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Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)
It's how you wear the mask that matters.
Director: Joaquim Dos Santos, Justin K. Thompson, Kemp Powers
Science Fiction

After reuniting with Gwen Stacy, Brooklyn’s full-time, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is catapulted across the Multiverse, where he encounters the Spider Society, a team of Spider-People charged with protecting the Multiverse’s very existence. But when the heroes clash on how to handle a new threat, Miles finds himself pitted against the other Spiders and must set out on his own to save those he loves most.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)

Chapter and Verse

Lest I sound overly critical below, let me say up front that this is an important film if only because it extends the vocabulary. I’m excited by it and what we may expect.

However, I recently commented on ‘Fast X’ and noted that these sorts of films have three relatively independent components: “Action scenes of some kind, a cosmology, and a story to weave them together”. Usually, the action scenes are pretty much from the same constraints, so they differentiate in relatively small ways. Chases and fights are basically the same form, and you really have to innovate to differentiate.

The cosmology is where the big differentiators usually come in. Stories are usually thin and silly. This story is wholly original with few predictable elements. Yes, it is built around the same father-son spine that curses so many films. And we know that love will triumph in a third film. And we know they will follow established practice in the number and frequency of twists. But I think the story is fresh.

The cosmology? Well, as usual, you have to just go with it without asking too many questions. I felt a bit betrayed by the sudden introduction of fixed world-lines and essential canon events because it ran against every intuition established in the first film — indeed in this film up until it is revealed. I do appreciate that the Spider-verse is a star of the show, and that we learned something new and more fundamental than anything in the first film. Avatar 2 added nothing at all to that cosmology.

But the cinematic effects? I admit that I was thrilled, seeing this in a quality theatre. I like the novelty, and the seeming diversity of styles. Nominally, a different animation style comes from each universe. They were less consistent in the earlier film on that score than here. But this student of film likes what cameras can do, and explorations of causal depth, and the mysteries of background motion. We have none of that here: every one of the dozens of styles are based on 2d drawing conventions. I get that this is more honestly a visual reference/homage to comics, but holy cow what a lost opportunity. These films could reinvent cinema, if only they would embrace cinema a little bit.

Another nit. Because we are simply seeing animated drawings, the action scenes have less action in them, far, far less than what we need. So the filmmakers have made up for it with much faster than normal edits, and less continuity between edits. The result is unfamiliar enough for us to leave the theatre thinking the cinematic value was there. But it was missing as much as if all we saw were flashing lights.

But hey, I’m rooting for this team of Lord/Miller. First with Lego and now with comics, an unabashed breaking of rules, multi-ironic comic stance, and character clarity. We’re lucky they are here.

Posted in 2023

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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