By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
Traversing the multiverse has been an increasingly popular activity in the world of film and television. Last year, Everything Everywhere All At Once amazed audiences with a story involving an interdimensional rupture in reality and a hero who fought off the bizarre and bewildering threats of the multiverse. Later this month, The Flash sees the scarlet speedster superhero interacting with alternate versions of Batman in different universes. Meanwhile, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in the midst of their Multiverse Saga that encompasses an array of multiverse-hopping adventures like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Loki. But, in 2018, arguably the most innovative and visually impressive multiversal story debuted with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the winner of the coveted Academy Award for Best Animated Film. Now, after a few years wait, fans can hop back into the beautifully chaotic world of the Spider-Verse with Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.
The new web-slinging, multiverse-traveling adventure takes place one year after the events of Into the Spider-Verse and sees Miles Morales (played by Shameik Moore) once again team up with Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and other Spider-People of the multiverse for a harrowing, high stakes mission. This time around, the Spider-People face off against The Spot (played by Jason Schwartzman), a new villain on the scene whose powers threaten the stability of the entire multiverse. Issues amplify when Miles and the Spider-People, led by Miguel O’Hara / Spider-Man 2099 (played by Oscar Isaac), disagree on how to best handle the threat.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse excels in a number of areas, but perhaps none as glaring as the sheer beauty of its animation. Beautifully blending different animation styles representative of different universes and featuring frame after frame worthy of inclusion in an acclaimed art show, Across the Spider-Verse is stunning to behold. The action sequences are unlike anything seen to date in animation and even cinema more broadly today, featuring a palpably frenetic and kinetic energy that leaves you breathless when they come to an end. The incredible variety of animation styles used to bring a broader scope of Spider-People and Spider-Verses is so impressive and detail-oriented, perhaps more so than any other film…ever.
Beyond the rousing and more overt spectacles of the film, Across the Spider-Verse’s animation similarly triumphs in more intimate scenes. Throughout the film’s array of heartfelt conversations and quiet moments, the animation team flexes its visual muscles in subtly and accurately conveying a range of complex emotions through the characters’ faces and body language. For instance, there’s a moment of quiet conflict between a rebellious Miles and his mother Rio. Yes, the performances of Shameik Moore as Miles and Jacqueline Pinol as Rio are fantastic, but the nuance of the character animations in evoking so many striking emotions cannot be overstated. Simply put, with its jaw-dropping visual style, Across the Spider-Verse actively breaks the boundaries of what animation, and even cinema more broadly, can entail.
Through the film’s visual language, it becomes abundantly clear that the filmmakers harbor a passionate and deep-rooted love for everything that is Spider-Man. Across the Spider-Verse is filled to the brim with easter eggs, references, callbacks, cameos, witty one-liners, visual gags, and more that will appeal to every niche corner of the Spider-Man fandom. Indeed, the film will undoubtedly warrant multiple rewatches as fans try to identify every single easter egg and reference packed into its 140 minute runtime. While some of these easter eggs have been revealed in promotional material, many remain a secret so, as always, try to avoid spoilers before coming into this one.
Broadening the scope does not just apply to the film’s animation style and incorporation of Spider-Man references as the narrative is more expansive and ambitious than its predecessor, which unfortunately does not always go in the film’s favor. With an overly long introduction and a somewhat disjointed plot in the first act, Across the Spider-Verse takes a bit of time to find its feet. What initially begins as a suspenseful pursuit of the villain The Spot progressively grows into something far grander as the film progresses, which, while continually making the experience more and more interesting, means eventually Across the Spider-Verse feels overstuffed. The sprawling narrative, coupled with the wonderfully chaotic animation style and relentless pacing, means the film ends up being a bit too much all at once. In turn, this makes the quieter and more intimate scenes a welcomed moment of relief. As seen in the likes of Everything Everywhere All At Once and recent MCU projects, exploring the multiverse typically leads to more complex plotting and exposition. And, while a tight script from Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and David Callaham means Across the Spider-Verse never feels unapproachable, it does mean that there is a lot to keep track of.
