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Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Christian Movie Review)

About The Movie

As Disney’s Marvel branch continues to flounder in its attempt to tell a compelling multiverse story that embraces the infinite possibilities of the concept while not undercutting the emotional stakes, Sony Studios appears to have cracked the code. Perhaps animation was the key all along—particularly when that animation is mind-blowing and revolutionary. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the follow-up to 2018’s critically acclaimed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Like most sequels, it builds on what came before it while ramping things up a notch. The result is a film that stretches the limits of its ambitious scope (and may leave some viewers behind) but ultimately delivers a visually delightful and emotionally satisfying story.

They say, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” and perhaps the greatest praise for the Spider-Verse’s visual style was apparent when watching the pre-movie trailers and noticing how many upcoming films are attempting to mimic it. Like the first film, Across the Spider-Verse is a visual splendor. Every frame is bursting with explosive originality and energy. At times, there is so much going on visually that it distracts from the plot, but it’s hard to complain about the excess when the visuals are so enjoyable.

The movie continues the story of Miles Morales, although Gwen Stacy also receives ample attention. The action scenes—while thrilling— are sometimes a bit too frenetic, and some of the character-building moments drag. But overall, the filmmakers strike a decent balance. So many recent comic-book films have sacrificed their heart on the altar of spectacle, so it is refreshing that Across the Spider-Verse allows its characters to exist as well-rounded beings outside of the action and plot. The movie has a wholesome story to share about families and belonging, and it allows itself the time and space to tell it.

The movie contains a lot of story. It has a mammoth runtime that approaches 2:30 hours. The action scenes move at hyper pace and the visuals are continually in motion.  And—as a PSA—the film ends on a massive “to be continued” cliffhanger, making a lengthy story feel a bit incomplete. At times, the film buckles under the weight of its immense ambition. It never breaks, but it tests the limits of its capabilities, and some viewers may feel that it offers “too much of a good thing.”

I watched the film with my 8-year-old twin boys, and their response was a bit tepid. They enjoyed it, but they both expressed that “there was so much happening all the time that I didn’t know what was going on.” That’s likely more of a commentary on the intended audience than a criticism of the film. Although “animated” is often equated with “for children,” Across the Spider-Verse is every bit a “grown up” comic-book story told through animation (which is, after all, the natural medium for the genre). I don’t think there is anything to deter parents from allowing younger viewers to watch it (apart from several profanities sprinkled throughout), but the movie is not specifically geared toward kids.

In the end, I enjoyed Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. I wasn’t blown away by it, but it’s hard not to appreciate the film. In a time when Hollywood feels stale (the comic-book genre in particular), it offers something new. Is it too long and a bit convoluted? Perhaps. But with spectacular visuals and an emotionally meaningful story, it is well worth the trip back into the spider-verse.

On the Surface

For Consideration

       

Beneath The Surface

Engage The Film

Free Will v. Determinism

Do our choices make a difference or are we merely following some pre-determined script? The film explores this weighty philosophical question from several angles. In the spider-verse, despite the many differences between the web-slinging heroes, it is revealed that certain important “canon” events must happen to all of them lest the universe begin to crumble in upon itself. Thus, Miles finds himself caught between the pull of wanting to write his own story and the pressure to accept his fate. He desires to save certain people but is burdened by the knowledge that doing so may cause the death of many. We are unavoidably shaped by our circumstances, but Miles and the other characters maintain a belief that they can transcend these influences to become who they desire to be and that their choices do matter in the long run.  

The film also explores this theme in relation to parenting. Families play a central role in the story, and in differing ways, all the parents question how much control they have on their children’s future. The movie doesn’t necessarily provide answers to the questions it raises. At least, not yet. But it is a surprisingly deep theme to explore and one with much spiritual significance. In one sense, it recalls the classic theological free will v. predestination debate. From another point of view, the theme echoes atheistic determinism v. theistic liberty. Are we merely a clump of cells and neurons being directed by external causes or is there a higher purpose in the universe that allows us to be active participants in our life? The movie doesn’t delve into religion, but its characters seem to live by the latter philosophy.     

Loving Families

Another central theme in the story is family. The primary tension for both Miles and Gwen is their relationship with their parents. While there is drama, there isn’t forced angst. Characters express honest concerns rather than criticism, and there is never any doubt that the families love each other. It is wholesome to watch as characters learn, grow, reevaluate their actions after disagreement, adjust, apologize, and remain supportive.

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