Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse
Updated: Jul 8
An expanded ambition and scope doesn't dilute this winning film
It seems that we are slowly coming to accept previous genre outcasts into mainstream cinema. Foreign language films seemed to be niche and intellectual corners, until Netflix’s global projects and Parasite (2019) came around. Animation was derided as a kid’s genre until Pixar turned that on its head. Now more than ever cinema’s definition is opening its arms to accept previous outcasts. Animation, particularly, has become bolder in telling more ambitious stories, from the stop motion of Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022) to the existentialism of Soul (2020). Now, a sequel to one of the most original animated and superhero films delivers on its premise and then some.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse (2023) is a sequel to the irresistible Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse (2018). Our titular spider-powered hero, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is once again thrust into a multi-versal conflict with multiple versions of Spider-Man. Along for the ride is last film’s spider-powered variation Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) and overseeing this multiverse rift is the grim futuristic Spider-Man Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac). Seemingly causing this multiverse conflict is the initially funny and later menacing villain The Spot (Jason Schwartzman).
Across the Spider-verse is directed by a new trio of directors from the first film. This time Kemp Powers (Soul, One Night in Miami (2020)), Joaquim dos Santos (Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008)), and Justin K. Johnson (feature film debut) take the reins. However, the common thread from Into the Spider-verse is maintained by the powerhouse writing duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Their script sustains a common tone from this film and the last, but the directing trio also ups the ante in terms of ambition.
Into the Spider-verse played around with imitating and even demonstrating a comic book style, Across the Spider-verse delves even deeper and has a blast playing around with different styles; from the hand drawn animation of certain characters to the more computer generated, and even for certain Gwen scenes watercolor was used. This melding of styles not only adds to the onscreen diversity, but also plays with the theme of different dimensions and universes itself. It makes for a colorful palette and beautiful screen to look at. I found myself scouring every fame for little dropped details and homages littered throughout.
We have seen more and more films play around with the concept of the multiverse, it seems to have become a fad with studios nowadays. The likes of not only Into the Spider-verse, but also the live action Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), and the Oscar Best Picture winner Everything, Everywhere All at Once (2022), have played with the concept, not to mention the upcoming The Flash (2023). However, we’ve seen how difficult this concept can be to pull off, Multiverse of madness sacrificed substance for inconsequential cameos and CGI extravaganzas. Everything, Everywhere All at Once was able to stick the landing, with a mixture of stylistic fun and character depth. Across the Spider-verse falls along the lines of its solid predecessor Into the Spider-verse, but also expands its scope and ambition, leading to an engrossing and exciting plot and a greater appreciation for our characters. There are some elements in the second act that veer too close to the fan-service and needless cameos that Multiverse of Madness delivered, but thankfully Across the Spider-verse’s finale delivers.
In the end, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse continues the story of the loveable Miles Morales and his unlucky tangling with clashing universes. The delicious animation style, expanded scope, character work, along with another killer soundtrack makes Across the Spider-verse more than live up to the first film. Across the Spider-verse does feel incomplete, however, leaving viewers on a blatant cliffhanger and pausing many arcs in awkward moments. This works against viewing Across the Spider-verse as a stand-alone film, reminiscing a TV structure instead. However, if the next promised film in this franchise delivers to the hype, the Spider-verse will enter the scant pantheon of perfect trilogies.