When it was announced that the release date for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was delayed, there was reason for alarm. Originally the sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was supposed to have come out last year, but its release was pushed to this year. Often such significant delays mean that the production of a film is troubled and the finished product winds up being a disappointment. Thankfully, that is not the case with Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, which excels past Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in so many ways in terms of story and visuals.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse opens with Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) recounting her life as Spider-Woman (or Spider-Gwen) in her own universe and why she left it to explore other universes with different variants of Spider-Man and Spider-Woman. After the lengthy prologue, we meet again Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), the Spider-Man of Universe 1610. He has the typical Spider-Man struggles of juggling his civilian life as a teenager with that of fighting crime as Spider-Man.
On his way to meet his parents, Rio (Luna Lauren Velez) and Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry), Spider-Man comes across a supervillain called the Spot (Jason Schwartzman), whose body is covered with removable spots that are portals throughout inter-dimensional space. For example, if Spider-Man punches him in the chest and there is a spot there, Spider-Man’s fist will go through the spot and emerge behind Spider-Man to end up hitting the superhero instead.
The Spot is obsessed with getting revenge on Spider-Man because he blames the superhero for his dilemma. It turns out he was one of the scientists present in the first film where Miles and other Spider-powered heroes destroyed a collider machine that allowed travel between universes. The Spot gained his powers after being caught in the explosion of the collider and we also find out that the scientist was partly responsible for Miles becoming Spider-Man.
After the Spot is defeated and humiliated by Spider-Man, he gains the ability to travel throughout the multiverse and seeks out other colliders in those universes to empower himself even more. This decision will not only endanger the multiverse but severely affect Miles’ personal life.
As the Spot explores other realities, Miles is visited by Spider-Gwen, who is now part of the inter-dimensional Spider-Society that guards the Web of Life and Destiny by seeking out dimensional anomalies throughout the multiverse. She was looking for the Spot, who has become an anomaly traveling throughout several universes. Miles soon joins her as she returns to Spider-Society headquarters on Earth 928 and meets numerous variants of Spider-Man and Spider-Woman, including their leader, Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac).
Spider-Man 2099 explains to Miles that all the universes are intertwined in a delicate metaphysical web with canon events, which are important moments in time for those universes. Disrupting those events will eventually unravel universes and this affects Miles in a crucial way after learning that in all of the Spider-Men and Spider-Women universes have canon events that involve the deaths of distinct police captains. Miles deduces that his father, who was just promoted to a captain, will soon die. He comes into direct conflict with the Spider-Society since he resolves to save his father at all costs, canon event be damned.
In this day and age of overhype from fans and critics it is easy to dismiss praise for many films. However, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse lives up to the hype because it is truly one of the finest animated and superhero films ever produced. Like the first film, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a visual feast that incorporates different animation styles and frame rates. The best examples of this are with how Spider-Gwen is represented with soft watercolor palettes, while Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya) is animated with harsh punk rock art whose clothing is animated at a different frame rate than the character himself. In other examples, the heroes fight a Vulture (Jorma Taccone) from a Renaissance-styled universe looks like a Da Vinci sketch that has come to animated life with sepia colors; we also meet Ben Reilly/Scarlet Spider (Adam Sanberg), who is animated as a ‘90s-style character with overripe muscle lines and bright colors.
The visual canvas of the film is very busy with wild animation and numerous Easter eggs. Some scenes feature actual panels from classic Spider-Man comics and even images from live-action films. It will take numerous viewings of this film for anyone to fully spot all of them. Each scene is so painstakingly animated and colored, which leaves us with a film that is just dazzling to the eyes.
Of course, all of the visuals would be meaningless without compelling story and characters, and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse also excels in this area. So much emotion is conveyed that is either subtle or outlandish. Just like the first film, this sequel is a coming-of-age yarn only with our hero having harder choices to make in his life as he grows into adulthood. Anyone is readily able to relate to Miles’ ethical dilemma of the needs of the many outweighing those of the few and we would probably make the same choice he made. What also helped with the film’s emotional stakes is that it took time to develop Miles’ relationship with his parents, which is full of angst and love. We understand their point of view as they struggle to relate to their son who is growing up to be a man.
Another character who has her own emotional arc is Gwen, who feels alienated and alone in her world. Unable to connect to her father, she in a sense runs away, only in this case she runs away from her universe. The deepening friendship she has with Miles is a true emotional anchor in the film and feels so natural as these two alienated teens are able to connect to one another.
Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), who served as a mentor to Miles in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has a reduced role in this film, which is regrettable. Still, it was a delight seeing him again and what he was been up to. Hopefully, he will have a larger role in the second sequel coming next year.
As many have learned, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse ends on a cliffhanger and it is an intense one. But fear not, Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse will come out in theaters in March 2024, which is less than a year away and we were able to handle the wait between these films. Given how Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is much better than the original, which in itself was a classic, we can only hope that Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse will excel past this sequel or at least stick the landing.