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'Across the Spider-Verse' delivers dynamic action

Spider-Verse has most superhero action ever

Just as 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home” beat 2022’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” in introducing the concept of the multiverse to live-action Marvel Cinematic Universe fans, so did 2018’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (and 2021’s “What If…?” streaming series for the MCU) beat both films in introducing the multiverse to Spider-Man and Marvel fans alike in animation.

(Warning: Multiple spoilers ahead.)

Between all those big (and small) screen works, plus 2022’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which is estimated to be the most-awarded film of all time, the formerly fringe sci-fi concept of multiple parallel universes and alternate realities has become thoroughly pop-culturally mainstream, beyond just evil Spock having a goatee in the original “Star Trek” episode “Mirror, Mirror.”

Thus, while “Into the Spider-Verse” felt ambitious for introducing a little more than half a dozen different Spider-Men (and women, plus a cartoon pig), this year’s “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” takes advantage of the conceptual groundwork that’s already been laid to open up the field of Spider-Men, Spider-Women, and spider-themed heroic creatures and cyberspace constructs, of multiple colors and cultures.

If there’s a version of Spider-Man you remember reading about in the comics, including a sentient version of the Spider-Buggy (named “Peter Parkedcar”) and Peter Parker’s clone, Ben Reilly, who first donned his costume as the Scarlet Spider during the 1990s, you’ll likely find them here, along with a Spider-Monkey, a Spider-Tyrannosaur and even an assortment of variant versions of our Spider-heroes’ villainous foes.

We meet Pavitr Prabhakar, an Indian Spider-Man whose home city is a mashup of Mumbai and Manhattan, in a visually opulent world deserving of its own Bollywood production, along with Hobie Brown, the Black British Spider-Punk, a rock-and-roll anarchist whose animation makes him look like a collage of street concert posters.

But as with “Into the Spider-Verse,” the main character of “Across the Spider-Verse” remains Miles Morales, an artistically and scientifically gifted Black-Latin teen in New York City, who’s struggling to balance his academic obligations with the superhero responsibilities he’s still keeping secret from his police officer father and his nurse mother.

“Into the Spider-Verse” teamed Miles with Peter B. Parker — a middle-age Spider-Man with a dad bod, whose relationship with Mary Jane Watson was on the rocks — and Gwen Stacy, a love interest to Peter Parker in several universes, but the Spider-Woman of her own universe.

While Peter B. Parker’s role in “Across the Spider-Verse” is significantly reduced (although we see he’s managed to turn his relationship with Mary Jane around), “Spider-Gwen” scores a promotion to co-star in this sequel, as we learn more about her life, her difficulties with her own police officer father, and the broader “Spider-Verse” that she now operates within.

In the original Marvel Comics, Gwen Stacy was Peter Parker’s girlfriend, who was killed by one of his arch enemies, but in Spider-Gwen’s universe, she failed to prevent Peter’s death.

The point of both Miles and Spider-Gwen, as characters, has always been that Spider-Man really is capable of being “the hero who could be you,” in Stan Lee’s words, with “you” finally applying to more folks than just nerdy white guys like Peter Parker (and me), by recasting a former fallen damsel in distress as a powerful heroine in her own right, and telling the earnest, good-hearted Black kid with stars in his eyes that he deserves to reach for his dreams too.

“Across the Spider-Verse” makes this message even more explicitly metafictional, as the assembled self-assigned protectors of the Spider-Verse disclose to Miles the hidden moral cost of keeping their collective reality running, which is the preservation of “canon” events.

In the comics, Miguel O’Hara was the Spider-Man of the year 2099, a dystopian cyberpunk future, and in “Across the Spider-Verse,” he’s the ruthless multiversal enforcer of “canon,” as we’re told that, whatever other variables there are between Spider-heroes, they must all make certain sacrifices, and experience specific types of trauma and loss.

We also discover, along with Miles himself, what makes Miles distinct among all Spider-Men, as he refuses to resign himself to letting innocent people pay the price to maintain the multiversal web, and he won’t be told by anyone that he hasn’t earned his place among his fellow heroes.

One of the defining themes of virtually every portrayal of Spider-Man has been the inevitability of certain tragedies, and how they help shape our personal growth and development, as well as the choices we make when we’re confronted with seemingly no-win scenarios, but one of the common characteristics of just about any Spider-Man (or Spider-Woman) has been their stubborn conviction that they can beat those odds, and save everyone.

In a multiverse of Spider-Men, this defiant idealism makes Miles Morales the ultimate Spider-Man, and it proves infectious, as “Across the Spider-Verse” culminates in a vagabond band of renegade Spider-heroes preparing to lead a charge against the rules of reality itself, all to rescue their friend, and to stand by his side for what he believes in.

Yes, this is a “Back to the Future Part II” ending, because this all gets resolved in next year’s “Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse.”

One of my online correspondents suggested that “Across the Spider-Verse” might be one of the most important superhero movies ever made, and thanks to its moral message alone — that everyone deserves to prove themselves a hero, without being told that they don’t belong — I’d be inclined to agree, even before we get to this film’s awe-inspiring animation.

“Across the Spider-Verse” brought professional comic book artists on board to create a CGI film that finally lives up to the oft-repeated promise of a movie that actually manages to feel like a living comic book, with each version of Spider-Man rendered in their own unique style, indicating their own distinctive subgenre within the broader umbrella of the superhero genre.

I watched this film with a theater full of kids ranging from grade-schoolers to more savvy fans in their teens and 20s, and they all absolutely lost their minds over its nonstop succession of overwhelmingly information-dense and kinetic action sequences, all of which were so dynamic, imaginative and viscerally thrilling that they made even the best Japanese anime films I’ve seen (and loved) feel like they were standing still by comparison.

As we watched the trippy closing credits (be warned, this film has no mid- or post-credits scene), one kid sitting behind me gushed, “That was more than two hours of the best pure superhero action ever, and I felt like it was just getting started when the credits rolled.”

It’s up to you now, “Beyond the Spider-Verse.” You’ve got the collective goodwill of an entire generation of moviegoers built up on your behalf, so don’t blow it.

Author Bio

Kirk Boxleitner, Reporter

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Shelton-Mason County Journal & Belfair Herald
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