"Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse," the sequel to the 2018 hit animated film "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," finally hits theaters and it is totally worth the wait.
Ever since Miles Morales swung onto the screen as Brooklyn's Spider-Man, he has been my favorite Marvel screen character. And with the arrival of "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse," his films remain at the very top of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Okay, technically, these animated films exist — like those Spider-People variants in the Spider-Verse — in a kind of parallel universe since they come from Sony Animation and not from Disney and Marvel Studios. It's a rights issues, and Sony has ended up with the rights to Spider-Man and can only maintain the rights if they keep making Spidey movies. And while not all of the Sony Spidey films are great, the two "Spider-Verse" ones are perfection.
'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse'
At one point Miles (voiced again by Shameik Moore) complains, "Everyone keeps telling me how my story is supposed to go." But he decides he's "gonna do my own thing."
And that's what both the "Spider-Verse" films have done, their own thing. While the story is rooted in the comics, the films have developed an audacious narrative style that pushes the envelope on anything we have seen before in American feature film animation. It's a style overflowing with action, humor and heartfelt emotion.
"Across the Spider-Verse" picks up where "Into the Spider-Verse" left off. Miles has matured a bit into his role as Brooklyn's Spider-Man but still has not mastered juggling his superhero duties with school. Then Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), another Spidey, reappears in his life to add another layer of complication. Miles discovers that there is a multiverse populated by a team of Spider-People responsible for protecting all the various worlds. When a new threat arrives, there is a difference of opinion on how to meet it and about whether Miles is a part of that threat or a part of the solution.
The animation in "Across the Spider-Verse" is spectacular. It’s breathtakingly innovative and cinematic but also deeply indebted to the comic book form. Other animated films may boast state of the art technology but "Across the Spider-Verse" puts that technology to work in exciting new ways. The animation style reflect the personality of each Spidey and each dimension. The styles then collide, explode, and melt into each other in clever ways. Whether you are consciously aware of it or not the colors, the backgrounds, the line definition are all telling us something about the story or the mood of the character in extraordinary ways that actually advance and enhance the story.
Then there are times when the screen splits into panels like a comic book to not only let us see multiple perspectives on a scene but also to remind us where this story comes from and the beauty of sequential art.
As with the first film there is also a surprising emotional weight to the story that sneaks up on us and makes the film so much richer. The film is written by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Dave Callaham. They do a great job of keeping the pace of the narrative fast and breathless while also leaving enough time for characters to develop. And as with most of the Spider-Man films, animated or live-action, there is a sense of consequences and responsibility for one's actions. These "Spider-Verse" films deserve credit and praise for conveying more genuine emotion than most of the live-action films achieve.
Lord and Miller were also involved in the first "Spider-Verse" film and have been behind the animated Lego films. Lord and Miller were also famously, or maybe infamously, fired from the Lucasfilm young Han Solo film. Seeing how they have guided these animated Spideys to such success and such clever narratives, I have to wonder what they might have been able to bring to the Star Wars universe. But maybe that firing inspired them to kick up their game for these Spidey films. Kudos to them, as well as the rest of the creative team, for making these "Spider-Verse" films such a joy and perfect for anyone of any age to fall in love with.
I only have one complaint about "Across the Spider-Verse" (which will make my ten best list for 2023) and it’s about "The Empire Strikes Back" cliffhanger ending. I was not expecting that and there’s something frustrating about the lack of resolution. But the third film is supposedly coming out early next year and since Miles has yet to disappoint me, I’ll just try to wait patiently to find out what happens next.
So if you want to improve your weekend, just go see "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse."
Also playing this weekend
'God Told Me To' on Saturday
I just want to mention that this weekend there will be another Bonkers Half-Assed Midnight movie feature (in by 10:00 p.m. out by midnight) this Saturday at Digital Gym Cinema. Matt Rotman of Bonkers Ass Cinema will present the truly insane Larry Cohen film "God Told Me To" from 1976. I could tell you what happens in this film but you would still be surprised and shocked by how it all unravels on screen.
Tony Lo Bianco is a New York detective trying to figure out why random people are suddenly committing murders and claiming God told them to. I will be there to co-present with Film Geeks SD and I urge you to check out this new 4K restoration of the Cohen cult classic that we will be screening.
'The Boogeyman' now playing
Stephen King's short story about a Boogeyman hiding in the closet and killing children has inspired two short films and one feature prior to this new "The Boogeyman" opening this weekend.
The literary story is about a father who recounts to a psychiatrist the horrific things that happened when he did not believe his kids about a Boogeyman in the closet. The new film uses that as the jumping off point for a new story about a father and his family terrorized by this Boogeyman. And like the recent "Smile," grief is a key factor in what this monster is craving.
So here's what I like about "The Boogeyman": It takes the horror seriously and does not hide behind a "Scream"-styled meta jokiness; it delivers a cool, scary monster; and it is willing to kill a kid in the opening scene (off-screen since it is rated PG-13) to announce that it is willing to go there.
What I don't like: How stupid the characters are!
I just don't understand why so many horror films are too lazy to go over their scripts and address those moments when characters behave in such a dumb manner that it pulls you out of the film. In this case we have a monster that does not like light, and characters keep entering dark places and never think to use their cell phone light. Almost everyone has a cell phone now and uses it to not trip in the dark when we walk to the bedroom late at night or when rustling around in the garage. It's just annoying to not address simple things like this.
Plus weird stuff is happening and the dad just seems to vanish. And the house seems so big that no one can hear what's happening in the little girl's room — including the sister right next door.
I was also disappointed that the most annoying character in the film did not meet a horrible end. Come on, give that to me in a post-credit stinger at least!
It's just frustrating when a film has some solid craftsmanship and promising elements but just can't take the time to fine tune its script to remove at least some of those groan moments when the audience just can't accept why a character is behaving so foolishly.
If you are craving horror on the big screen this weekend, "The Boogeyman" provides some fun and its dark visuals will play better in a cinema.