“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” Soars with Spectacle

Miles Morales as Spider-Man (Shameik Moore) in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is carrying a lot of expectations on its shoulders. As the sequel of the beloved 2019 movie that introduced the world outside of comics-readers to Miles Morales, it has to continue Miles’s story, stay entertaining, match the visual panache of the first film, and tie into the larger Marvel multiverse. The latest chapter in Miles’s story mostly succeeds. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse has the most ambitious, creative animation I’ve seen all year, a poignant narrative, and a whip-fast pace that keeps the two-plus hour runtime from weighing it down. However, it also suffers from many of the same problems that keep recent Marvel fare from being truly great: being beholden to the larger story and workings of the IP machine.

Taking an interesting turn, this movie starts with another Spider-Person, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld). We learn a bit about Gwen’s tragic past, what she’s been up to after the first film, and how she joins up a team of Spider-People who protect the Multiverse led by Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac) and Jessica Drew (Issa Rae). It’s been a year and change since we last saw Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and he seems to be handling stuff well (mostly). He’s struggling, however, with keeping his two lives, as Spider-Man and Miles, afloat and he misses his interdimensional friends. When Gwen visits to follow through on an anomaly in Miles’s dimension, he gets tangled up in a multidimensional web beyond his control. 

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) take on The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation's SPIDER-MAN™: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE.
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) take on The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN™: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE.

Across the Spider-Verse takes the vigor and playfulness of the first movie’s animation and steps everything up. Brighter colors, intricate set designs, more ambitious stylistic changes, and visual experiments – all explode on screen, making something infinitely compelling to watch. There are plenty of Spider-Beings (hi, Spider-Cat), references to various styles of comics artistry, and to comics artists themselves. There is an ocean of detail to dive into in nearly every frame. It’s overwhelming, but in the best way – one shot in particular, of Gwen and Miles hanging upside down and admiring New York was dazzling and dizzying. We also get to meet outrageous amounts of Spider-People, and seeing the distinct character designs of each of them pop on screen was impressive, to say the least.

There’s plenty of heart here too, and this time, it’s Rio Morales (Miles’s mom, played beautifully by Luna Lauren Velez) that imbues the film with poignant moments. Velez’s performance is a great nod to Latine motherhood, showcasing the very deep, nuanced love that comes with Spanglish chastising, genuine support, and intergenerational guilt. It’s also just great to see Rio have more to do here, and Velez channels her love and warmth perfectly. Her speech to Miles about taking care of his inner child and making sure he knows he’s loved and worthwhile as he gets older is genuinely moving. 

Spider-Man (Shameik Moore) and Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE.

The stunning animation and heart are what make this movie great, even if there are some things that didn’t entirely work for me. Without spoiling too much, Across the Spider-Verse falls into the same misguided traps as other Marvel movies lately: staying beholden to the larger IP project. There are also some ideas that fall flat, like Gwen comparing her mask to her dad’s police badge, that left a bad taste in my mouth.

Overall though, the film soars with heart, humor, and ambitious visual panache. It takes the best parts of the original film, ramps up the stakes, animation, and emotion, and unleashes them all on us. Across the Spider-Verse is a rich, overwhelming, and heartfelt chapter of Miles Morales’s life as Spider-Man. I’ll be looking forward to the next one.

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