Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
In 2018, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse surprised viewers as one of the most dynamic, colorful and exciting animated movies ever made. It took advantage of the medium to adapt a comic book in a way that had never really been done before. It truly did feel like it was projected directly from the page to the screen. The result was incredibly refreshing and seemed like exactly how the studios should expand on what has already been done with these properties. Strangely, nothing like it has been attempted since. That makes the sequel, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, even more welcome. While it obviously doesn’t have the novelty of the original, it builds on its gorgeous world in clever and creative ways.
The first time around, teenager Miles Morales was bitten by a radioactive spider and found himself teaming up with spider-people from other universes to save all of existence. When we catch up with him again, he is struggling to balance high school and being a superhero, while hiding the truth from his parents and feeling very lonely. Then, his friend Spider-Gwen pops back into his universe, setting off a series of events that force Miles to decide what kind of Spider-Man he wants to be.
Much like the first one, the animation is the best part of Across the Spider-Verse (133 minutes, minus the end credits). The comic book-esque approach allows for all sorts of awesome visuals, without any explanation necessary. The coolest aspect is still that each character has their own animation style because, essentially, they each come from different comic books. So, when Miles, Gwen, Peter, punk Spider-Man Hobie and serious Spider-Man Miguel are in a scene together, we are looking at a variety of art styles. The fact that they complement each other so well is amazing. They all look/move in a way unique to that character. That also makes the action, with its constant movement, more impressive.
The logistics of someone swinging rapid fire through a city was practically made for animation. The early sequence where Miles is chasing a villain named The Spot, who can create holes that give him the ability to quickly traverse space, is breathtaking in the way it moves everywhere on the screen, yet still remains easy to follow. Unlike a lot of superhero movies where the action is the entire point, this story is about Miles, not Spider-Man. The action scenes matter because his choices matter.
That is where the Spider-Verse franchise stands out. The filmmakers could have just rested on how great their work looks and skimped on story/character. The movies would probably have been reasonably well-liked anyway and definitely would have made money. Instead, they focused on their protagonist more than plot, crafting a likable character with relatable issues. The best Spider-Man movies are the ones that have done that. Here, similar to Into the Spider-Verse, everything is centered around Miles. The plot, while complicated, isn’t so busy that it doesn’t have time to ground him in what is really important (e.g., family, friendship, making your own path, etc.).
In addition to being its own beast, it is part of a massive franchise connected to the Sony and MCU entries. The way it makes everything cannon somehow acts as fan-service and an effective use of the multi-verse. The references are utilized in fun ways and it opens up so many possibilities for other movies. I am certainly not over here asking for more superhero franchises, but this would a pretty intriguing way to link disparate elements together.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse may be a little long and, unfortunately, though understandably, it doesn’t have an ending (Beyond the Spider-Verse has been announced as continuing the story next March). Regardless, the action, drama and humor are on point. I legitimately want to see how things turn out for these people. That is rare for a big blockbuster. I hope they keep making these forever.
4½ out of 5
Shameik Moore as Miles Morales
Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy
Luna Lauren Velez as Rio Morales
Brian Tyree Henry as Jefferson Davis
Oscar Isaac as Miguel O’Hara
Jake Johnson as Peter B. Parker
Issa Rae as Jessica Drew
Jason Schwartzman as The Spot
Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson
Written by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Dave Callaham