Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse rightly won the Academy Award as Best Animated Feature in 2019. The film was truly like a graphic novel come to life, thanks to its fun story and groundbreaking animation style. Some people – and I’m one of them – have argued that it’s the best Marvel movie ever made, despite not being an official part of the MCU. A sequel was always going to have big shoes to fill. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is actually even more ambitious and eye-popping than its predecessor. Whereas the live-action Marvel flicks are becoming increasingly similar, these two are forging new paths.

The movie begins with a prologue showing how Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) left her own dimension behind and began moving through the Spider-Verse. Then it moves on to the main plot. Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is still hiding his superhero status from his parents. There’s a new villain on the scene, Hole (Jason Schwartzman), who can make holes open to steal things or transport himself from one place to another. It’s clever how he initially appears as a comical bad guy, only to become more sinister and threatening later.

The arrival of Hole also brings Gwen back to Miles’ world. She’s now part of an elite team of Spider-Mans, led by Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), a.k.a. Spider-Man 2099. Their job is to keep the Spider-Verse intact by returning strays to their proper dimensions. Miles very much wants to join them in the fight against Hole. Miguel very much wants to keep him out. No more should be said about the plot, other than that very significant developments threaten Miles’ life as both a superhero and as a regular teenager.

Across the Spider-Verse is not kidding around with that title. Multiple versions of the character appear at different points. There’s an Indian Spider-Man, a LEGO Spider-Man, and a punk rock version named “Hobie” (Daniel Kaluuya). Those are just three of over a dozen. Each is animated in a distinct style, and seeing how those mismatched styles interact is a treat. The film really gets at how malleable the character is. When Miles gets to Spider-Man headquarters, where hundreds of variations of the webslinger abound, you’ll wish you had a pause button to scan the frame more fully.

The story has a pleasing amount of maturity. Miles and Gwen both keep their alter egos hidden from their parents, due to fears over how the news will be received. This means they’re treated like children, despite performing very adult feats of heroism. During the third act, the plot dives deeper into weighty ideas, including the perils of messing with the natural order of the world. Determining one’s own destiny rather than letting others do it for you is another idea touched upon. Whereas the live-action Marvel movies tend to have basic good-vs-evil plots, this adventure utilizes substantive notions to fuel the thrills.

Animation-wise, Across the Spider-Verse takes everything the previous movie did and cranks it up a few notches. There is not a single uninteresting shot in the entire picture. In fact, this is the most visually sophisticated animated film I’ve ever seen. I watched it in a huge auditorium on a massive screen, which is the only way to go. The explosions of color and the intricate details in every shot stand out, as do those varied Spidey styles. It’s almost overwhelming how much information your eyes are asked to absorb. With its bold design and use of comic book hallmarks like splitting the image into multiple frames, the film is dazzling from the second the Sony logo appears until the end credits fade out.

If there’s anything to criticize, it would be the fact that this is the first half of a two-parter, so the story ends on a cliffhanger instead of with any form of resolution. Not that it’s a big deal. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is such enthralling, exciting, humorous, beautiful-looking fun that you don’t walk away disappointed, you walk away clamoring to see how it will all work out in next year’s Beyond the Spider-Verse.

out of four

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is rated PG for sequences of animated action violence, some language, and thematic elements. The running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes.