Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 07, 2023 8:52 pm 
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Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)

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Over-dazzling?

About the new Spider-Man animation, number two in the series, Ann Hornaday hit the nail on the head in her Washington Post review: "As in all things Marvel, a terrific movie cannot be allowed to remain a terrific movie: It must be sequelized, blown up, padded out and lengthened to create way too much of a good thing. In the case of 'Across the Spider-Verse,' that means a movie that is an immersive, mesmerizing delight to watch while being something of a chore to sit through."

Sadly, this is true. The characters, especially young Spider-Man wonderfully voiced by Shameik Moore, are charming and appealing and alive. And for young Miles' nemesis-enemy, the blobby white creature dotted Dalmatian-like with literal black holes that are doorways to the multi-verse, who do we have as the voice but Jason Schwartzman? The visuals again are bright and rich and radiantly colorful surprising eye candy and abstractly explosive, with fascinating and amusing variations on the introductory film, and sudden changes in style sometimes to go with a new incident or a new character. (The directors are three new people, Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson, the original three now moving back to producer status.) But despite these visual delights, the film, which besides as Hornaday hints is cloying, and incidentally has a run-time 23 minutes longer, its material isn't as fresh as it was in Inside the Spider-Verse.

This time those visuals overwhelm the plot of Miles' simple family life (hesitantly attracted to a Spider-Girl and constantly getting grounded), while the multiple multi-verse plot lines weigh everything down and absorb the film, like a virus.

In short, while Inside was fresh, delightful and surprising (and let's not forget it won the Oscar for Best Animated Film), Across is more just impressive. And less impressive because for all its richness, it's by now over-familiar, and so, too much of a good thing. Just having new mini-plots doesn't mean anything profoundly new is happening. The experience of being a youth who becomes a superhero by getting bitten by a spider and discovering extraordinary new spider-like talents and using them - the imperishable material that's so enjoyable in the hit live action blockbusters of the 2000's, the Toby Macguire and Andrew Garfield recensions, here gets overwhelmed by Miles' just being a kid, by the dazzling kaleidoscopic spaces, and by all the multi-verse's ultimately cloying multiplication of spider-people and sider-things and worlds. And the spiderish-ness is made up just of Miles in his slim black Spider-Man tights hanging upside down.

This is a new kind of highly automated animation. It's not the bloated, self-satisfied audience-pleasing critters of Pixar. It's richar and more energetic. In fact this is a trouble with animation: you can make anything happen and it's less like CGI and more like museum art; not for nothing are there a lot of references to the Guggenheim Museum early on.* But its mind-boggling-ness makes one long for the kind of animated film that resists this temptation, that sings because it's minimal. One thinks of the charm of stop-motion animations, the quirky charm of the Belgian one called A Town Called Panic (Panique au village), or the sly wit of Wes Anderons's delightfully cozy Fabulous Mr. Fox.

This said, I went into the movie remembering a review I'd skimmed where the writer reports his 12-year-old son's saying after being taken to this new film, "I think that may be the best movie I've ever seen." Off and on I watched it through that kid's eyes, knowing that its riches and wonders, the songs and allusions and rap and graffiti-like writing and notes in boxes popping up on the screen and disappearing, are of this present moment. For that kid, Tobey Macguire or even Andrew Garfield (who're now pushing 49 and 40 now, respectively, in real life) are kind of ancient history. So if this is moving forward and transcending the tradition in a new way, it may be right. Those seventeen 100's at the top of Metacritic are seeing the new film through young eyes. The new film for them has renewed the high they got from the 2018 one I too was delighted by.

Also... this one is a cliff-hanger. So as numerous reviews are saying, our final verdict must be reserved when we see if the third movie "sticks the landing" when it comes out next spring, completing the trilogy we're in the middle of now, or so it would appear.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, 143 mins., debuted worldwide May 30-Jun. 1, 2023. Screened at El Cerrito Rialto July 7, 2023. Metacritic rating; 86%.

*On July 13, 2023 the New York Times published an article about the movie's profusion of art references, mentioning Jeff Koons, Kandinsky, Mondrian and Hilma af Klint and the filmmakers' expressed wish to evoke visually Paul Klee and Lionel Feininger and a "one-liner" reference to Banksy repeated from the first film. But all this goes by so fast it may go unnoticed by most.

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