Did you know that in over 20 years worth of Spider-Man movies, there hasn’t been a single flop? It’s true. Even the relatively-derided Amazing Spider-Man 2 still managed over $700m at the global box office and as I write this, the latest entry in the web-slinging spider-canon has already racked up nearly  $250m worldwide less than one week after initial release! In a time where audiences, critics, and filmmakers alike complain about superhero-fatigue, what is it about this radioactive-powered arachnid that keeps us glued to the screens?

On one level, it’s simply that young Peter Parker is more relatable than ace reporter Clark Kent or multi-billionaire Bruce Wayne. Most heroes only have to worry about keeping their identity secret when not fighting crooks or world-threatening events. Peter on the other hand also has to juggle school, work, friends, family, all on a limited income just like the rest of us. On yet another level, the world of Spider-Man has expanded so that just about anyone can be a web slinger. Across multiple spider-verses, spider people can be, men, women, boys, girls, white, black, asian, or in some cases, not even human at all! 

It’s against this backdrop that most of the world was introduced to Afro-Latino teen Miles Morales in 2018’s Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (the character had already been introduced in the comics seven years earlier). Like Peter, Miles was also bitten by a radioactive-spider, thereby gaining the powers of climbing walls, super strength, enhanced “spider”-sense, and eventually the ability to swing through Manhattan via web shooters. The difference is that Miles almost immediately discovers that there is a whole multi-verse of spider-people similar to him and also gets a chance to be trained by Peter Parker himself while trying to stop the villainous Kingpin from wrecking the space-time continuum.

The sequel Spider Man: Across the Spider-Verse picks up just over a year after these events and finds Miles (Shameik Moore) having comfortably settled into his role as NYC’s favourite crimefighter, while struggling to balance family and scholastic obligations. He is pulled back into the spider-verse when the Spot (Jason Schwartzman), a new villain that Miles inadvertently helped create during an explosion from the last film, begins to wreak havoc across multiple spider-worlds and Miles joins up with old flame Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) to track the rogue down.

But Miles may have bit off more than he can chew as he runs afoul of Miguel “Spider-Man 2099” O’Hara (Oscar Isaac) who is convinced that Miles himself is an anomaly who threatens the very fabric of the multiverse itself. It’s a conflict that will require more than one film to resolve as the story will continue in Beyond the Spider-Verse due out in March 2024.

It goes without saying that Across the Spider-Verse both matches and exceeds its predecessor in the visual department, largely courtesy of the Vancouver-based Sony Imageworks. The film succeeds remarkably in bringing the experience of reading a comic book to life via its expert staging, exquisite texturing, and well-placed captions. The film’s palette further leans into the multiverse concept with every world visited rendered as its own unique visual feast. Even a simple scene like a heart-to-heart between Miles and Gwen is strikingly rendered as the two characters chat while upside down with the NYC skyline inverted in the background.

But enchanting visuals are but an empty cup without a compelling narrative and returning screenwriter Phil Lord has crafted a thrilling web with fellow scribes Christopher Miller and Dave Callaham. Miles remains a relatable character whose fun-loving personality and bold determination to do the right thing keep the story pointed true north. Gobs of fan service are skillfully woven into the affair which will especially delight hardcore spider-fans. Gwen is given an expanded role here (I smell a spin-off in the future) and makes the most of her heart-rending subplot which finds her effectively banished from her own universe. Oscar Isaac adds another flawless performance to his resume as the tortured Migeul with the weight of every spider-world on his shoulders and Jason Schwartzman deftly straddles the line between dark comedy and pathos as the Spot.

I’d be remiss if I left the impression that the film was entirely without fault however. It suffers from blockbuster bloat with a heavy runtime of 140 minutes, a record for an animated film from a US studio. The film noticeably begins to drag in the final act with several payoffs given far more buildup than necessary and even the beginning took a tad long to get going, only really hitting its stride after an unusually lengthy pre-credits sequence with Gwen and Miguel taking on the Vulture.

Across the Spider-Verse earns its place as a prominent jewel in the Spider-Man crown with its winning mix of characters, finely-spun story and eye-popping visuals that all make the trip to the multiplex worthwhile. It’s ever-more difficult these days to stand out in a world of endless bombardment of content, but the last Spider-entry proves that quality always wins the day.




Spider Man: Across the Spider-Verse is now playing in theatres across Canada

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