At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse “2023”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse “2023”

MPAA Rating: PG/Genre: Animated Superhero/Voices of: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Vélez, Jake Johnson, Jason Schwartzman, Issa Rae, Karan Soni, Daniel Kaluuya, Oscar Isaac, Shea Whigham, Greta Lee, Mahershala Ali, Andy Samberg, Amandla Stenberg, Rachel Dratch, Jorma Taccone, Metro Boomin, Mike Rianda, Zoe Kravitz, Peter Sohn/Runtime: 140 minutes

I think it is safe to start this review off by saying that, should you wish to see the pinnacle (so far) of the iconic Marvel superhero Spider-Man’s legacy on the cinematic stage then sure you could look at 2004’s Spider-Man 2 or 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home respectively, but I think a just as on-point argument could also be made for 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I say this because if you really stop to take a moment and think about it dear reader, we are all fortunate enough to be residing in an era (and a universe) where the ol’ webslinger is not only a fixture in cinema by this point, but also where technology is consistently updating and expanding what we thought possible from movies especially those that happen to be animated. Even with those things in mind however, there is no denying that this slice of cinema from the long-ago year of 2018 truly managed to be absolutely unique in terms of films made about Marvel’s iconic arachnid to say nothing of the fact that it managed to take the powers of creativity and imagination to locales that 3 decades ago no one could have ever thought possible. As a result, audiences found themselves being treated to an extremely well-cast and well-made story that not only had pathos and comedy to spare, but also possessed such stylish animation that it made this more than just a movie worth rewatching if only to soak up every last possible detail of this vibrant world. Rater, it also made it be recognized (and rightfully so) as one of the finest non-Disney or Pixar cinematic achievements in the past 2-decades for the realm of animated cinema. With that in mind though, I do have to ask: what if I said to you that its follow-up, and the new release I am reviewing for you today, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse actually manages to meet the bar set by its predecessor and in the process turn out to be just as good? To be fair, I could completely understand if you might have a bit of trouble fully accepting this especially when taking into account all of the positivity I rained down already on the first film, but trust when I say that I am not lying to you in the slightest. Indeed there are a few teeny tiny issues here and there with this film, but trust me when I say that this is a follow-up that is very much aware of what successfully worked the first time around and manages to do it just as well if not slightly better. Indeed the tone is a brilliant mix of comedic and heartbreaking, the cast all do a fantastic job at making their characters both intriguing and three-dimensional, and the work behind the camera is pure art at its finest. Suffice it to say then that Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is more than just what movie goers like you and me wanted it to be. Rather, it’s also every bit of the slice of cinema it needed to be and more than that it also will leave you, upon the end credits beginning to roll, eagerly looking at your watch (or clock on your cell phone) and feverishly counting down the seconds till the third film Beyond the Spider-Verse comes out next year.

The plot is as follows: Taking place a solid 16 months after the events of its predecessor, Across the Spider-Verse catches up with both our main hero Miles Morales and his close friend Gwen Stacy as they seem to be on different paths in their lives. In regards to the latter, we see that Gwen has made the choice to leave her given universe of Earth-65 for reasons of a personal nature to work alongside a massive team of fellow Spider-Beings who have made it their mission to travel through the various universes in the immense and seemingly infinite multiverse so that they can do everything in their power to eliminate the numerous holes left behind by the main device from the previous film’s misadventures. While this is going on we see that our intrepid boy wonder Miles is dealing with his own particular set of issues. To be sure, he has managed to become quite skilled with his various superpowers and come into his own as his universe’s Spider-Being, but (as seemingly occurs when one becomes a Spider-Being) we see that he is having a wee bit of difficulty at keeping up with his life as Spider-Man and his other life as Miles Morales. As a result, our boy wonder is having to keep his loving mom Rio and dear ol’ dad Jefferson at arm’s length which is causing more than just a tad bit of friction in their family dynamic. More than that though, we see that Miles also deeply misses the group of fellow Spider Beings, in particular Gwen, who he crossed paths with in the events of the last film. As hard as things are though for Miles, we see that it isn’t long before they are made even more complicated by the arrival of a villain known as The Spot. An antagonistical force who not only views Miles as his arch nemesis, but who also has the ability to go into other universes through the various portals on his person. We soon see though that it is this villain that brings about a reunion between Gwen and Miles. One that leads our intrepid hero to discover the existence of the group that Gwen has been working with known as the Spider-Society and that is led by a hardened web slinging variant known as Spider-Man 2099 aka Miguel O’Hara. A tough as nails individual who has made it his life’s mission to ensuring stability across the Spider-Verse to the best of his ability and no matter what the cost. However when Miles learns what this particular mission means for him in regards to what awaits him to say nothing of his mission as a hero, we see that Miles finds himself going up against not only O’Hara and a significant portion of the Society, but also perhaps the core component of what defines a Spider-Being itself. Not only to save the life of someone he holds dear, but to get the chance to write his own story. As for how this particular mission turns out that is something I shall leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader…..

