PG. My wife argued that this movie was less aimed towards kids and, to a certain perspective, she has a point. I thought that the first Into the Spider-Verse movie was pretty darned intense. I mean, Kingpin beats a Spider-Man to death in the film. None of that really happens. But I will say that maybe this entry is less accessible to younger audiences. There's superhero violence and a few mild curse words throughout the movie. But I think the PG holds up on this one.
DIRECTORS: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson
Lord and Miller are untouchable for me, guys. I can't be objective. It doesn't hurt that they are dealing with a property that I've been low-key obsessed with for as long as I can remember. Now, I would like to point something out before I start gushing (which makes for very difficult writing, if I may add). I loved this movie. I thought it knocked it out of the park. The reviews for this movie, same deal. People were amazed by how much weight that this movie pulled. My family liked it, but didn't love it. I know that almost everyone acknowledges that it is a good movie, but does it beat the last one. That's a very tough battle to fight either way and a lot of it comes from a story of complexity.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse changed things for superhero movies. It too a property that has having a harder time finding relevance, and --with little oversight from a studio that tends to crap its pants on a regular basis --made an animated movie that knocked people's socks off. It was visually stunning. It was heart-felt and it sold a movie where the central Spider-Man protagonist wasn't Peter Parker, but a Black / Puerto Rican kid. That probably scared the suits at Sony, but it also showed that the tried-and-true studio system didn't work. But I have to imagine what it was like to be Lord and Miller, along with the other filmmakers, at this time. They knew that they had one shot to get this right. They knew that there was probably a really good chance that the first movie was going to fail. They made a movie and they knew that it had to work on the first try. There wasn't a need to plan a franchise. There was a need to get one tight movie out under the cover of darkness and to prove that this absolutely insane idea would work. I remember watching the special features for the last Spider-Verse movie and hearing of all of the last minute changes to this film because everything had to be just so.
The byproduct of that stress chamber was a razor's edge of insanity and simplicity. Sure, Into the Spider-Verse introduced the idea that Marvel had What-If'ed Spider-Man so many times that they had a backlog of great, well-developed unimportant Spider-Men. But the story had to be simple. As crazy as a concept as a multiverse collapsing in on itself was, it was really just a story of a team of likeminded heroes joining together to stop the bad guy who is trying to do something that could destroy the city. As brass tacks as it gets, I suppose. And that movie is watchable. My kids really got that.
Across the Spider-Verse...isn't that.
I mean, I'm glad it isn't that. I'm the nerd who has signed up for the more-insane-the-better tour of Spider-Verse movies. I trust Lord and Miller and they haven't failed me. But that attitude is kind of selfish on my part. I mean, I do have a bunch of little kids who want to see a funny Spider-Man cartoon again. Sure, my oldest daughter was whispering theories about the film throughout. It was weirder mainly because she wasn't sitting next to me. But she couldn't wrap her mind around the idea that this was a two-part movie. (We had a real discussion on how plot mountains don't work on movies that are "To be continued." Something in her broke with that idea.) But my kids went through all kinds of stuff with this movie. I mean, there were times where they were in love with the film. It's the punching and the kicking and the jokes. But then, during a quieter part, I would lean over to my five-year-old daugter and ask what she thought about the movie, hoping that she would love it. She just stated, "Nothing important is happening."
I mean, important things were happening. Absolutely bananas things were happening. We were discussing the value of individual lives and the metacontext of tropes. It was an addictive drug for an English teacher. Literally, the first lesson that we talk about at the beginning of the American Literature class that I teach is the archetype and the trope. Here's Across the Spider-Verse, making it the central concept of the film: supporting the trope. (We should all point out that some tropes are meant to be violated and not all the Spider-People need the death of Captain Stacy plot to work.) But I loved it because it puts Doctor Who in direct conflict with Spider-Man.
For all of Miguel O'Hara's waxing poetic about ensuring the canon of a universe ("canon" is also a word I teach through Wordly Wise 3000 vocabulary and now everyone's going to know it), he missed the central tenet of Spider-Man. Say it with me: "With great power, there must also come great responsibility." His entire thing is the value of every human life. In the film, there are half-a-dozen moments where Miles ignores the destruction of a large object getting destroyed for the sake of the people who would be harmed by the collapse of these structures. Miles gets it. He's a hero that is there for the sake of the people, not for the good of society. It's what Marvel and the MCU have been trying to say to varying degrees of success with their admittedly awesome Spider-Man movies. Spider-Man is a street level hero and he only deals with the bigger issues because the little guy gets stepped on.
