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‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,’ a love letter to all things art and Spider-Man

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation

When the first Spider-Verse movie was released back in 2018, I remember leaving the theater feeling like I had just witnessed something amazing. The movie’s blend of comic book effects, 2D, and 3D animation styles went on to change the landscape of what animation could do and influenced movies like, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” and the upcoming movie, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.” Almost four-and-a-half years later, the new “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” continues to push these boundaries. 

This sequel picks up a year and a half after the events of “Into The Spider-Verse” with Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) teaming up to stop another threat to the Spider-Verse alongside the wider Spider Society. This movie has more references, (a few hundred) more Spider-People, more great music, and more quips and one-liners. Chances are if you liked the first movie, you will probably enjoy this one too. 

I never expected to see Spider-Man fight a villain who looks like they just walked out of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbook, nor would I expect that to look cool, but I’ve seen it now, and it was so cool. There’s also a new character whose aesthetic is punk collage art. In every scene he’s in it looks like someone cut him out of a magazine and pasted him into the movie. Gwen Stacy’s universe takes on a painterly watercolor feel, where the colors of the scene change depending on her mood. The background bleeds and drips into itself and becomes its own character, which can also be felt throughout the whole movie. Every background looks like a page of concept art in motion. 

Even the pages of Miles’ sketchbook, which were only on screen for a few seconds, were full of art and even included a sketch by the movie’s production designer Patrick O’Keefe. The film’s main villain first appears with blue sketch lines all over, which then disappear as he grows more powerful. This also serves as a nod to the process of making comics, where some artists do their sketches using special non-photo blue pencils which don’t show up after being scanned into a computer. 

It’s honestly amazing how the artists working on this movie were able to blend so many different styles and mediums together without having any of them clash. O’Keefe tweeted about the movie’s unique mashup of styles: “Take it, break it, remix it. Don’t worry about where the inspiration comes from just keep creating.” 

As a casual fan, there were probably a billion Spider-Man references that went over my head but the movie was still a very enjoyable experience. The art and animation were beautiful, and both the new and returning characters were super engaging. The expanded Spider-Verse cast includes cameos from a diverse lineup of spideys including Sun-Spider, who has Ehlers Danlos syndrome and uses mobility aids, a pregnant Spider-Woman AKA Jessica Drew, and Pavitr Prabhakar from the comic series “Spider-Man: India.”

I’m no expert on the Spider-Man lore, but based on how many times the row of Spider-Man cosplayers sitting in front of me at the theater audibly gasped and said, “Oh my god!” during this movie, “Across the Spider-Verse” did a pretty good job of catering to the hardcore fans.

My only real criticism is that there wasn’t more. After two-plus hours of vibrantly colored action, the movie jolted to an abrupt end as if someone hit the emergency brake on a roller coaster right as it was about to hit top speed. I left feeling a little overwhelmed and wished I could immediately watch the next movie. The good news is that the third installment, “Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse,” is slated to release on March 29, 2024, which is only about eight months away, and I am willing to wait to see what happens next.

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