“Miles, being Spider-Man is a sacrifice. You have a choice between saving one person and saving every world.”
So, I’m not sure how I feel about this whole breaking films into two-parters phenomenon that seems to be sweeping Hollywood. Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning is expecting to do it, while the Fast and Furious franchise has essentially made a three-part finale with the first installment out now. Now we have Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse joining the party. Personally, I blame the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises for this; they opened the door for this type of scheme. Pardon my saltiness; it could have something to do with the fact that I wasn’t aware that I was only going to be watching part one of two-parter prior to showing up at the theater. Had I known, I would have mentally prepared myself. All of this is not to take away from how great the film was. I would categorize it as one of best sequels that I’ve ever seen, as well as one of the best films of 2023 thus far in my opinion. Across the Spider-verse takes the successful recipe of lighthearted humor and character development and builds on it with a compelling story with quite a few shocking reveals. In all honesty, the only bad thing about it is it left me with a hunger for more and unfortunately, I’ll have to wait until March 2024 to satisfy it.
Starting off on a good foot, the original cast from the first film returned, which included Shameik Moore as Miles, Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen, Jake Johnson as Peter B. Parker, and Brian Tyree Henry as Miles’ dad, Jefferson Davis Morales, whose character saw a status elevation, becoming a pivotal person in the story. There are also a quite a few newcomers, but prominent talents joining the fun while also helping to expand the Spider-verse, to include Issa Rae as Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman, Karan Soni as Pavitr Prabhakar/Spider-Man India, Daniel Kaluuya as Hobart “Hobie” Brown/Spider-Punk, and most notably Oscar Isaac as Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man. There are actually even more prominent names, but I think you get the picture. All that is to say that in this film we get a good understanding and a great look into the Spider-verse, and it is vast, and it is intricate. This was a key point for me. In the first film, we meet these characters from all these different worlds, and they serve as our window into their respective universe. This time around it is a mirror opposite; Miles and Gwen are our conduit into these other worlds, most notably Prabhakar’s world, as well as Miguel O’Hara’s, as his serves as a pivotal backdrop for two bombshells that Miles receives in rapid succession, both of which have significant impact on his future and his role as Spider-Man.
Character-wise, the film is very much on par with the first film. Dare I say it actually surpasses it, as several characters introduced in this installment were very intriguing and entertaining. An entertaining one was Kaluuya’s Hobie, who is an anti-establishment punk rocker who challenges everything and refuses to conform to expectation. He is also served up as a potential rival for Miles in terms of Gwen’s affections. However, the most intriguing character is Gwen herself, whose backstory was brought to the forefront in this installment. I’d go as far as to say it is a toss-up as to who was the film’s primary protagonist, she or Miles.
Seeing Gwen’s backstory was another chalk in the win column in my opinion. It gave a better understanding of the character’s isolation and turmoil, which was only hinted at in the first film. This time around we get to see exactly what makes her so sad and reserved, as we learn exactly how she lost her best friend, her world’s Peter Parker, as well as the circumstances that followed that had a permanent impact on her home life.
The first half of the film is pretty lighthearted; however, things do take a turn for a serious in the film’s latter half, courtesy of those two revelations I mentioned earlier. Our hero finds himself quite isolated as everything he knows about himself is challenged. Even so, he is impossible not to root for, and while some perceptions regarding some characters we’ve come to love may be challenged, it is not impossible to see their side and reasons for their decisions. All in all, the latter half of the film had me on the edge of my seat and hanging on the film’s every word. And then the most devasting thing happened. The credits rolled. That’s right; we were hit with a cliffhanger just as things were starting to get really good. It took everything in me not to scream at the screen. On the one hand, I would describe this as a well-executed and highly successful ploy, as I am desperate to know how the story ends. So needless to say, I will be one of the first in line for Part Two. However, on the other hand, I would categorize this as cruel and unusual punishment, given that Part Two is at least nine months away. This could work against the studio, as the suspense will wear off as additional projects enter my orbit. It’s a gamble, but I believe it will ultimately work in their favor, as Across the Spider-verse is without question among the best films that I’ve seen this year. It is a worthwhile experience that I may end up repeating again this weekend with my family.