Review: ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ sets high mark for summer movies

(Sony Pictures Animation)

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is a gorgeous, kinetic, and heart-tugging piece of film-making that is simply one of the best super-hero films I’ve ever experienced.

And I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them all dating back to the serials of the 1940s.

Honestly, this isn’t just a great “super-hero” movie or a great “animated” movie, it’s a great film, one that not only is a shoo-in for a Best Animated Picture nominee by the Oscars but also one that should be considered for a Best Picture nominee, based on the movies that have been released so far this year.

Yes, I admit there might be some recently bias in my attitude toward “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” but it is without a doubt the best movie I’ve seen this year — a fairly mediocre year for movies so far, but I did greatly enjoy director Ben Affleck’s “Air.”

Enough praise can’t be heaped upon the directing triumvirate of Joaquin Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K Thompson and perhaps even more so on the writing team of Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and David Callaham.

Their collaboration creates a powerful piece of storytelling that hits at the core of the struggles of maturing from an adolescent to an adult in telling the burgeoning love story of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and Gwen Stacey (Haliee Steinfeld).

Though filled with fantastic action, at its core, this film tender story of love, regret, and hurt. This relatable core gives gravity to all the kinetic and map-cap wackiness of the smoothly constructed yet complex multiversal sci-fi storyline that includes endless variations of Spider-people, who all have one central commonality or “canon event” — strength and purpose derived through loss.

During his interactions and confrontations with his various Spider-counterparts from other dimensions, Miles learns that while he has spider abilities, he has yet to experience a catalyzing loss the forges him into becoming a true Spider-Man. He has the great power, but has yet to truly learn of the great responsibility that comes with it because of loss.

There must be a loss like the murder of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben in the more conventional Spider-Man storyline that’s been part of pop-culture since 1962.

Perhaps that loss will be Miles’ Dad, Jefferson, or his mother, Rio? That plot point sets up the next film in the series “Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse, which is scheduled to debut in March of 2024.

The film’s imminent threat is the villain Spot, who has the insane ability to open interdimensional portals anywhere he chooses. This power is amazingly realized with the animation that surpasses everything that has been done with the character in the comics, where he is an imaginative but throwaway character in the grand scheme of Spidey-lore. In the film, Spot remains funny, but is also a multiverse-threatening antagonist.

There are other threats, including the two that create perhaps the most tantalizing cinematic cliffhanger since Darth Vader froze Han Solo in carbonate in 1980’s “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.”

Though the film flits from varying animation styles almost by the frame, the movie works seamlessly. The multiple-dimensional plot line could have become a mess of incoherence, yet the writers and directors work to make it flow so naturally that the complexity of the plot is almost unnoticeable.

The animated action is a feast for the eyes, but it’s the heart woven into the characters that gives the movie all its resonance.

Certainly, superheroes and multiversal shenanigans aren’t for everyone, but if you enjoy them even the tiniest bit, there’s not a better movie to see than “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.”

(PG) 2 hr. 30 min.
Grade: A

New in Local Theaters – June 2, 2023

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (PG) 2 hr. 30 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Towne, Malco Pinnacle, Skylight)
The Boogeyman (PG-13) 1 hr. 38 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Towne, Malco Pinnacle, Skylight)

Classic Corner – For Whom the Bell Tolls

Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper in For Whom the Bell Tolls (Paramount Pictures)

There might not be a more meta movie than 1943’s adaption of Ernest Hemingway’s novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

Hemingway based his lead character, Robert Jordan, a young American who joined the International Brigades to fight in the Spanish Civil War, on his good friend and movie star Gary Cooper while writing the novel, published in 1940.

When the movie when into production, Hemingway handpicked Cooper, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars of the day, to play the character that was originally based on him. Jordan’s mission in the film is infiltrate enemy lines in order to blow up a bridge for a republican guerrilla unit that he is attached to during an assault on Segovia.

Once Jordan joins the guerrilla group, he falls in love with one of its members, the intriguing Maria, played by the lovely Ingrid Bergman, also Hemingway’s actress of choice for the movie.

The film is a romance set against a daring adventure that foregoes a simple Hollywood ending. As a Cooper and Bergman fan, it’s a movie that I feel gets is overlooked when judged against other classics of the era, but I admit my bias.

The film, however, was influential among filmmakers who rose to fame in the 1970s, particularly Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. If you check out Cooper’s wardrobe in the film, it will no doubt remind you of the garb Harrison Ford donned for “The Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and its sequels, which Lucas and Spielberg co-produced and Spielberg directed.

The film, directed by Sam Wood, earned nine Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture, Cooper for Best Actor, and Bergman for Best Actress among others. However, only Katina Pazinou took home an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Cooper and Bergman shine in the production that’s more melodramatic than novel, but despite that small criticism, the movie does an excellent job capturing the flavor of Hemingway spare yet direct prose.

The movie is available to rent on Amazon Prime.