Directors – Joachim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson – 2023 – US – Cert. PG – 140m
Assorted Spider-Men and -Women interact across many multiverse worlds as an elite Spider force attempts to prevent their interactions causing disaster – out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 2nd
The first part of a two-part sequel to Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, 2018) with the conclusion Spider-Man Beyond The Spider-Verse due for release next year. So be warned: Across ends mid-story with a To Be Continued… legend plastered across the screen.
Having played around with the multiverse concept in Into, Across ramps it up to overload, introducing new worlds with titles that appear on screen before you’ve worked out where you are, making you want to hit pause and stop and take it in. You can’t do that in a public cinema, where the image and sound is sharper than it is in the home but you have no personalised remote control, and that’s a defining characteristic of the theatrical cinema medium.
You can of course go back and see a movie again and again for successive viewings, and I imagine that will be happening a lot with Across during its theatrical run because its visuals are consistently amazing, but once it’s available on a home platform where you can freeze it, go back, look at bits of scenes again, this movie will take on a whole new life as the viewers interact with it at their own pace. I can’t recall feeling this way to exactly this degree about a theatrical movie before, and in the meantime I could happily rewatch it in the cinema on its current run, even at its well over two hours running length.
As it verse-hops between its many worlds, we find ourself in one episode about a Spider-man or -woman character after another. As white spider-suited Gwen Stacy (voice: Hailee Steinfeld) finds her non-superhero alter-ego in conflict with her cop dad father who in his professional life is determined to track down spider-woman unaware it’s her, and elsewhere Miles Morales (voice: Shameik Moore) struggles to take time out of being Spider-man so he can be given a hard time about his underperformance in his school work in a meeting between his parents Jeff and Rio (voices: Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez) and his high school counselor (voice: Rachel Dratch), you feel sympathy for the characters. One world serves up Peter and Mary Jane Parker (voices: Jake Johnson and Zoë Kravitz) and their cute, crawling Spider-baby, May “Mayday” Parker.
These scenes and others like them are well fleshed out on the page and voice-acted by the cast as effectively as you’ll find in animation anywhere, and they elicit our sympathy even as they provide a welcome break from the slam bang action that makes up much of the film.
Such episodes feel strangely cut off from the overall action arc, which via verse-hopping furnishes serial action set pieces featuring such villains as The Spot (voice: Jason Schwartzman), whose skin is covered in black circular wormhole portals, and The Vulture (voice: Jorma Taccone), rendered like a Leonardo da Vinci notebook drawings on yellowing paper. It takes place in a variety of worlds, the most impressive of which is the futuristic Mumbattan, rendered in the manner of specific 1970s Indian comics complete with its own, local Spider-man variant Pavitr Prabhakar (voice: Karan Soni).
Others include the AI-controlled Nueva York, all blue paper sketches and rough marker comps, home to futuristic Spider-man Miguel O’Hara (voice: Oscar Isaac). There’s even a guitar-wielding, British, Spider-punk Hobie Brown (voice: Daniel Kaluuya) from a xerox-aesthetic, punk rock world. Holding all the action together is an elite crack force The Spider Society whose mission is to ensure no Spider-person does anything to adversely affect the multiverse, their number including motorbike-riding, pregnant, black Spider-woman Jessica Drew (voice: Issa Rae).
In terms of plot and emotional engagement, for this viewer it pales besides Everything Everywhere All At Once (Daniels, 2022), but where Across scores is in its arresting character design, breathtaking animation and spectacular production design, all of which are groundbreaking on every level. These elements have a high repeatability factor – you’ll want to watch the whole thing, or at least its various component parts when it hits home video formats – over and over again.
And yes – it does feature a couple of brief scenes in live action.
Spider-Man Across The Spider-Verse is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, June 2nd.