Into the Spider-Verse was one of the biggest pleasant surprises of the past few years. I’ve liked some movies from Sony Pictures Animation, like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Lego Movie. But Spider-Verse single-handedly initiated a paradigm shift in the landscape of American animation. I went to that movie just because it was a superhero movie. I didn’t (and still don’t, in terms of comics) know anything about Miles Morales, and I had no idea the movie would be so visually arresting and narratively riveting. In the wake of things like Arcane and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish emulating the film’s explosive animation style, it’ll be interesting to see if Sony can pull it off again with Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Grab your web shooters, and let’s go swinging!
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse picks up a year and a half after the events of the previous film. In her dimension, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) longs for her adventures with her friends, especially Miles Morales (Shameik Moore). She struggles to hide her secret life from her father as he hunts down Spider-Woman, believing she killed Peter Parker. One day, things change when Gwen is offered the opportunity to work with a group of Spider-people protecting the multiverse. Meanwhile, Miles also feels isolated as he tussles with baddies like Spot (Jason Schwartzman) and lets his parents down. He catches a break when Gwen pops in for a visit, and they learn the full scope of Spider-Man 2099’s (Oscar Isaac) multiversal meddling.
If I have one complaint about Across the Spider-Verse, it’s that the soundtrack doesn’t feel as iconic as that of Into the Spider-Verse. I may be biased as “Sunflower,” the first movie’s theme song, involved Post Malone. He also had a bit part in that movie. Anyway, upon first viewing, these songs don’t quite gel for me the way the first movie’s soundtrack does. This also may be a result of seeing Into the Spider-Verse multiple times and forming an initial reaction to one viewing of Across the Spider-Verse. This may sound like a nitpick, but in movies that feel so intentional and well-planned-out, this stuck out to me on first viewing.
One thing I absolutely love about this movie is the parents, and I don’t just mean Miles’ parents, whom we were introduced to in the first movie. Gwen’s dad, Captain George Stacy, isn’t in the film a ton, but he has one of my favorite scenes. Without going into too much detail, he seems set in his ways and unwilling to consider a new path at first. But for the love of his child, at a crucial juncture, he makes a choice to embrace her in spite of the circumstances. He’s also voiced by Shea Whigham, who I generally like a lot. He’s very good here, portraying a sense of duty and paternal love. I also really like this character’s design, with his broad shoulders and kind eyes. We also get to know Miles’ mom Rio (Luna Lauren Vélez) much more in Across the Spider-Verse after the previous movie focused more on Miles’ relationship with his father, Jeff (Brian Tyree Henry). I love her in this movie! She’s genuine and clearly loves her family very much. I also love the attitude she gets when Miles’ guidance counselor calls them a struggling immigrant family. The interactions among characters are some of the best parts of Across the Spider-Verse. That’s very impressive, given the sheer quality and variety of animation.
That’s right, variety; we see several different universes and art styles coexisting. There are a couple I’d love to discuss, but I want you to be as surprised as I was. They play with the camera’s perspective and angles a lot in this movie. The action sequences are painstakingly crafted and so frenetic my brain struggled to keep up at times. This isn’t something I say often, but I can’t wait to watch this on my TV. I imagine I’ll find it less overwhelming and easier to grasp visually that way. That may sound like a complaint, but Across the Spider-Verse is a real experience in theaters, and I absolutely recommend going. It borders on sensory overload in a way its predecessor didn’t, but I imagine it’s an intentional choice. They want us to feel as overwhelmed and conflicted as Miles and even Gwen. I think Gwen is actually the lead of this movie. Don’t get me wrong; Miles gets plenty of focus and depth this time around. But the film begins and ends with Gwen, and she has some hard choices to make. She actually comes off as somewhat unlikable to me here, but my husband disagrees, so this is definitely going to be subjective. Miles has a big decision to make, but he does what most people probably would do, making the only real choice. Gwen is guilty of betrayal and misdirection, which is really not something I expected from her. Across the Spider-Verse is darker than the first film, which is saying something when Peter Parker and Miles’ uncle Aaron were murdered on-screen in Into the Spider-Verse. I like it.
Speaking of Peter Parker, Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) is back, and this time, he has company. The theme of parenthood continues as he raises Mayday, his daughter with MJ. They reconciled after the events of the first movie. You love to see it. Other familiar faces make an appearance too, but you’ll have to find out for yourself which ones. The cast is utterly delightful, with new standouts including Hobie/Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya) and Spider-Man India (Karan Soni). If I have one complaint with the new cast, it’s Spot. He’s intentionally not very threatening, but I didn’t find him funny either. Maybe he’ll be better in Beyond the Spider-Verse, but for now, this character is nothing. He poses a very real threat at the end of the movie, but that’s too late for me.
Across the Spider-Verse is a delight, if almost too much of one at times. I’m not ready to say it’s as good as its genre-breaking predecessor, but it is fun, emotional, funny, and mind-bending. I’m not sold on the film’s primary antagonist, and I’m definitely left with questions by the cliffhanger ending, but I loved it.