'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse' review: Dazzling epic takes web slinger to the next level
Courtesy of Sony
When “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was released in December 2018, the umpteenth Spidey outing, fans were shocked. The bright, colorful, and poppy iteration took Marvel comics' signature hero, threw him into an animated blender, and spit out one of the most emotionally gratifying web slinging adventures in recent memory. How could that happen? It also set up the multiverse concept that would pay major dividends when all three live action Spider-Men showed up in the fun “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
“Into The Spider-Verse” was the rare superhero film with the sense of awareness to capture what it felt like picking up the comics for the first time. Now, not only does “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse” manage to tap into the splendid animated visuals that made its predecessor beloved, it brings an emotional undercurrent of what it means to be Spider-Man in a universe with an infinite amount of them. It explores the foundation of destiny and the sacrifice one must explore in order to fulfill said destiny. If you thought the possibilities were endless after watching “Into the Spider-Verse,” the sequel shows the filmmakers were barely scratching the surface.
Whereas “Into the Spider-Verse” set up the multiverse concept and explored the fun dynamic which comes from meeting everyone’s favorite swine hero Spider-Ham (among many others), “Across the Spider-Verse” cranks up the stakes and interdimensional travel to 11. We’re introduced to hundreds of new worlds with various Spider-Man incarnations with all the swagger and comedic viability folks will remember from the last go around. It’s borderline overwhelming the amount of bread crumbs and easter eggs directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson, alongside scribes Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Dave Callaham, throw in each frame. It’ll require multiple YouTube think pieces to dissect them. And even then, there will still be plenty to unearth.
And yet, for all its frenetic action and brisk pacing, “Across the Spider-Verse" remains grounded in the story of Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) the 15-year crime fighter struggling with his powers, college prep work, and connecting with his parents who still don’t know his true identity. It’s a coming-of-age story wrapped inside a massive superhero epic, but the beauty of “Across the Spider-Verse” is how it never loses touch of where it came from. Elsewhere, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfield) is dealing with similar parental struggles, including a major one with her police captain father (Shea Whigham) who blames her for the death of Peter Parker in their universe. Even though the two teenagers are worlds apart and fight crime, we’re reminded often they’re just kids with parents who don’t understand the expectations thrusted upon them.
They eventually meet and swing through the city of New York City, connecting on the roles they play in society, banding together on a common objective: taking down a portal opening baddie named The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), who looks like some variation of Rorschach from “Watchman." He’s a super-villain dealing serious blows to the space time continuum by causing rifts in the multiverse by nonchalantly passing through other worlds. Among them, one inhabited by Legos and another, a nightmarish wasteland.
The Spot’s efforts catch the attention of the Spider-Society, an Avengers-esq assembly made up of infinite Spider-Men, people, and species (keep a look out for a cameo by Spider Kitty and Spider T-Rex). Their leader is Miguel O’ Hara (Oscar Isaac), the haunted captain of the brigade tasked with making sure each world follows their path or else risk desolation across the entire universe. Think “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” but for elementary schoolers.
Miguel’s job at keeping the pendulum in balance is put in jeopardy when Miles learns of a dire foundational thread that must remain intact. When he refuses the notion and tries stopping it, he spirals the entire Spider-Verse into complete and utter chaos. From there, a deeply layered Spider-Man film descends into a delightful parable on maturity as Miles asserts control over his own story. It’s a thrilling ascension that’ll send fans out the door buzzing, albeit slightly disappointed considering the film ends on a major cliffhanger, setting up a highly anticipated finale guaranteed to bring all these themes together under one beautifully rendered roof. I have no doubt it’ll be worth the wait.
SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE is now playing in theaters.