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The spectacular triumph of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

By Ansharah Shakil, June 29 2023—

Back in 2018 when lauded and critically acclaimed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was released, I would’ve said that the high standards it set for animated film couldn’t possibly be replicated. Except those standards have been met, and deftly, by the movie’s sequel, Across the Spider-Verse.

Across the Spider-Verse is a dazzling riot of gorgeous colours and fluid movement, with heartfelt love for its comic book origins and breathtaking creativity. It certainly fulfills the expectations of its eager fans, though it subverts them in other ways — it doesn’t include a post-credits scene, a decision that becomes more clever the longer you sit with the impact of its devastating cliffhanger ending. The film doesn’t begin with its protagonist Miles Morales, instead, Spider-Woman Gwen Stacy starts the movie off. When Gwen’s father discovers the truth of her identity and her lonely life goes into shambles, she leaves to join an elite squad called the Spider Society, dedicated to protecting the multiverse. 

It’s after this the movie switches to Miles, attempting to balance being a superhero along with private school and familial commitments, in a humorous battle with seemingly incompetent villain-of-the-week and eventual dangerous threat, The Spot. Miles follows Gwen to help save the multiverse — and because he’s missed not being the only Spider-Man. Except the Spider Society isn’t exactly what Miles thinks it is, and what was a straight-forward mission instead explodes with questions about destiny, free will and sacrifice. 

Across the Spider-Verse is full of these fascinating themes. Daniel Pemberton’s score leads us into the film with key sound effects from the first movie — as heard during scenes of inter-dimensional glitching or like the heart-racing Prowler music — combined with new ones. Beneath the clash of Gwen’s drumsticks and her voiceover in the opening sequence is a haunting score. The quicker she strikes her drums, the quicker scenes flash across the screen in exquisite paint strokes of animation — from the first movie, and from present and future moments of the sequel. The swirling watercolour pinks and blues of Gwen’s world distinguish her Earth from Miles’s beautifully, while her opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the film. 

Pemberton’s score is sweeping, dramatic and heart-tugging during action-packed battles, or dangerous, low and harsh during suspenseful moments. There’s some excellent voice acting, emphasized by overlapping voiceovers and repeating messages. The film’s stellar soundtrack — part reggae, part R&B, part hip-hop — deserves recognition as well. “Mona Lisa” is the stand-out, playing as a reunited Gwen and Miles swing joyfully through the air, a scene that proves this movie has more heart in one frame than most live-action movies released in the last year have in their entire runtime. 

Across the Spider-Verse places importance on the small things, the intimate moments and emotional arcs despite its thrilling fight sequences, spectacular animation and sharp humour. The film focuses on Miles’s relationship with his parents and Peter B. Parker. His friendship with Gwen is just as important as suggestions for a romance between them. A standout scene is Gwen and Miles hanging beneath a clock tower with their hands almost touching, the whole world at their fingertips. The audience can never forget how young, human and real these heroes are. 

The sequel also further establishes Miles’s identity as Black and Puerto Rican, while introducing other well-developed characters of colour — including Black Spider-Punk Hobie Brown and Pavitr Prabhakar, the first Indian Spider-Man. Rebellious anarchist Hobie embodies 80s London punk culture, drawn in a graphic style reminiscent of newspapers and posters, flickering from black and white to colour. Pavitr’s suit is designed with nods to Desi fashion, while his lovingly depicted home city of Mumbattan takes elements of New York and combines them with traits of South Asian cities. 

Meanwhile, the film’s plot line is convoluted but brilliant in its switch-and-bait pace. Its climactic revelation and subsequent chase sequence are some of the best scenes in the film. The whole film ramps up from there, everything suddenly in motion at a breakneck pace and happening all at once, overwhelming but never too incomprehensible, impossible to look away from. From his leap of faith in the first movie to his actions in the climax of the second movie, Miles’s character growth is astounding, and he continues to be one of the greatest superhero protagonists to grace the screen. 

Across the Spider-Verse is the kind of movie that stays with you hours after you’ve left the theatre. It isn’t exactly like its predecessor — there’s a darker tone, though well-balanced with light-hearted scenes and moments of contemplation. There isn’t a moment as perfect as the “What’s Up Danger” scene from the first movie, which I would argue is one of the greatest scenes in cinema ever, but other scenes make up for it. This is a story about so many things it might seem inconceivable to cover all of them in two hours. But Across the Spider-Verse steps back and realizes this. While I happily would’ve watched a third hour wrapping up the end of its plotline, I have immense respect for the way they chose to end it. 

In the first movie, tension builds to unheard-of heights in the rising score mingled with the music, the crackle of thunder, the squeak of Miles’s sneakers and the shattering glass beneath his fingertips before his leap of faith. And the movie goes on after this moment. We see Miles landing back down. We watch the rest of his battle. The second movie ends with Gwen with her new band together to save Miles, Miles is ready to save himself with electricity crackling against the rope and binding his hands together. There is a leap, and our characters are at the edge, but the movie goes dark before we see the landing. We can trust, however, that it will be as graceful and seamless as the transition between the first and second movies.

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