Now right off the ol’ web swing, it should be noted that as amusing as it was to see it poke fun at the idea of the whole “origin film” 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse still very much was meant to operate as a slice of cinema that did have the task from a story telling point of view of establishing the framework for a franchise. Thankfully, we see that all of the hard work was not for nothing as the fantastic foundation laid by its predecessor does a wonderful job of permitting this entry to just hit the ground running and not look back. Indeed with everything from the various universes to the immense character roster having been set up, we see that this slice of cinema is therefore free to immerse us even further than before. Thankfully, the crew behind the camera have managed to give us work that accomplishes this task beautifully through not only upping the ante in terms of the visuals and action beats present, but also in giving us a look at the pathos-driven dynamics that exist between Miles and Gwen and their respective family units. Indeed not only do all three of these elements have an equal part to play in this slice of cinema, but they are all delivered in a way that is downright superheroic for lack of a better word. In regards to the latter category, it should be said that the crew behind the camera do a wonderful job at making sure the most riveting moments in the film are some of the more emotional ones dealing with our two main heroes and the conflicted bonds they have with their parents. In Miles’ case it’s because not only are his parents concerned about how the world will look at him as he becomes an adult, but he also is struggling with not being able to tell them that he’s Spider-Man. Gwen’s on the other hand deals with the fact that she has long had to keep her superhero alter-ego a secret since her dad has long wanted to bring her alter-ego in for questioning due to believing her the chief culprit in the murder of her universe’s Peter Parker. Suffice it to say that these very relatable emotional conflicts are the heart and spine for this film and props to the behind the camera team for managing to make them both potent and gripping as the film goes along. As potent as the pathos is however, I must also admit that this slice of cinema is also a genuine blast from a comedic and fun standpoint as well with everything from quippy dialogue to a vast number of smile-worthy moments I shan’t spoil here proving to make this film as much a joy as it is an emotional rollercoaster. More than anything though, it should be said that there are two areas where this film is definitely worthy of note behind the camera. The first is that, from a visual perspective, this film is a genuine treat for the eyes. Yes its predecessor was also riveting in this area, but this sequel manages to up the ante by not only giving us characters with their own distinct animation formats like its predecessor, but also then presenting us with entire locales that are both downright gorgeous and that you will also wish you could pause the movie during just so you can take it all in. The second is that the action beats in this are, in a word, absolutely incredible. I mean not only do they all consistently leave you on the edge of your seat, but they are all so brilliantly designed and executed that you will not be able to believe what you are seeing unfold before you. Suffice it to say then that, in terms of the work done behind the camera, this film is, like its titular hero, amazing in every sense of the word.

Of course, as stunning and jaw-dropping as the work done behind the camera is, it is also matched incredibly well by the work done by the cast of players lending their respective vocal talents in front of the camera as well. This starts with the returning Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld who are once again top-notch in their respective roles of Miles and Gwen respectively. Indeed not only are they terrific in the moments that they share on screen together, but the film also gives them some really hefty material to work with when separated as well. For Gwen, Steinfeld does a heartbreakingly good job at showing us this young woman not only trying to make her way in the world, but also trying to figure out if she can ever have a relationship with her father ever again due to events that occurred in her universe among other things. As for the latter, we see that Moore does wonderful at showcasing for us not only Miles’ isolation and loneliness, but also his inner pain and frustration at not being able to have the relationship with his mom and dad that he used to have due to his superhero responsibilities. With that in mind though, it should be noted that this slice of cinema is also the blessed recipient of a pair of brilliant antagonistical performances from both Jason Schwartzman and Oscar Isaac as The Spot and Spider-Man 2099 respectively. In regards to the former, we see that Schwartzman does a fantastic job at initially playing this character less like a diabolical supervillain and more like one of the quirky characters that movie goers have seen him play to brilliant effect in the movies he has done for distinct cinematic auteur Wes Anderson like 1998’s Rushmore and 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited respectively. As the movie goes on though, Schwartzman does a fantastic job at transitioning the character from that initial quirkiness into something that is definitely more sinister and twisted in all the best ways. As for the latter, it should be said that Isaac does a brilliant job at playing this guy who has been so traumatized and hardened by his experiences as Spider-Man that in a way he has managed to become less a hero and more almost a ruthless and rigid despot who is determined that things go according to plan at all times with no room or patience on either a mental or physical level for any kind of deviation whatsoever. Suffice it to say that both of these talents do a fantastic job and I am definitely very curious as to where the next film takes their respective characters. Thus when you also factor in terrific efforts from such talents as the returning Brian Tyree Henry and Jake Johnson plus newcomers like Shea Whigham, Andy Samberg, Issa Rae, Karan Soni, and Daniel Kaluuya who are all perfectly cast to say nothing of genuine delights in their roles of Capt. George Stacy, Scarlet Spider, Spider-Woman, Spider-Man India, and Spider-Punk respectively to name but a few of the talents assembled here I think it is safe to say that there might be some tears in the webbing for this slice of superhero cinema, but trust me when I say that the work done by the talented cast of players in front of the camera here is most assuredly not one of them.

All in all when Into the Spider-Verse came out in the long ago year of 2018, I think it can safely be argued that there were a lot of people out there who most likely felt that any follow-up would not be able to rise up to the challenge and manage when all was said and done to reach anywhere close to the bar of just plain excellence set by its predecessor. Of course, as we all know, a sequel that is able to just as good as its predecessor is rare, but it also most assuredly is not by any means impossible either. I say that because with Across the Spider-Verse we as movie goers have been blessed to receive a follow-up that is that and so much more. Indeed here is a follow-up that manages to take every single thing that critics and the general movie going public like you and me loved about the original and supercharge it to a scale of about 15 thus taking this slice of cinema and making it another high point for not just this truly iconic character to say nothing of the superhero subgenre of movie magic, but for cinema in general. Suffice it to say then that, with the aid of top-tier work on both sides of the camera, Across the Spider-Verse is more than just one of the finest movies that the year 2023 has decided to gift us with to say nothing of the finest animated movies in the past 2 decades. Rather, it is also a new benchmark for superhero movies period to say nothing of further proof that Shameik Moore’s take on Miles Morales is quickly becoming one of the definitive takes on a Spider-Man character ever put to celluloid. Suffice it to say dear reader that Across the Spider-Verse is more than just an excellent movie. Rather, it is a cinematic experience that, much like its predecessor, is exciting proof that in the right hands there is still a magic in the movies to be found that is truly unlike any other. Make of that dear reader what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse “2023” a solid 4.5 out of 5.