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  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse // Film Review

"I'mma do my own thing."

It is no light decision that Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse opens with a retelling of the Miles Morales story set to music. His franchise was built on it; Post Malone's 'Sunflower' launched nearly two months ahead of hit predecessor Into The Spider-Verse and made instantly the image of Miles' skyscraper swan dive an icon of the genre.

In this case, Miles' is reintroduced with a diegetic drumbeat from love interest Gwen Stacey (Hailee Steinfeld), one of several Spider-People to cut ties with Miles following his 2018 origin story. In the multiverse, it is said that being a Spider-Man is as rote as being a plumber, or a lawman. Every universe has one, and they all share the same story, albeit with some choice aesthetic differences.

That is, all of them except for Miles.

Dismissed at various times across his two films to date as an amateur, an imposter or just straight up unfit for the job, Across The Spider-Verse repositions Miles as a mythic figure glorified to music, a legend to be sung of in a reality so oversaturated that its heroes have become pedestrian. The parallel to our own booming industry is obvious. Comic book stories in recent years have become increasingly focused on the individual. It is the woes of Tony Stark that drive The Avengers, not the woes of those in need of saving, but this has never been at the heart of the genre's true potential. In the words of Christopher Nolan, whose 2008 film The Dark Knight is still considered a high watermark of the genre:

“Superheroes fill a gap in the pop culture psyche, similar to the role of Greek mythology.

Miles Morales stands out as a true hero for his utter disinterest in the 'canon' of post-MCU heroism, rather standing as a symbol of altruism so clear-sighted that he can inspire other heroes to follow his lead. Spider-Man 2099 AKA Miguel O'Hara (Oscar Isaac) is the conflicting symbol of conformity here, and it is likely no coincidence that his suit bears a striking resemblance to that of Iron Man. For Miguel, superheroism is a checklist of tropes to be hit and formulas to be adhered to, and breaking that puts the entire multiverse under threat of... something. The outcome is unknown, which is a thought too terrifying to risk.

The conflict between Miles and Miguel rarely rises above the standard hero's journey on paper, but where it shines is in an execution worthy of tapestries. The film boasts the largest team of animators in the medium's history, and every minute of their work shows in the final assembly. Each universe is designed around a unique art style, with Gwen's Earth-65 being the clear standout for its moody, shifting watercolours. Beyond the fancy tricks however, it is remarkable how disinterested Spider-Verse is in ever settling for less than an entirely novel shot. Every frame gives us something new, with even the expected web-slinging escapades innovating as the characters navigate complex (or, at one point, deliberately minimalist) architectural landscapes, whilst simultaneously coming up against new foes whose bodies move in ways which keep shifting how we see the geography of a given space

It is the kind of film that invites you to revisit its most wondrous images for a second, third and indeed fourth time. Once it becomes available digitally, expect to see dozens if not hundreds of its key moments resurface across the Internet. The ever-expanding visual grammar and ingenuity of Miles' adventure inspires genuine awe, which is an achievement rarely claimed this side of The Avengers.

Of course, a hero of legend is nothing without his bard, and composer Daniel Pemberton delivers career best work in developing the various sounds of the Spider-Verse. This culminates in the cacophony of a finale, integrating the heroic themes of Miles and Gwen against the sinister inversions of villains like Miguel and Spot (Jason Schwartzmann), ramping up with new instrumental parts until we hit a roaring climax which expresses in clear notes the various elemental forces on the verge of collision coming into 2024's grand conclusion, Beyond The Spider-Verse. It might be the most exciting work of action composition this side of John Williams' Star Wars, which we'll get to in a moment.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a bonafide epic, a song of universes lovingly drawn and violently smashed together across over two hours of the most pristine and elegant super heroics ever put to screen. Many have jumped at the opportunity to compare it with Empire Strikes Back. Indeed, both mark the midpoints of trilogies said to be game-changers in their contributions to sci-fi spectacle, landing with cliffhangers utterly unprecedented in their respective genres (as much as Avengers: Infinity War ends unresolved, that one is only really a matter of plot logistics, rather than the twisting character journeys portrayed here). I would be inclined to agree with the comparison, holding back only because Return of the Jedi was unable to sustain the magnitude of its predecessors, while Beyond, which was designed in tandem with Across as a single production, has every chance of bucking that trend. We only have to hope Miles keeps doing his thing.


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