How “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” Feeds The Heart And Soul Of Its Predecessor
Note: This review contains spoilers for “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.”
In 2018, Spider-Man fans across the world were first treated to the sight of Shameik Moore’s Miles Morales swinging through the streets of New York City in “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.” The movie was beloved by audience members and critics alike, taking home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 91st Academy Awards in [year] and topping the charts as Sony’s highest-grossing animated film. While only time will tell if “Across the Spider-Verse” will beat out the competition from other possible nominees, such as Pixar’s Elemental and Netflix’s “Nimona,” it has already taken the latter title from its predecessor, grossing just short of 690 million dollars. But this is only a quantitative testament to the film’s quality, and it would be remiss to reduce it to just that. So what exactly is so great about “Across the Spider-Verse?”
I want to eat the animation
There could — and probably will — be entire essays written about the “look” of this film. Due to my personal favorite characters, I would like to draw attention to the animation style used for the anarchic BAMF — badass mofo — that is Daniel Kaluuya’s Spider-Punk a.k.a Hobie Brown. In a post on X responding to a fan’s inquiry about the character’s movement, animation lead Chelsea Gordon-Ratzlaff revealed that while most animated films moved at around 24 frames per second with position changes on the 2nd frame, Hobie switched on the second, third, and even fourth frame with a consistent outline around his character. As a result, his movements appear more sudden and jarring than other characters, a fitting choice for someone who doesn’t “believe in consistency.”
There is also an entire segment of the film in Lego animation which was created by 14-year-old Preston Mutanga, who received the offer after he recreated the entirety of the film’s first trailer with Legos. If I hadn’t known this going in, I would never have realized that it wasn’t made by a professional team; he did a phenomenal job.
Most notable are the little details: the Puerto Rican flag coloring on a character’s finger snap, the differences in how light is absorbed and plays across different characters’ hair and skin, and how hyperrealistic Spider-People blend perfectly with heavily comic-inspired ones. The film spares no details when developing its appearance, blending a comic book aesthetic with a 3D animation to create a constantly moving, beautifully working image. Perhaps the film will receive a VFX nomination as well.
An ensemble introducing: an anarchist, a sad buff dad, and flawless genetics
While Jake Johnson’s Peter B. Parker and Hailee Steinfeld’s Gwen Stacy are the only characters from the previous film’s team to make a notable return in the sequel, they are joined by the previously mentioned Hobie Brown, Oscar Isaac’s stoic leader Miguel O’Hara, and Karan Soni’s cheerfully optimistic Pavitr Prabhakar. Once again, the male characters present the audience with a variety of Spider-Men who are both alike and different — for better or worse. We see a contrast between Peter, who is currently raising his young daughter, Mayday, with the more somber Miguel, who despite his efforts to hide it is still mourning the loss of his daughter. And for all his talk of canon events and maintaining stability, keeping his loss in mind is the crux of his motivation; his grief, but also his guilt leads him to lash out and project his self-hatred onto the people around him, including the 15-year-old Miles. He is undeniably meant to be a tragic and sympathetic figure, but the film does not attempt to excuse the way he acts towards others; Miguel is a prime example of the difference between an antagonist and a villain.
A complete contrast to Miguel, Hobie Brown serves as one of Mile’s biggest advocates and as an older brother figure — and my personal favorite of the additions. Miles makes a point of calling Hobie cool, and he isn’t wrong; the electric guitar-wielding, proud and openly anti-fascist rocker is completely confident in his decisions as he consistently tells Miles to question everything and criticizes the others’ efforts to manipulate the younger hero. There is also the fact that the film first hints at him being an … ugh rival love interest of Gwen’s …and then completely subverts the trope by establishing that they have more of a friend or sibling relationship. A refreshing change of pace with a refreshingly healthy male role model. Similarly, Pavitr exhibits a healthy sense of being a teen boy growing into a man. He is great because he spits in the face of any infantilization that is sometimes done to bubbly, optimistic characters — possibly due to the perception of positive thinking as childlike “innocence” or naivety, which is very stupid. Pavitr is the youngest of the group to join the elite army of Spider-Men, having only been serving for six months at the time of the film. As such, he is — kind of depressingly — a much more untraumatized version of Spider-Man who still believes — and says — “I can do both!”
He has not experienced the pain that the others have yet (no “Uncle Ben” moment is explicitly depicted), and he can almost come across as arrogant when he is first introduced. Once he’s in action though, this facade falls away to reveal a hero determined to protect his home and its inhabitants.
Apart from Miles, Gwen Stacy is arguably the most significant character in this film, and they do an adequate job of balancing their stories. Gwen is going through a rough time when the movie begins, with her already strained relationship with her father worsening following the death of her universe’s Peter Parker, before culminating with her father pointing a gun at her after she reveals she’s Spider-Woman.
To add another layer to this, many fans — including myself — noticed the “Protect Trans Kids” poster hanging on Gwen’s wall, as well as the transgender pride flag that her father has on his coat. Coupled with the fact that Gwen is often lit in white, pink, and blue lighting and how she is constantly struggling with her identities as Spider-Woman and Gwen, the rejection of her father takes on the painful connotation of a failed coming-out — which it is, in a way. While nothing has been officially confirmed, this lens contributes another aspect of her character that fans could react to, and grounds her struggles in a much more comprehensive way than her being a superhero.
As a result, what happens at the end is even sweeter. Gwen also makes mistakes in her relationship with Miles, that is true, but the filmmakers take time to craft exactly why she acted how she did. Like Miguel, it wasn’t right, but as a contrast she is an effectively homeless teenager with no adult support system completely separated from her reality. She is completely dependent on the Spider Society for her ability to have a safe space and continue to be Spider-Woman. She also constantly grapples with her decisions, and ultimately positions herself to lead a group of Spider-People as a protective force between Miguel O’Hara and Miles Morales. I cannot wait to see what she does in the next film.
I’ve always said that Tom Holland is my favorite Spider-Man, but as much as I love him, Miles Morales completely blows him out of the water. I can’t completely explain it, but I think part of it is because of Miles’ heart and determination. When the original Spider-Man from his universe dies protecting him, Miles decides to step up and protect his home. When his Uncle Aaron is dying, Miles holds his hands and openly cries while it happens. Miles is allowed to cry; he is allowed to be vulnerable. Morales, like Hobie Brown, is helping to dismantle toxic masculinity. Especially in relation to the Black community and dismantling stereotypes surrounding it, Morales being able to cry alongside his uncle as he apologises and attempts to atone for his mistakes is such an important scene.Later in “Across the Spider-Verse” when Miguel threatens Miles’ father, Miles stands up to an army of superpowered individuals that includes his friends and says “No” — paraphrased here because the actual line loses its impact without context.
Miles never hesitates in fighting for “the little guy” for those he cares about. He hears his parents and uncle tell him to keep going and never give up, no matter who tries to stop him; he takes that advice to heart and fights for what he believes in. Miles Morales doesn’t believe in absolutes; people tell him he can’t do both that he can’t save everyone. Unfortunately they don’t say that as a comfort. They say that to discourage him from trying — to make him compliant. But Miles refuses because he believes there is always another way. At the end of the day, this is still part of Miles’ origin story; he fought for the role of Spider-Man in the first film and made it his own, and here he is fighting to preserve the role of Spider-Man as a warrior for all. The nearly 150-minute film is all about his growth and how he affects his environment and the people around him. I am thrilled to see what he does next in “Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse.”