Perhaps more critical to the quality of Across the Spider-Verse is its extremely abrupt ending. The likes of Avengers: Infinity War and Star Wars: The Force Awakens end on cliffhangers that make the wait for a sequel so difficult, but the open-endedness of these films’ endings have nothing on Across the Spider-Verse. The film is propelling forward at a million miles an hour, dropping revelations seemingly minute after minute, when it all suddenly comes to an jarring conclusion as if the filmmakers hit pause on the TV remote. The follow-up to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was originally going to be a single film, until Lord and Miller realized that the story they wanted to tell was too much for one movie. This led to the film’s original title, which was Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Part One). Although the (Part One) means the current title flows a little better (and that the third film is given a neat title with Beyond the Spider-Verse), a designation that this story is indeed only halfway over seems necessary. The most apt comparison to Across the Spider-Verse’s abrupt ending is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part I, but even the penultimate film of the Harry Potter franchise ended with more resolution and finality than Across the Spider-Verse. Due to the jarring conclusion, the meat of the plot feels like it’s only just getting started, character arcs are left unresolved, and the wait for the third part of this story becomes equal parts exciting and frustrating.
Despite disjointed plotting and an abrupt ending, Across the Spider-Verse replicates the success of its predecessor with endearing warmth. As Miles (and, in turn, the audience) grapple with a difficult philosophical question at the core of the film, he goes through such a captivating and heartfelt journey. Miles develops as a character in relation to Gwen and the Spider-People as the film explores Miles’ feeling like ‘The Other’ or a rejected outcast among a multiverse of similar people. But most effectively on an emotional level is Miles’ relationship with his mother. Miles grapples with the idea of revealing his superhero alter ego to his parents, a decision that creates great conflict within his family. Miles’ struggles to come out as Spider-Man in a particularly poignant scene with his mother that is so heartbreaking and will resonate with anyone who has struggled to reveal a side of themselves to others.
Meanwhile, the greater time allocated to Hailee Steinfeld’s Gwen Stacy affords immense development for her character, especially as it pertains to the loss of her Peter Parker and the relationship with her father Captain Stacy (voiced by Shea Whigham). Gwen isn’t quite a co-lead character in Across the Spider-Verse, despite an extended opening focusing on her that would suggest otherwise. Nonetheless, beyond Miles, Gwen remains the most interesting character of this series of films.
Amongst the seemingly infinite variants of Spider-Man in the film, Spider-Man 2099 and Spider-Punk are resounding standouts. Fans have clammored for the introduction of Miguel O’Hara for a while and will not be disappointed by how the character is brought to life in Across the Spider-Verse. Oscar Isaac plays the dominant “ninja vampire” Spider-Man to perfection, capturing his inherent leadership and troubled backstory with profound depth. On the more comedic side of things is Daniel Kaluuya’s Spider-Punk, a punk rock version of Spider-Man who wields a guitar and has plenty to say (both comical and poignant) about capitalism, totalitarian regimes, and other rebellious topics. In an extremely funny film with a true breadth to its sense of humor (and a cast that sees Andy Samberg as Scarlet Spider, Karan Soni as Spider-Man India, and Jake Johnson returning as Peter B. Parker) , Kaluuya’s character stands out as the funniest of the bunch.
Breaking the boundaries of what cinema can entail and the emotions it can evoke, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a stunning achievement. Every frame is meticulously constructed with such beautiful attention to detail, variety in animation style and color, and a deep-rooted appreciation for everything that is Spider-Man. Easter eggs, cameos, and references feature frequently in this cinematic experience that is any Spider-Man fan’s greatest dreams come true. Beyond visual spectacle, however, is a warm and profoundly emotional story about growing up and feeling like ‘The Other’ with a fascinating philosophical question at its core. Disjointed plotting and an unusually abrupt ending mean Across the Spider-Verse falls short in some ways and may be best evaluated when its sequel Beyond the Spider-Verse hits theaters. Miles Morales, Spider-Man 2099, and Spider-Punk are standouts in an ensemble of Spider-People, collectively delivering an adventure that is as impressive as it is ambitious and as endearing as it is relatable.