My own personal journey into reviewing films started because of Spider-Man. I was dead set on doing whatever I had to in order to see Spider-Man: No Way Home early to review, which is a dream I achieved. Spider-Man has been a staple in my life since the start. I have consumed all forms of Spider-Man media, from comics to shows and all of the video game adaptations. I love Spider-Man but Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse loves it more. Not only is the film a perfect sequel, it’s an understanding and evolution to all things Spider-Man, exploring its roots but showing originality is the way forward. But it’s also a film that pushes audiences to see what animation offers over live action while also rejecting the normal story telling beats that come with a hero’s journey. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a perfect film.
We find Miles Morales after the events of Into the Spider-verse without his support web of his amazing friends. On the other side of the coin, we find Gwen Stacy starting in the same rut but quickly finding others like her to support her on her own journey. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse deals with the multiversal madness of the previous film in a very unexpected way. Typically, I would give a lengthier summary of the film’s plot, but the trailers have been brilliantly cut to mask that, so I am not going to be the villain who unmasks it in a review.
Without getting into actual story spoilers, one of the films main staples is the idea of canon events. Canon is a word thrown around a ton in fandom spaces for an event that “actually happened.” So, for example, something like Bane breaking Batman’s back is canon. All the fans agree that event happened. But in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, these events are treated more like steps in what makes someone a spider person. I didn’t expect this to be a major theme explored in the movie, but the film deconstructs the Spider-Myth. Joseph Campbell was just the blueprint for the real heroes journey, which is Spider-Man stories.
The film weaves together what “technically” makes a good Spider-Man story but moves to purposefully say that sometimes things don’t need to go as we are told. You can change things by pushing a little harder or trying something new. The first film is about how anyone can wear the mask and make a difference in the world. Most stories follow Joseph Campbell’s idea of the heroes journey from Star Wars and so forth. The theory is in the book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which is a breakdown of myth. Spider-Man as a character has existed since 1962. He is a modern myth with hundreds of interpretations and retellings that all fall into the heroes journey. Not trying to get too Grant Morrison here, but this is a film about the modern myth of Spider-Man.
Each trailer and poster showed us literally hundreds of Spider-People that are all shown in the film. Each follows a blueprint of steps, such as the tragedy that sets the journey in motion. Typically the call to action is the death of Uncle Ben or other loved ones. But Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is about rejecting that path that has been laid out for you. It’s about denying convention to make your own path to change things for the better. It’s so much more than a story element, though, because it’s all over the filmmaking itself.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse pushes animation to new heights with inspirations from comics and so much more. Not since a film like Who Framed Roger Rabbit has there been a concept that pushes what people see animation as, like the Spider-Verse films. They are constantly switching their art style as if slipping on different masks.
New York in Miles’ Earth looks entirely different from Gwen’s, both reflecting how their art styles are for their most iconic comic runs. Getting to see the vibrant coloring of Gwen’s world really pushed me back in my seat to think about how much this film celebrates its roots. There are editor notes in the film for references like there are in comics. That alone made me tear up as a massive nerd. There are lettering jokes in this movie. LETTERING. This film remembered to acknowledge lettering more than most comic critics!
It’s clear that the team was made up of comic fans and artists like Kris Anka, who brought so many Spiders to the big screen with their own unique looks lifted from the artists and eras they came from. Ben Reilly is a good example with his darker shading from the 90’s that almost looks cell shaded on the big screen but works so well for their portrayal of the character voice by Andy Samberg.
Spider-Man is a character who has appeared in all media, and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse isn’t afraid to lean into that with its approach to filmmaking. When you see an animated film, you aren’t expecting sequences to switch from a modern style to a classic look but then over to a neon drenched New York, yet Spider-Verse does it constantly. But it doesn’t stop there. It blends in some other filmmaking techniques that I won’t spoil, but if you aren’t almost jumping out of your skin with joy, you are missing the point. The filmmakers love pushing things to the furthest reaches, and its something I hope to see inspiring more people.
It may be just me pulling up my tights a little too snuggly, and my brain isn’t getting enough blood flow and I’m babbling, or I’m positive Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse pushes the medium of animation in the mainstream to new heights with brilliant storytelling, incredibly explored themes, and a true look into all the things that make up Spider-Man. This film is a vessel for the creatives who worked on this to put everything they loved about the art form of comic books and media onto a big screen. Not just super heroes or different animation styles. I’m talking about jokes about lettering, bold uses of design of laying out the movie panels, and the celebration of color through the different styles. I didn’t think I could love Spider-Man any more, but Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse put everything I love into one film and spun a web like only a spider can.