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'Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse' may just win the series another Oscar

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

When an animated movie about an Afro-Latino superhero was released in 2018, few observers expected it to be a hit. But that was "Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse,” and it was a huge success. It took in almost $400 million at the box office, and it even won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, setting the bar a whole lot higher for the sequel. Well, that sequel is also now nominated for Best Animated Feature. And with the Oscars ceremony coming up on Sunday, here’s critic Bob Mondello with a reprise of his review for "Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse"

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Here we go again, again.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE")

SHAMEIK MOORE: (As Miles Morales) My name's Miles Morales. I'm Brooklyn's one and only Spider-Man.

MONDELLO: Not sure if Spidey's is the most started, restarted and possibly jumpstarted superhero saga ever, but with eight live-action features starring three different Peter Parkers and now two gorgeously animated "Spider-Verses" starring Shameik Moore's Miles, it has to be up there. And yet there's a new wrinkle - a faceless guy in white with black holes all over him robbing a convenience store.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE")

JASON SCHWARTZMAN: (As The Spot) Excuse me. Do you have an ATM machine? Preferably not chained to the wall? Nothing. This should be simple enough. Just make a hole. Grab the money.

MOORE: (As Miles Morales) Why do people say ATM machine?

SCHWARTZMAN: (As The Spot) Who said that?

MOORE: (As Miles Morales) The M stands for machine.

SCHWARTZMAN: (As The Spot) Spider-Man.

MOORE: (As Miles Morales) So are you, like, a cow or a Dalmatian?

MONDELLO: He's more a walking wormhole.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE")

SCHWARTZMAN: (As The Spot) I am The Spot.

MOORE: (As Miles Morales, laughing).

SCHWARTZMAN: (As The Spot) It's not funny.

MONDELLO: It kind of is, except the wormholes he creates are destabilizing whole universes, not to mention making Miles late for a meeting with his folks and a high school guidance counselor.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE")

RACHEL DRATCH: (As Principal) And a B in Spanish.

LUNA LAUREN VELEZ: (As Rio Morales) What? Miles.

BRIAN TYREE HENRY: (As Jefferson Davis) Are you trying...

MOORE: (As Miles Morales) Calmate, Mami. Eso no es my fault.

MONDELLO: That gets him grounded until a pal shows up through one of The Spot's wormholes.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE")

HAILEE STEINFELD: (As Gwen Stacy) Miles.

MOORE: (As Miles Morales) Gwen?

STEINFELD: (As Gwen Stacy) Want to get out of here?

MONDELLO: Gwen Stacy, Ghost Spider in her universe, introducing him to an elite crew that includes all the best spider-people.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE")

MOORE: (As Miles Morales) I'm Spider-Man.

AMANDLA STENBERG: (As Margo Kess) No way. All of us are.

MONDELLO: And even a spider-cat.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE")

MOORE: (As Miles Morales) Can this day get weirder?

(SOUNDBITE OF CAT MEOWING)

MOORE: (As Miles Morales) I guess it can.

MONDELLO: Where "Into The Spider-Verse" was essentially a tricky exercise in worldbuilding, "Across The Spider-Verse" is about maturity and personal growth. Miles discovers that his new spider buds have a lot in common.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE")

OSCAR ISAAC: (As Miguel O'Hara) There's moments in our stories that are the same for all of us.

MONDELLO: The death of Uncle Ben, say, and even as a South Asian spider dude establishes, personality quirks regarding phrasing.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE")

MOORE: (As Miles Morales) I love chai tea.

KARAN SONI: (As Pavitr Prabhakar) Chai tea? Chai means tea. You're saying tea tea.

MONDELLO: So the question confronting Miles is the one that confronts most 15-year-olds - indeed, most people. With a life trajectory basically laid out by family, tradition, circumstances...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE")

MOORE: (As Miles Morales) Everyone keeps telling me how my story is supposed to go.

MONDELLO: ...Does he still have options?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE")

MOORE: (As Miles Morales) I'm going to do my own thing.

MONDELLO: What makes his working out of the question artful is the literal art the filmmakers bring to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE")

STEINFELD: (As Gwen Stacy) Thread the needle.

MONDELLO: Clever takes on comic book illustration mixed with uniquely cinematic animated styling for each Spider-Verse - in fact, for each spider person, from punkish graffiti to Lego blocks, urban grit, saturated Indian reds and golds and the shifting watercolor pastels that make Gwen's universe seem to be reflecting her moods.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE")

STEINFELD: (As Gwen Stacy) In every other universe, Gwen Stacy falls for Spider-Man. And in every other universe, it doesn't end well.

MOORE: (As Miles Morales) Well, there's a first time for everything, right?

MONDELLO: If the last film was a major reset for genre expectations, "Across The Spider-Verse" is an expansion for artistic ones, rich enough in feeling and character and innovative visuals to warrant - and I'm kind of astonished to be saying this - the second or even third visit that fans will want to give it. I may just join them.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALLING")

SWAE LEE: (Singing) Just to save you, I'd give all of me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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