By Matthew Sorrento.
It’s invigorating to see a broad entertainment reach the heights of cinema’s visual potential.”
While preparing the classic horror comedy Re-Animator, producer Brian Yunza had his director Stuart Gordon and other team members sit for a marathon VHS film festival of recent horror. The purpose: to top all of them. The results, one of the best horror films of the decade – and a clever rendition of the Frankenstein mythos, loosely using Lovecraft – show that the exercise worked, or at least helped. I’m sure producers regularly attempt such field research, probably with more resources, and that the Spider-Verse team had many. It’s great to see such efforts resound with success – in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, viewers are struck by the sheer beauty of every frame. Essentially, the team succeeded in topping other recent animated films visually, by maximizing the potential of a multiverse platform (after seeing 2022’s Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness fumble theirs). It’s not an overstatement to say that viewers will struggle to imagine each frame looking better, while the film keeps the amazing visuals coming (too bad “Amazing” didn’t make it into this film’s title). It’s also not an overstatement to say that the film expands far beyond its fanbase to appeal to all movie fans. It does so by incorporating the variety of comic book/film visual styles into a dreamlike kaleidoscope of impressionism, and it’s invigorating to see a broad entertainment reach the heights of cinema’s visual potential.
The plot, meanwhile, is what we expect, one that further explores the multiverse of the 2018 film with some teen romance and family drama. With fun surprises and plenty of humor, the script is measured to satisfy the fans more than expanding for maximum character growth. But it’s a tale rendered so that even younger fans can’t look away during an extensive running time. The multiverse treatment launches an astounding variety of visual expressions. Terry Gilliam succeeded in a form of this style back in the 1980s, especially in Time Bandits, by breaking his characters away from a streamlined popular narrative of the Lucas/Spielberg age: if Alex Cox had the ideal conclusion in Repo Man, with his anti-hero and unlikely mentor flying in a space-bound atomic car into (unexplained) hyper speed, Gilliam worked the conceit into full narratives. Across the Multi-Verse shows such fluid inspiration, even better than the first in the series and making us skeptical that the follow-up can match it.
Matthew Sorrento is Editor-in-chief of Film International.