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‘Across the Spider-Verse’ among best in Marvel series


Outstanding visuals sets it apart

By Dwight Brown | NNPA Newswire film critic

Buckle up, Spider-Man fans. What feels like a barrage of one billion cartoon images is coming your way. Digital effects are so massive and rapid-fire your eyeballs will scream for mercy watching “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.”

The Oscar®-winning 2018 “Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse” is a distant 2018 memory. Back then bug-bit, high schooler Miles-Morales (Shameik Moore) lived with his Puerto Rican mom Rio (Luna Lauren Velez) and African American, police officer dad Jefferson Davis (Bryan Tyree Henry) in Brooklyn. He’d been mentored by OG Spider-Man Peter J. Parker (Jake Johnson) and befriended and smitten by Gwen Stacey (Hailee Steinfeld)—aka Spider-Woman. Miles and other folks banded together to fight what was evil. It was a challenging feat made easy to discern by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman’s screenplay and expertly directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman.

That filmmaking team has turned over the reins to directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson. Phil Lord’s co-writing team now includes Christopher Miller and Dave Callaham. The difference is night and day. The ultra-contemporary dialogue sounds like kids on the street expounding on life, parents who don’t understand them and the ambivalent feelings they have for others. Multiple extraneous characters are piled on to the point of oversaturation, but are easy to tell apart, nonetheless. The plotline splinters in various directions. Some fascinating. Some not. Still, what’s on view is astounding to see 99% of the time.

The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) is a villain who blames Miles for his deformed existence. The white ghost of a figure, with black spots on his body, seethes: “I’m going to take everything from you like you took everything from me!” Spider-Man’s clear assignment is to stop him. The waters ahead are muddied by a band of Spider-People from the Spider-Society. They’re led by Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), who wants to implement a different approach to saving the Multiverse. They clash. They clash big time. And nothing will thwart a mission like a bunch of narcissistic super-heroes disagreeing. Miles: “Everyone keeps telling me how my story is supposed to go. Nah. Imma do my own thing!”

The visuals kick ass. Quick, kinetic illustrations thrown at the screen like a series of colorful, pop art paintings. Special attention to shapes, shades, textures, layers and angles. An uncanny mixture of old-school drawings and futuristic animation. The action sequences thrill, too. Folks dangling from webs, gliding through the air. Fist fights, annihilations. More people, more superheroes. Jumbo-size, comic book words plastered on the footage. It’s a lot to absorb. Stunning to look in the most ingenious ways. An assault on the senses. A good one. Makes you want to ask the film’s creators how many psychedelics or magic mushrooms they took before they dreamed up this fable. And if drugs weren’t involved, they all need psychiatric help!

Minus a few expository moments, it’s like an eclectic, staccato MTV video is blasted at you for 2h 20m (editor Mike Andrews). Or, like you just took a punch and are still seeing stars. The colors (art directors Dean Gordon and Araiz Khalid), costumes (Brooklyn El-Omar) and sets (Patrick O’Keefe) are stunning. The non-stop visual, digital, audio and animated effects are completely arresting. When Daniel Pemberton’s blaring musical score (driving bass and soaring strings) isn’t revving up emotions and energy, the most upbeat, neo-soul, funk, rock playlist is streamed, like it was culled from Spotify’s top ten: “Sunflower,” by Post Malone; “This is My Time,” by Lecrae; Familia,” by Nicki Minaj.

When the script isn’t selling bombastic, self-indulgent, big-picture visuals, it finds time to explore deep-seeded feelings. Heartfelt emotions between a teen boy and his worried parents. Between an angst-riddled adolescent girl and her struggling-to-understand single father (Shea Whigham). These moments are precious. Calming oases amid a stormy onslaught that’s as invigorating as it is exhausting. For the first 40 minutes of setup, the hurricane of hallucinations and fantasies are entertaining. But as the film rattles on, the younger moviegoers may stay more attentive than adults, who may become weary.

The entire cast conveys more drama with voices, tones and inflection than in-the-flesh actors could ever do in a live-action treatment. The new additions of Issa Rae, Daniel Kaluuya, Karan Soni, Jorma Taccone and Amanda Stenberg bring more life to the party.

It might be hyperbole to say that this state-of-the art animation is about as genius as it gets for the genre. But for kids, teens and twentysomethings, raised on MTV, comic books and TikTok, that isn’t an overstatement. It’s their truth. This is their holy grail. Their generation’s take on what a superhero parable should be. Zillions of images hurled at their eyeballs until they’re dizzy and in ecstasy.