'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse': An Incredible, Ambitious, Animated Spectacle
When Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was released in late 2018, it had an almost immediate cultural impact. Audiences and critics alike loved it, and before too much longer, other animated films began to take some cues from Spider-Verse's distinct style. It stands as one of the most groundbreaking films of the 2010s, and will likely continue to inspire other films for the next several years. Its wild success practically guaranteed a sequel, which has been hotly anticipated from the moment it was announced. Something like Into the Spider-Verse is certainly a hard act to follow, but thankfully, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse retains the same unique blend of high energy, creativity, and spectacular animation that made the first one such a phenomenon. It's the type of sequel that raises the stakes and goes even bigger than its predecessor, and it is undeniably one of the best animated films of the past few years.
Picking up nearly a year and a half after the events of the first film, Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) is settling into being Spider-Man while also balancing school and living up to his parents' expectations. When he is reunited with Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) he finds himself on an adventure through the multiverse where he encounters even more Spider-People who have joined together to form the Spider-Society, which is led by Miguel O'Hara (voiced by Oscar Isaac). When a new threat known as The Spot (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) arrives, Miles clashes with the Spider-Society on how to deal with it, and causes conflicts that could change his world forever.
With Into the Spider-Verse, I remember being quite impressed by its succinct storytelling style and how detailed and immaculate the animation was. Across the Spider-Verse once again excels in these areas, but it raises the bar with both them, expanding incredibly on the multiverse that was established in the first film. I absolutely love how the animation crew merges different textures and animation styles with the various Spider-People and the different universes we see throughout the film. For example, in Gwen Stacy's universe, there is this watercolor quality to the backgrounds, and an abstract use of color and shape that we see during conversations between Gwen and her father that really drew me in. There is a comic-book feel that is consistent all throughout the film, but there are so many distinct characteristics that make the characters pop, and differentiate them from each other. The animation team truly go above and beyond with their work here, as it is so visually stunning and beautifully crafted.
At a time where most superhero movies hit the same beats, it's so nice to see a film like Across the Spider-Verse that takes the time to flesh out its narrative, as well as having a strong emotional resonance that doesn't show up too often in modern comic-book movies. It's easy for most superhero films to rely on big setpieces and VFX, and while this film has some excellent setpieces, it takes the time to develop the relationships and emotions of its characters which boosts the rest of the film around it. It's hard not to feel for Miles and Gwen all throughout the film, as the scenes where they grapple with their super-personas and their relationships with their respective parents are quite powerful. The film takes its time with these moments, which pays off well in the film's third act. It gets pretty twisty at that point, but the emotional implications are magnified thanks to how well the story unfolds.
However, my one major issue with the film actually lies in its third act. While I knew going into this that it was going to function as part one of a larger story, it does seem to struggle to find a point to end. The film itself is lengthy, but its runtime feels justified due to how much time it needs to properly set up the stakes and scope of it. Everything feels so smooth up until the last chunk, where it feels like it isn't sure how to land the plane. It ultimately settles on a solid cliffhanger, but there is a clumsiness to some of the film's last moments. It didn't take away from the film too much for me, but it was hard for me to ignore how awkward some of the film comes off near the end. I'm sure it will feel more fluid once Beyond the Spider-Verse comes out next year, but in looking at this as its own entity, it doesn't fully nail the ending.
The film does make great use of its amazing cast of characters, and even though there are a lot of Spider-People that we meet over the course of the film, the film never feels overcrowded with characters. This is mainly because several of the variations of Spider-Man we see are only shown briefly, but even still, the new Spider-People we're introduced to feel fresh and unique, and are all so compelling. The character design is fantastic, and I loved all the unique details and motifs that come with them.
But its the voice cast that really completes these characters, as everyone in this film is absolutely solid. Shameik Moore is such perfect casting for Miles Morales, as he captures the rebellious teenager energy of the character, while also nailing his more dramatic moments. He feels so genuine in the role, and his performance really ties the film together. Hailee Steinfeld might be the best performance in the film, however, as this film gives her more to do compared to the first one. Gwen Stacy is developed so much more fully in this film, and Steinfeld plays her so perfectly. She is especially great in the scenes between her and her father (voiced by Shea Whigham, who is also great here), and she really impressed me all throughout. The supporting cast is great, and there's not a bad performance in the bunch. Oscar Isaac, Issa Rae, Jason Schwartzman, and Karan Soni are all excellent, and I hope we see even more of them in the next film. I also loved Daniel Kaluuya as Hobie Brown, a.k.a. Spider-Punk, as he embodies the coolness and swagger of the character so fully in his voice acting. Everyone is so good in this film, and this might be my favorite voice cast of any movie in recent memory.
While I think I still slightly prefer Into the Spider-Verse over this film, I can't deny that Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is absolutely amazing. It is one of the most gorgeously animated films ever made, and an exhilarating experience from start to finish. It does stumble a bit in the third act, but on the whole, it is an incredible film that sets up for the next film quite well, and has me excited to see where the filmmakers take this story from here. It's definitely one I'd recommend seeing on the big screen, as the scale of the film is so grand that it demands to be experienced this way. Across the Spider-Verse is an excellent follow-up to the first Spider-Verse film, and one of the most thrilling animated films of the past few years.