For Spider-Man Experts OnlyWarning: this review of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” may suffer from Generation Gap-itis. At the press screening, I sat next to a trio of what looked to be Generation-Z critics who were on the edge of their seats for the duration of the 2 hour, 20 minute run-time, “Oo-ing” and “Aah-ing” about various details. Their minds were absolutely blown by the cameos, which would occasionally slam them back into their seats, where they would need a bit of recovery time for their breathing to return to normal. I, on the other hand, was bored out of my skull.
What Plot?This is the movie version of folks who suffer from extreme clutter. Ever visit that particular artist-type who’s got epic clutter? Like, actual pathways around islands of paper, book stacks, and dirty laundry, that stand four-feet high? It would take 10 pages to define the plot here. If you’re not a dyed-in-the-wool Spider-nerd, the entire movie presents as a barrage of rapidly shifting visuals that look like a sped-up documentary of circa-1970’s New York subway graffiti, jumping from one subplot to the next without much explanation or resolution. That, combined with the current trend of movie theaters to blast sound at the decibel-level of a NASCAR racetrack, can leave you with a headache.
Okay, here’s the plot: In “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” Miles Morales, the movie’s central character, also known as web-slinging superhero Spider-Man (voiced by Shameik Moore) is a high school senior. Miles seems to be just as confused by what’s going on in his world as many viewers will be. Miles, who lives in New York City’s Brooklyn, is one of several people or creatures who have a Spider-Man superhero alter-ego.
In the Spider-Verse, these various Spidey iterations can time-shift and appear in other universes, depending on if they have the power to do so or are sent there by someone else. Unlike the teenage Peter Parker in the “Spider-Man” franchise, or even the Miles Morales in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” the Miles in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is barely shown in school or interacting with classmates.
Miles’s main ally in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), a blond teenage girl with a punk haircut, around Miles’s age, who may or may not be his love interest. Gwen has a superhero alter ego named Spider-Gwen, who was the last person known to see the adult Peter Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson), also known as the most famous Spider-Man, before Peter died.
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”: All You Need to Know
This superhero animated film features a racially diverse cast of characters (black, white, and Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class. The film, trying to pack a multi-verse-hopping story with several parallel plots into a two hour and twenty minute runtime, includes many, um, progressive, and perhaps, healing elements? Like, for example, “BLM” stickers alongside talk of “good cops”? And a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment when a disabled Spider-person makes a joke about using humor as a crutch?
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is so enamored with the concept of multitudinous Spider-beings that, as if using a fire hose, it sprays out a huge mess of them, to the point that quantity squelches any real quality character development.
This is a review for, say, 40-somethings and up. Rotten Tomatoes now has, like, one hundred million film critics; if you want a glowing Gen-Z review of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” you need only scroll for five seconds to find one.
Parents hoping for an engaging watch for their kids should know the kids will most likely be immediately bored and/or confused. Part of the success of the original episode of this spin-off franchise of “Into the Spider-Verse” was its stand-alone ability—there were plenty of references for comics fans, of course, but it was entirely legible to viewers unfamiliar with every piece of Spider-Man media.
“Across the Spider-Verse,” however, make you feel like there are movies, video games, and TV shows you’d need to consume to have any understanding it.