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‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ (2023) Review – Animation Is Cinema.

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Staff Writer Isla Galloni reviews the latest Spider-Man: New Generation movie ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’, looking at the animation styles, character arcs and cultural impacts.

Opening at a grandiose 208.6 million dollars box-office total worldwide, the second opus of ‘Spider-Man: New Generation’ comes to an outstanding success. Its reviews swing as sky-high as its revenue, placing it as the ‘Highest-Rated Film of All Time’ on Letterboxd. This dazzling sequel revises contentious claims at the Oscars 2022: animation IS cinema. 

Its plot follows beloved characters Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) and Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), as they embark on a myriad of adventures against ‘anomalies’ across the multiverse. Amidst this fascinating exploration of parallel worlds, their heroic purpose vacillates when new dilemmas arise. 

Miles faces increasing moral clashes between his responsibilities as Spider-Man, and the “business of growing up”. Familial pressures loom over him as he attempts to save his world, his identity oscillating between struggling teenager and endlessly overloaded superhero. When Gwen, now part of an elite team of Spider-People, invites him to further discover the Spider-Verse, Miles’ microcosm shatters. He must now make a new “leap of faith” towards his own future, divergent from all imposed narratives. 

The movie’s most striking feature is its extraordinary, almost psychedelic animation. It is simply as superhuman as its characters. Directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Justin Thompson and Kemp Powers, have honed the first film’s motion-blur techniques into an energizing cocktail of stylized realism and comic-book action. And the results are captivating.

‘Spider-Verse’ dives into a whirlpool of different worlds, all unique in design. One can immediately distinguish Pavitr Prabhakar’s (voiced by Karan Soni) busy Mumbattan, bustling with citylife, from Gwen’s abstract world of dreamy watercolors and soft-hued backgrounds. The latter’s peculiar surroundings capture her melancholy as shades of pink, blue, and white that melt in pastel streams. These distinctive palettes allow animators to weave a web of characters across a kaleidoscope of universes, a visual escapade from our mundane sceneries. David Pemberton, the score’s composer, highlights animation’s capacity as an underrated space for “extreme imagination”.

Its style is supported by the intricacy of its details, reflecting the artists’ devotion to their project. Their ambition is particularly tangible during the movie’s ‘grand sequence’, an action-filled manhunt across Spider Society. Co-director Dos Santos revealed that the team “worked on (the sequence) for an entire four years”. Such attention to detail resulted in a thrilling passage, as several Spider-People (all with their own unique appearances) rush through Nueva York’s complex environment, in an adrenaline-packed chase. 

Similarly, fan-favorite character Spider-Punk (voiced by Daniel Kaluuya) took two to three years to animate, all to himself. Dos Santos explained that particular attention was paid to Spider-Punk’s movement: his body, head and jacket are all animated at different frame-rates, allowing him to “break a lot of rules for an animated film”. His punk nature thus seeps all the way to his very motion. Co-director Thompson further denoted the design’s punk-rock zine influences. Spider-Punk’s restlessly shifting appearance emulates “hand cut, pasted, drawn and glued together” punk street-posters. And artistic dedication to such style shows. Spider-Punk’s patchwork-like fashion, with a physique directly influenced by Basquiat, has been highly praised by viewers. Kaluuya’s voice-acting further brings him to life. His witty anarchic commentary, delivered in a stone-cold tone, delights a more mature audience. 

The movie’s vibrant cast of characters demonstrates its commitment to diversity. Black voices resonate through Miles, Spider-Punk and Spider-Woman (voiced by Issa Rae). Fans have rejoiced over the inclusion of Spider-Man India and Spider-Man 2099 (voiced by Oscar Isaac), whilst queer communities have gravitated toward Gwen. Such diversity echoes Miles’ declaration in ‘Into the Spider-Verse’. Truly anyone can see themselves in Spider-Man, and imagine themselves as the webslinger. Truly “anyone can wear the mask”. 

Its themes subvert the traditional ‘hero’s journey’, into a more empathetic, human experience. And it only reinforces our identification with Miles. His narrative of isolation particularly spoke to university students. Miles constantly strives for his Spider-Peers’ validation, in an attempt to “belong” to their elite community. Yet he nearly loses himself in the process. Students are themselves experiencing the “business” of academically “growing up” in unfamiliar settings, carrying the weight of renewed expectations into adulthood.  Balancing superhero-like aspirations for the future, with a growing need for a new community, is a struggle reminiscent of Miles’s inner conflict.

Building your own identity becomes essential to navigate through overwhelming webs of opportunities. ‘Spider-Verse’ vocalizes an empowering call for creativity in self-invention, beyond societal expectations. As Spider-Punk suggests, you have to “make your own watch”, rather than following conventional pathways. 

The movie’s triumphant plot and animation are complemented by its soundtrack and original score. Metro Boomin’s work perfectly accompanies Miles’ dynamic world, saluting hip-hop culture through titles such as ‘Annihilate’. Similarly, Pemberton’s score brings a new depth to characters. Gwen’s theme, ‘Spider-Woman (Gwen Stacy)’, mixes 2000s independent pop with synth. It opens with soft, almost reflective notes, as she dwells in her watercolor-tinted solitude – before jumping into heroic action.  

Most recently, ‘Spider-Verse’ editor Andrew Leviton revealed the existence of two released versions of the movie, with tweaked lines and additional animations. This singular decision led audiences to believe themselves as part of a ‘multiverse’ of Spider-Verse films. Yet the reveal generated notorious criticism. Directors’ editorial indecisiveness led to unsustainable working hours for the ‘Spider-Verse’ crew. In response, the Twitter art community is urging for the delay of the trilogy’s final chapter, in solidarity of ‘Spider-Verse’ artists against unendurable deadlines. 

In conclusion, ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ is a highly engaging watch, which leaves its audience on the edge of their seat. Its stunning animation, soundtrack and characters elevate it as an outstanding sequel to ‘Into the Spider-Verse’. It brilliantly sets up the third opus, ‘Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse’, scheduled to release in March 2024 (though some delay is to be expected). With its groundbreaking techniques and exhilarating plot, I confidently recommend ‘Spider-Verse’ to all audiences. As Pemberton states, it proves that “animation is for everybody”. Animation, in all its glory, is cinema.


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