So the notion that there is a multiverse of people who have forgotten this story is actually a little disheartening. They aren't bad guys. I mean, for the sake of analyzing needs and intentions, sure, the Spider-Verse Spider-Men are the bad guys. But from their perspective, they're trying to save entire universes. They lost that perspective by doing this for so long. After all, Spider-Man fought Thanos. He's been to space. It's hard to remember that your the guy who has a relationship with the cashier from the bodega. And can I blame them? They've seen when one of these canon events gets stepped on.
But Miles's story in this one gets to something so key that I can't stop smiling about it. In the face of all of these Spider-Men, Miles remembers that no innocent person could be offered up as a sacrifice for the many. Heck, there's something insanely pro-life about the whole thing. (I'm talking about the real definition of pro-life, which has been perverted by the rise of nationalism and now I've gone off of a tangant AND a run-on...) Yeah, Miles has a responsibility to those universes to make sure that they can stop encursions. But you know who is probably so grateful to Miles's grounded look at heroism? Pavitr and Captain Singh. Sure, Miles is fighting to save his dad. But that just ups the stakes. I get the vibe that Miles would be equally committed to fighting for an individual offered up as a sacrificial lamb to the needs of philosophy.
I mentioned Doctor Who before becuase I will always go that route. This is really a whole time-travel debate, but I will use the season 1 of Nu-Who episode "Father's Day" as my foundational text. The entire premise of "Father's Day" is that Rose refuses to watch her father get killed the same way over and over again. She goes to see her Dad on the day he gets hit by a car so he doesn't have to die alone. The Doctor, knowing this is a bad idea but full of empathy, allows her to make this voyage. But Rose, understanding that Pete Tyler is an individual and she loves him, saves him, causing time and space to be ravaged by time parasites. (There's a weird element to this saying, basically, that this wouldn't happen every time that time would be screwed with, but it weakens the walls between dimensions. Anyway.) The Doctor gets mad at Rose and gives her a speech about the nature of cause and effect. It's a similar arguement that Miguel gives both Miles and Gwen about Miles's decisions. The issue with that is somewhat different though, isn't it?
Miles isn't a time traveller. He's a dimension-hopper and he has knowledge into the future. But time hasn't been written yet. This is an arguement of selfishness versus destiny. Me, going back in time against the wishes of others to save my dad, that's morally uncomfortable. But for everyone, Jefferson Morales / Jefferson Davis (yeah, I can't help it) is still alive. It's in the trailer, but Miles is right. He's allowed to write his own destiny. It's not the role of other people to say that Miles can't do the small moral good by saving his father. I mean, we know how the next movie is going to end. Miguel himself said it. Miles wasn't supposed to be Spider-Man. He's the OG anomaly. That means, he's not teathered to Peter Parker's fate. Also, I kind of think that Miles has already dealt with his sacrificial act when it comes to losing Uncle Aaron, but that's something that could be tied to Uncle Ben. Either way.
But do you see how much I wrote about this? I mean, I loved this movie and I'm just yammering all day. I'm not even talking about parts I liked. This is just stuff that I want to talk about because I love when the bad guys aren't that morally wrong, and yet have an abhorrent trait about them. I love that Across the Spider-Verse allowed itself to get insanely complex. Some movies can't pull off the complexity of a sequel. But here I was, watching Across the Spider-Verse and getting goosebumps about the moral complexity of the whole thing. I mean it was rad.
And don't get me started about how beautiful the movie looked. Everything was stunning. Genius choices making the other universes visually different, even if some of them were only in subtle ways. There's also that whole plothole that they fixed for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, where people questioned why Wanda couldn't just replace a dead Wanda in another universe. AND THE BALLER SOUNDTRACK? It's nearly a perfect movie.
But this leaves a big question: Is it a better movie than Into the Spider-Verse. My gut is going to tell me "no", but a lot of that is just becuase I'm the only one who left absolutely in love with it. (Not going to lie, I got a little more defensive about it than I thought that I would.) I don't know if it is better or not or if I'm just playing cop-out, but it's just different. It's the same vibe as the first one, but without being held back. It is exactly what I needed it to be and I love a good cliffhanger. My kids, not so much. They forgot that the first trailer told us that this was only going to be part one. Regardless I really dug the movie.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.