THE STORY – After reuniting with Gwen Stacy, Brooklyn’s full-time, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is catapulted across the Multiverse, where he encounters a team of Spider-People charged with protecting its very existence. However, when the heroes clash on how to handle a new threat, Miles finds himself pitted against the other Spiders. He must soon redefine what it means to be a hero so he can save the people he loves most.
THE CAST – Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Jake Johnson, Jason Schwartzman, Issa Rae, Karan Soni, Daniel Kaluuya & Oscar Isaac
THE TEAM – Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers & Justin K. Thompson (Directors), Phil Lord, Christopher Miller & David Callaham (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 140 Minutes
2018’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was a surprising and invigorating departure not just for the spotty output of Sony Pictures Animation but also for the overstuffed superhero genre that dominates cinemas. It was flashy and impressive, not just aesthetically but also in its humane storytelling. Given its critical, box office, and awards success, a sequel was inevitable. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is the first of a two-part cap on the trilogy, and fans of the previous film are absolutely guaranteed to love it. It’s simply a visual marvel (sorry!) featuring some of the most stunning animation in film history while continuing to push the stories of Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy further than the first outing.
After previously meeting a host of other Spider-People from varying alternate dimensions, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) has made an anonymous name for himself as his universe’s only Spider-Man. As he’s getting ready to figure out where he’ll be attending college, his parents (Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Vélez, who are given lots of moving material to work with) start noticing that something is wrong with their son. He’s absent, constantly on the move, and looking distracted. They do not know he’s the city’s masked hero, but clearly, they know something is going on. But things are disrupted when he’s reunited with Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), who travels to his dimension. Unknowingly to Miles, she’s there to gather intel about a new threat to the Multiverse known as The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), a former scientist turned-supervillain whose body is covered by interdimensional portals that allow him to travel through space and different universes and who so desperately wants to be Spider-Man’s arch nemesis. When Miles follows Gwen out of his universe, he meets a society of even more Spider-People, notably the motorcycle-riding Jessica Drew (Issa Rae), Indian Spider-Man Pavitr Prabhakar (Karan Soni), and the Black British punk rock Spider-Man Hobart “Hobie” Brown (Daniel Kaluuya). They’re all led by a physically imposing and determined ninja Spider-Man named Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), and they’re all working together to balance out the Multiverse that Miles has disrupted.
Much like the first film, the story works together with the gorgeous animation to craft a classically satisfying cinematic experience. Notably, the film’s first act explores Miles and Gwen’s family dynamics and troubles. The film’s opening twenty minutes are solely dedicated to Gwen and her strained relationship with her police captain father (voiced by Shea Whigham), who is hunting Spider-Woman (not knowing he’s searching for his own daughter) before Miles is even introduced to this sequel. This extra time effectively provides balance to the two characters’ stories and further pushes the audience’s investment in their characters. These emotionally grounded storylines are the key to the film’s success, giving the audience something more relatable to latch onto than multidimensional wormholes and mutated supervillains. This film understands more than most superhero movies that an earthbound base is essential in getting viewers to care about the characters and their struggles. In fact, some of the best moments of character interactions call to mind the more triumphant moments of Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy.
Enough good things cannot be said about the film’s visuals. Whereas the first film mostly looks like a comic book in motion, its sequel plays with many more animation and drawing styles to immerse you in the different universes and provide a cinematic experience unlike anything else the genre offers, especially in the live-action realm. There are moments where the animation takes on the look of hand-drawn, pencil, and watercolor art, among many, many others. At times, the film even adopts daringly unconventional looks – Gwen’s dimension is particularly, and beautifully, impressionistic. While it’s never tiring to look at, there are times when the busy effects can feel a bit overwhelming. When a handful of clashing art styles are moving around the screen at once while important information is being delivered by both voiceover and text, it’s easy to feel lost. However, this also allows the moments when the film slows down to let the more important emotional beats truly land as the audience has a breather to soak them in.
However, what’s even more distracting than the busy animation is the instances where the film can’t help but serve up references, Easter eggs, and meta jokes that are meant to make the audience react purely in recognition. At best, these moments are justified by the structure and specifics of the story; at worst, they’re simply annoying.
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” gives both hardcore fans and casual filmgoers exactly what they liked about the first film, but even more amped up this time and with actual stakes that the live-action “Spider-Man” films (and really, the superhero genre as a whole as of late) have struggled to establish. There’s genuine excitement generated by the film’s promise of subverting what the characters refer to as “canon,” giving us a tease of what’s to come in “Beyond The Spider-Verse,” which might actually break the traditional and tired formula of what a superhero movie can be. At times, its exhilarating action may be a bit too frenetic to the point of being indiscernible. Still, with animation this consistently gorgeous and storytelling this thoroughly conceived, it’s impossible not to be impressed.