Dina Reviews: Across the Spider-Verse

Let’s get one thing clear: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse from 2018 is the best Spider-Man movie.

It had so much going against it. It was a Sony Animation film that seemed to be produced mainly because Sony wouldn’t let go of the cash cow that is Spider-Man. It was based on the Spider-Verse comics that had a lot of neat ideas (including Spider-Gwen, one of the best newer Marvel characters), but a rather muddled and confusing plot that was essentially just another “boring and one-dimensional villain wipes out a lot of alternate dimensions, GASP! Will he wipe out Our Hero’s dimension tooooo?” This movie could SO EASILY have been a train wreck.

But as we all know, it wasn’t. It was actually good.

People have sung the praises of the animation often enough, so I won’t focus too much on that. But the movie wasn’t just visually great, it has good writing too. The scriptwriters wisely chose to downscale the entire thing so that for the most part everything took place in only one dimension, and it told a solid and emotionally gripping story about Miles Morales trying to live up to the legacy left by his dimension’s Peter Parker. The alternate Spideys were guests in Miles’s dimension; just many enough to establish how weird and varied the Spider-Man multiverse is, but not so many that the movie got all cluttered and confusing. And the boring villain was swapped out with the far more interesting Kingpin, who had a far more compelling motive.

And we all know the movie was a rousing success. A sequel seemed inevitable. So it probably surprised no one when Across the Spider-Verse was announced. As the launch date grew closer I learned that this would be the second movie in a trilogy and the third movie,  Beyond The Spider-Verse, would premiere next year.

I will admit it: I was a little nervous. The trailers that were released definitely hinted they were ramping up the stakes and including a LOT more references and a LOT more alternate universes, a lot more Spider-people, AND a lot more inside jokes and memes. Would they be able to repeat the feat from 2018 or would they instead deliver the train wreck I’d been afraid the first movie would be: A confusing and incoherent mess about a multiverse that got too wrapped up in delivering memes and Easter eggs and references, so that they forgot to actually tell a story?

Thankfully… no. To my relief, Across the Spider-Verse is actually good. It does get a LITTLE hectic and overcrowded at times, but it manages to root the story in the emotional journey of the two protagonists, Miles and Gwen. Sure, things have escalated to a ridiculous degree, there are a LOT of different AU Spider-people there, some of them pretty obscure, and there are a TON of inside jokes you just won’t GET unless you actually know a lot about Spider-Man.

But, turns out, most of this is in the third act, after we’ve spent much of the movie building up the situation, the relationship between Miles and Gwen, the re-introduction of the multiverse in a gentle and easily understandable way, as well as setting up the villain, the Spot. (And OH MY GOD, is that character hilarious.) We get new alternate Spideys, but the movie kinda eases us into them with first Miguel O’Hara and Jessica Drew, and afterwards with the chipper Pavitr Prabhakar and the radically awesome Hobie “Spider-Punk” brown.

Then the huge mass of Spideys and Spider-Man villains don’t appear until the third act, and most of them are kind of just in the crowd. Even though many of them are Easter eggs or cameos, most of them are just there as eye candy and even if you don’t know who they all are, at that point it doesn’t really matter. Everything IMPORTANT is explained, everything else is just treated as a quick “oh, it’s a weird AU, whatchagonnado” gag. And so it doesn’t really MATTER if you don’t know who Ben Reilly is, or why one weirdly animated Spidey is voiced by Josh Keaton, or even why Donald Glover is in one scene, it’s all just weird alternate dimension stuff.. Long as you saw the first movie, you’re good to go.

And of course visually the movie is a treat. Most of the alternate universes have their own animation style (some are even live action), and this movie definitely keeps pushing those boundaries for theatrical CGI animation, just as the original movie did… but I’m sure people are going to talk a lot about that too, and there are other things I want to focus on here.

First of all: Gwen. Shortly after the movie came out, I heard rumours that it was heavily hinted that she was revealed to be transgender in this movie.

Was it true? Weeeelll… yes and no. The movie never at any point says “hey, Gwen is trans.” Her voice actor Hallee Steinfeld isn’t, as far as I know (even if she HAS played a lot of queer character in the past!). But Gwen’s character arc in the movie is basically a “trans teenager struggling to come out and be accepted by their famly” arc. Now, you KIND of get a “queer kid struggling to come out” vibe with Miles too, but with Gwen the allegory is really blatant. Her home dimension has a very “trans pride flag” colour scheme, and the trans pride colours seem to get extra prominent in the scenes where Gwen is struggling with her identity or coming out to her father. When she has her big speech about having to hide who she is she’s DRAPED in the trans colours. Even her normally blonde hair takes on the trans colours.

And as if this wasn’t enough, she has a trans flag poster on her bedroom wall with the text “PROTECT TRANS KIDS.”

The moviemakers knew EXACTLY what message they were sending here. Even if Gwen hasn’t been identified as trans, her character arc is SO BLATANTLY a trans allegory that we’re left in no doubt: This movie is on the side of trans people. And that’s good to know.

So, all in all, I can breathe a sigh of relief and say that Across the Spider-Verse is good. It’s REALLY good. Is it AS good as the first movie? I don’t know. It’s certainly a lot funnier (Seriously, the Spot is SO FUNNY!), with more visual spectacle and interesting development. I kinda wanna smack Miguel O’Hara and Jessica Drew, but I’m pretty sure I’m SUPPOSED to want to smack them. I do miss Spider-Ham, who only has a brief cameo, but the cliffhanger ending hints that he’ll be back proper in Beyond the Spider-Verse… and I can’t complain when we get BABY SPIDER-GIRL! May “Mayday” Parker was such an awesome heroine with her own comic and here she is as a tiny spider-powered baby, and Peter B is such an adorable dad in a pink dressing gown and a baby carrier over his Spider-Man costume!

Though I will say it: The “Pointing Spider-Man meme” wasn’t NEARLY as funny or well set-up in this movie as it was in the previous one. It was actually one of the few moments in the movie that came across as forced. Oh well, can’t have everything.

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