Look, I’m getting too old for this shit.
I just saw Spiderman: Across the Spider-Verse and it’s fucking exhausting. Seriously. I feel like I put in a full day of work after watching the entire movie and all the flash-flash-flash-FLASH-FLASH-FLASH of the animation.
The movie is clearly doing something right though. I saw the movie with my son and a friend and her kids and NONE of them could shut up about the film after we walked out of the theater. “That was the BEST MOVIE EVER!” My friend’s daughter said, her eyes bugging out of her head in that adorable way adolescents do after watching a summer blockbuster. I’m sure my eyes did the same thing after I saw Fellowship of the Ring but fuck y’all, that movie was a religious experience.
I’m not going to lie. There’s a lot in Spiderman: Across the Spider-Verse to admire, provided you don’t have any neurological problems that can be triggered by flashing colors.
The beginning of Spiderman is absolutely horrible. The opening sequence takes place on Earth-65, a universe full of vague pastel vomit backgrounds, shitty dialogue, jerky ugly animation and a female Spiderman named Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld).
The spasmodic animation is intentional on the part of the animators. I think it’s to give the imagery a more comic book quality but frankly the look is awful. It’s like the horrible shaky-cam style of shooting action sequences that Gladiator debuted in 2000 where the shots juttered so much that no one could see what the hell was happening.
Anyway, the pre-credit sequence (and it DOES turn out to be a pre-credit sequence, which surprised me because it had gone on so long I thought it was the first third of the movie) is a grind. Stacy battles a Leonardo da Vinci-type villain while dropping lots of unfunny one-liners. This is interspersed with Stacy having lots of angsty dialogue with her dad (who looks so much like the dad from The Incredibles that I wondered if it was a crossover) and pulling hard-to-follow moves that look like a bunch of neon pink “Post-it” notes fluttering over the screen. I realized that if the rest of the movie was going to be like this I was in for a bad time.
Fortunately we don’t see much of Stacy’s Earth-65 in Spiderman. After the opening credits roll, we go to Earth 1610 where we meet a male Spiderman Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and OH MY GOD WHAT A RELIEF IT WAS TO BE BACK IN THE BRONX! Look at all those cool blues and greens and greys after the neon-pink hellscape that was Stacy’s universe! Look at all those wonderfully-depicted backgrounds showing New York in 2023! Look at the lovely expression in all the characters’ faces and movements! I was captivated by the sullen teen boy lope of Morales leaving a party after being chewed out by his dad. A chill sequence of Morales and Stacy casually web-swinging through the Bronx gave me quiet joy. I also loved the way the Spiderman characters were able to express themselves with their eyes while wearing masks. It’s something that I don’t think a live-action Spiderman could pull off. Certainly Toby Maguire as Spiderman in the first Sam Raimi movie had to struggle with conveying emotion while in costume as Spiderman because the mask covering his face was static. And CGI was nowhere near the level in 2002 to make Spiderman’s mask show emotion.
Morales’ New York was balm for the brain. Even the animation during the Bronx portion was smoother (though still slightly more jerky than I would have liked.)
The movie’s villain is called “Spot” (Jason Schwartzman) and his powers allow him to jump from one dimension to another. Spot’s character design seems based on the villain Rorschach from Watchmen.
The Spot character morphs from being a slightly dorky wannabe-villain to a truly dangerous and frightening character.
Spiderman: Across the Spider-Verse remains strongest when we stay in the Bronx. Spot’s fight with Spiderman in a bodega is funny. Watching Morales’ struggle in the subway to transport a couple of cakes to a rooftop party is hilarious and well-timed while showing the familiar struggles of living in New York.
Unfortunately Spiderman does not stay in the Bronx. I’ll leave out a twist in the end which I loved but suffice it to say that when the movie actually does go across the spider-verse and leaves New York, my attention wandered. Not invested, sorry.
But maybe I am just old. I watched my friend’s adolescent daughter’s eyes glow as she said that Spiderman: Across the Spider-Verse was now her very favorite movie. Clearly the movie’s creators had hit the right demographic.
And I am just too old.