“SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE”
Starring Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Jake Johnson, Jason Schwartzman, Issa Rae, Karan Soni, Daniel Kaluuya, Oscar Isaac
Written by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and David Callahan
Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson
Produced by Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Christina Steinberg

By Matt Neufeld
May 31, 2023

There is really no need for yet another Spider-Man movie, and there’s certainly no need for another convoluted, chaotic, confusing and confounding multiple universe nightmare of a movie. Thus, there was really no need for the convoluted, chaotic, confusing, confounding and ultimately awful disaster that is the disappointing, over-done “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.”

“Across” plays like the worst fever dream of several overly-committed fan-boys and fan-girls who seem to have dived way too far, far down the spider hole and then couldn’t find their way out of it. The movie fails in terms of production, directing, acting and writing–and even the animation is disappointing, on a consistent level. And if the animation fails overall in a feature-length animated movie, things are pretty rough, and if you lose that animation foundation along with every other basic filmic element, then the movie just can’t be rescued.

With “Across,” the three credited directors—three, I say!–direct the movie’s action at such an over-done, over-driven, over-loaded and over-loud momentum, you’d think they were all suffering multi-studio-produced panic attacks. Tidal waves–tsunamis, really–of alternating, pulsating, quivering and wildly careening color, light, hues, tones, differing animation styles, color schemes and, seemingly, acid trip flashes and flashbacks, flash by at such a rapid rate, at such a fevered pace, everything just ends up muddled, smothered and buried amid itself. There’s no subtlety, no time to breathe, no real chance to slow down, no chance for characters to talk in normal terms and in normal ways, and no time to reflect. It’s all done just too fast, and there’s just too much, too everything.

The animation itself is perplexing. Besides the bizarro, overly-rushed pacing, timing and editing, the colors are muted, hazy, unappealing and even blurry and unfocused in many scenes. It’s all just too much of too little, and even many much-lower-budgeted feature-length animated movies have succeeded with much better, more colorful, more tasteful and more stylized animation. Even many short animated films have much better animation. There’s just no defining or connecting strong, real class or style to the animation in “Across.”

The story is as confusing, muddled and over-done as the directing, editing, timing, pacing and animation. It’s not really much of a cohesive, strong or meaningful story in general. Spider-Man fights several supernatural beings across several layered, nonsensical, moronically absurd parallel and colliding and overlapping universes while he also attempts to keep the insane and inane universes from collapsing among and into themselves, or something vaguely similar to something like that, or maybe not. It’s all unclear. It’s not that one fell asleep, but the nightmarish fevered rush of this movie made one feel like they devolved deep into some type of nightmare haunted house fun ride that actually wasn’t fun or scary. It’s all surface, with no underlying core style or substance. The story, backstories, dialogue and script are so full of themselves and so full of deep-dive fan-boy and fan-girl geekdom, it’s just all too much.

The dialogue and the story itself are littered with cliches and the same old same old. There’s very little in “Across” that we all haven’t already seen, heard or endured before.

And “Across” can’t overcome one major, simple, over-riding dark cloud hanging over everything: Where the holy hell are Peter Parker and Mary Jane? Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and, strangely, Peter Parker is not the main character in “Across”–but he should be. And Mary Jane is Peter Parker’s true, real girlfriend. She, too, should be there in this movie. Without Peter Parker, there is no Spider-Man. Without Mary Jane, there is no love story. Without them in the movie, there is no Spider-Man movie.

Besides all of these very real problems, there’s this irritating, annoying, too-easy, too-pat, uninventive, geeky, nonsensical and just plain ridiculous gimmick and fall-back-con of this already tired, over-used and cliched multiple universe thing. This gimmick just doesn’t work. It’s already brought down the Ant Man series, the Doctor Strange series, the Star Trek series, the Avengers series and too many other series. It’s just…..dumb. That’s right—dumb. And too easy. What possible tension, suspense, drama, conflict or even just mature, intelligent storytelling can anyone achieve when, if you run into a writer’s block, all that you do next is open up a portal to another universe, take your characters there, start all over again, make up something more ridiculous for each layered, tired and subsequently moronic and cluttered universe, create another story, and then rinse, dry, repeat, add more soap, then rinse, dry and repeat. Then repeat again. Then repeat…is this annoying? Yes, it is–just like how the whole moronic, idiotic multiple universe gimmick is annoying on every storytelling, cinematic and filmic level.

The multiple universe gimmick needs to be retired. The Spider-Man series needs to be retired. The Disney-Marvel deluge needs to be retired. The DC Comics deluge needs to be retired. Everything everywhere in the entire Disney-DC-Spider-Man-Batman-Superman-Avengers-X-Men-Fantastic Four-Wonder Woman-Etc. universe needs to be retired, all at once. That’s not too harsh a statement, and this isn’t the only source where that is being said. This entire over-reliance on comic book superhero movies and attendant uninventive cliched clunky carbon copy sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, revisitings and franchise films is just ruining, devouring and imploding the film industry–and it’s just got to stop.

For the record, “Across,” amazingly, is the fourteenth, count ’em, fourteenth Spider-Man movie. You read that right: Fourteen. Here’s that number again: Fourteen. To refresh everyone’s memory, here they are: “Spider-Man,” 1977; “Spider-Man Strikes Back,” 1978; “Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge,” 1981; “Spider-Man,” 1978, a Japanese release; “Spider-Man,” 2002; “Spider-Man 2,” 2004; “Spider-Man 3,” 2007; “The Amazing Spider-Man,” 2012; “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” 2014; “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” 2017; “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” 2019; “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” 2021; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” 2018; and now “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” 2023.

All of the above is true. The names have not been changed to protect the guilty.

Sam Raimi’s beautiful, well-written, well-directed, well-produced and well-acted 2002 origin film, “Spider-Man,” starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane, remains the best film in the entire forty-six-year-old series.

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is simply the latest template reason and example of why all of this talk about how over-done and cliched comic book superhero movies are destroying the craft of moviemaking is just true, and why, oh why, this all just has to stop, this all just has to end.

With great movie-making power comes great movie-making responsibility. It’s just sad to see studio suits, producers, directors, writers and actors forgetting this adage. Perhaps we need to lock the guilty parties in a darkened movie palace movie theater–a real, actual movie theater–and have them watch Sam Raimi’s 2002 “Spider-Man” and Richard Donner’s 1978 “Superman”–which is still the very best of all of the comic book superhero movies–over and over again until they get the point–and truly learn something about that power and that responsibility.

###

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years.