​'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse' Is Cinema

Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson

Starring Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Jake Johnson, Jason Schwartzman, Issa Rae, Karan Soni, Daniel Kaluuya, Oscar Isaac

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation

BY Rachel HoPublished May 31, 2023

Five years ago, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse exploded onto the screen in a wash of vibrant colours, imagination and a new Spider-Man who captured the youthful spirit of one of Stan Lee's most endearing creations.

Expectations are high for Across the Spider-Verse, the second installment in the Miles Morales story, and although it doesn't quite match up to its predecessor, the film certainly makes its mark as a high-octane, heartfelt burst of artistry. 

Across the Spider-Verse picks up one year after Miles (Shameik Moore) and team defeated Kingpin and his super collider.  Since parting ways with his Spidey crew, Miles has settled into the business of being Brooklyn's friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man and looking ahead to a future that hopefully involves attending Princeton's physics program. Despite his relatively sunny disposition, there's been a void since Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) went back to their universes. Unable to tell anyone about his secret identity (other than his very unimpressed roommate), a loneliness touches Miles that bleeds into adolescent frustration at home. 

Over in Gwen's universe, the Spider Society, a team of Spideys (men, women, cats, horses, dinosaurs — y'know, the usual suspects) in charge of protecting the multiverse's existence, have reluctantly recruited her to join their ranks. During a mission in Miles's world, Gwen stops by to reunite with her friend and, after catching up, Miles manages to piggyback his way across the multiverse in the hopes of being invited to the Spider Society. Led by Miguel O'Hara (a commanding Oscar Isaac), Miles quickly finds himself at odds with the elite Spidey pack about how best to handle the Spot (Jason Schwartzman), a baddie with vengeance on his mind and keen on proving he's not just the villain of the week.

There's a lot of heart injected into Across the Spider-Verse — almost too much. Writers Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and David Callaham cram a lot of movie into the nearly-two-and-a-half-hour runtime, with a not-insignificant amount feeling unnecessary. Although much of this story padding threatens to distract from the main storyline, it never succeeds in doing so. The primary focus of the film is immediately compelling, as Miles begins to truly understand the sacrifices required to be Spider-Man; if only the plot started and ended with this running theme, we'd have a near-perfect movie on our hands. 

Without going into spoiler territory, the main through-line of Across the Spider-Verse is ingenious. There's a meta element involved that takes aim at modern fandoms while also embracing the aspects of Spider-Man that longtime fans have cherished since childhood. In the same vein, the film impressively never feels like it's giving into clunky fan service, even when it's positively brimming with Easter eggs and references that will require multiple viewings to fully appreciate. 

Just as with Into the Spider-Verse, the animation team deserves all the praise. Distinguishing each universe with a different style of animation, the contrasts and synergy across the film is breathtaking. A runaway highlight is Gwen's universe in Earth-65, a world awash in watercolours that conform and adapt to the mood of the scene and its characters — a stunning and flawless amalgamation of storytelling and imagery. 

An incredibly ambitious film by all standards, Across the Spider-Verse largely accomplishes all of the goals it sets out to achieve. It may not meet the incredibly high bar set by the first chapter, but it forges its own way as a superb film of the superhero genre and animation medium. As Marvel continues to slip, stumble and fall and DC attempts to put itself back together again, Across the Spider-Verse will more than satisfy the appetites of comic book fans. Surely even Mr. Scorsese will delight in this act of Cinema.
(Sony Pictures Animation)

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