of things I enjoy most about animated films is trying to guess the voice actors. Some are obvious, some are a fun surprise. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse surprised me by casting a significant number of Marvel Cinematic Universe alumni. Shameik Moore returns from 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to voice Miles Morales, as does Hailee Steinfeld for Gwen Stacy after her live MCU appearance as the star of the Disney+ show Hawkeye, Brian Tyree Henry as NYPD officer Jefferson Davis (he also played Phastos from Marvel’s Eternals), Luna Lauren Valez as Rio Morales, Mahershala Ali as Uncle Aaron Davis aka The Prowler (and eventually Marvel’s reboot of Blade) and Jake Johnson as Peter Parker. 

New to the Spider-Verse are versatile star Oscar Isaac as Spider-Man 2099, my personal favorite version of Spider-Man, who also portrayed the title character in the Disney+ show Moon Knight, Issa Rae as Jessica “Spider-Woman” Drew, Daniel Kaluuya (previously seen as W’Kabi in Black Panther) as the riotous Spider-Punk, Karan Soni (the hilariously unfortunate cab drive from Deadpool) as Pavitr “Spider-Man India” Prabhakar, Lonely Island comedians Andy Sandberg as Ben Reilly/Scarlet Spider and Jorma Taccone as the Renaissance Era Vulture and Wes Anderson regular Jason Schwartzman as Miles’ self-proclaimed arch enemy The Spot. I have no complaints whatsoever regarding the voice casting. Every voice is perfectly matched with the character art.

And what art it is! The art grabs you in a headlock and doesn’t let go for the duration. Hyperkinetic action, brilliant colors that make 4K screens work overtime, and dynamic design choices such as color washes and multiple art styles in the same shot make Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse unlike almost anything else you’ve ever seen in either animated or live action films. It’s a brilliantly creative way to craft a complex story over a straightforward central theme. The color choices and rendering style for the Renaissance Vulture, for example, are so different from the art style of the Spider-Society super squad and the background art of the rest of the scene that it informs the viewer that the villain is in the wrong place and the wrong time and avoids the necessity of prolonged origin explanations. 

There’s a certain kind of conceit inherent to animation that live action cinema struggles to achieve, a heightened suspension of disbelief. The battles between Miles Morales and The Spot would be arduous to shoot live-action and likely far less effective than the exciting and hilariously off-beat brawl through spatial rifts shown in animated action sequences that won’t take your brain out of the story while thinking, “Waitaminute…that’s impossible!” Considering that the title character’s claim to fame is that he was bitten by an interdimensional radioactive spider, you’re likely in the wrong theater auditorium if you are expecting realism and scientific certainty. Personally, after witnessing the level of success Sony’s Spider-Verse and Marvel’s What If…? I think Marvel should consider expanding their line of animate offerings. 

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is rated PG which sort of struck me as ironic when the film shows an image of “The Comics Code Authority Seal of Approval” during the opening credits while using a common swear word in a couple of instances in the script, which I am pretty sure would have violated the Comic Code Authority’s rules if they had tried to print the word in a comic. Otherwise, the only thing to worry about subjecting younger viewers to is cartoon violence, and judging by the reactions of various children seated near me nobody was having a bad time. In fact, the screening audience broke into applause several times. In a bit of a twist, the movie eschews the Marvel tradition of post credits scenes by ending on a major cliffhanger. I heard people in the audience whispering, “Noooo!” and “Are you kidding me? How can they stop it now?” when the words “To be continued…” appear on the screen. One of those people might have been me. I sure hope the third installment, Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse, doesn’t take as long as this one did to follow the original. Animation does take time to do well, but the production of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. With better luck, hopefully we’ll continue to enjoy Miles Morales’ story sooner rather than later. This film opens in the US on June 1st, 2013.

5.0 / 5.0