Directors: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson
Cast : Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Vélez, Jake Johnson, Jason Schwartzman, Issa Rae, Karan Soni, Daniel Kaluuya, Oscar Isaac, Greta Lee, Rachel Dratch, Jorma Taccone, Shea Whigham, Andy Samberg, Amandla Stenberg
Run Time : 140 min
Opens : 1 June 2023
Rating : PG
From Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness to Everything Everywhere All at Once to The Flash (on big and small screens), it seems everyone wants a multiverse. In 2018, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse introduced moviegoers to the vibrant, dynamic multiverse populated by Spider-People of all stripes. In this sequel, the Spider-verse expands, and the characters we know and love from the first film are put through their paces.
Miles Morales/Spider-Man (Shameik Moore) struggles to balance his crime-fighting career with his academic responsibilities, putting a strain on his relationship with his parents Jeff (Brian Tyree Henry) and Rio (Luna Lauren Vélez). His friend Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), who comes from another dimension, stops by to say hi. She is now part of the Spider-Society, a team of heroes headed by Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac). Miguel regards Miles with disdain, considering him an anomaly among the Spider-People, since the spider that bit Miles and gave him his powers was from a different dimension. In the meantime, Miles faces off against Dr Jonathan Onn/Spot (Jason Schwartzman), who seems like a low-level villain at first, but whose presence eventually endangers the multiverse. Miles and Miguel face off: one Spider-Man wants to embrace his own destiny, while the other strives to preserve the status quo, lest everything falls apart.
Across the Spider-Verse is an improvement over its already-impressive forebear in every way. The directing trio of Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson, leading an army of over 1000 animators, have delivered a triumphant sequel. The visual dynamism and creative chaos in the animation of the first movie is ramped up here, with audiences already acclimated to the eye-catching, erratic, yet carefully crafted blend of styles. This also does what a good sequel should: it builds upon the first movie, progressing the arcs of the characters, while introducing enough new elements without feeling like a re-tread of the first movie. There are stretches of the movie without action, but the time we spend with the characters feels worth it.
We’ve seen a lot of criticism of big movies that seem to coast by on nostalgia and recognition of the intellectual property; The Super Mario Bros. Movie being a recent example. Yes, there’s a lot here that will inspire excited pointing at the screen, but beyond that, there’s a grandeur and ambition to what this movie is trying to tackle. A big part of the iconography of Spider-Man and a reason why the character is so popular and resonant is that each iteration weathers roughly the same beats. This movie calls them “canon events”, invoking the language of storytelling. This is a movie that takes a step back and examines the structure of the hero’s journey. It’s also a coming-of-age story, and the feeling of being a young person trapped in a narrative that someone else has written for you is one that is very relatable. And yet, for all its ambition, Across the Spider-Verse never loses sight of Miles’ and Gwen’s respective journeys, and how their stories are intertwined.
As with the first movie, there’s a lot going on here. There are probably going to be four-year-olds going to see “the cartoon Spider-Man movie” who will get very lost, given the density of the plot and the sheer number of characters, not to mention the heaviness of the themes. You don’t have to be familiar with the comics, but a passing knowledge of them does help immensely. This is a movie that requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate, because there’s just so much going on. It also ends on a cliffhanger because this was originally named “Across the Spider-Verse: Part One”. The follow-up due next year is now named Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse.
The animation and voice acting of the returning characters continue to be excellent. Shameik Moore’s Miles has had his origin story and is now figuring out his place in the grand scheme of things. Being told he doesn’t even belong in said scheme is like a slap in the face, and the way Miles navigates this as a character who’s good-hearted but impulsive makes him very easy to root for.
Gwen is given a lot to do here, with her relationship with her father George (Shea Whigham) serving as one of the movie’s emotional linchpins. We spend a lot of time in her world and in her head, and the movie benefits from focusing on her. In the centre of the chaos, there Miles and Gwen are, taking the audience along with them. Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) also returns, now accompanied by an adorable baby daughter named Mayday.
Miguel O’Hara popped up in the post-credits scene of Into the Spider-Verse, and is the main new Spider-Person here. Oscar Isaac brings great intensity to bear as the one Spider-Man who doesn’t crack any jokes, and while he is an antagonist to Miles, he’s not a villain, and his motivations are efficiently communicated.
There are a bunch of fun Spider-People, including the badass, pregnant, motorcycle-riding Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman (Issa Rae), and Pavitr Prabhakar/Spider-Man India (Karan Soni), who hails from Mumbattan. But the show is truly stolen by Daniel Kaluuya as Hobart “Hobie” Brown/Spider-Punk, a guitar-playing anarchist who looks like a magazine cut-out and gets some of the movie’s funniest lines. Miles is simultaneously threatened by him (it’s implied that Hobie and Gwen have a thing going on) and in awe of him.
The movie’s use of Spot brings to mind Polka Dot Man in The Suicide Squad: both are silly second-or-lower-string comic book villains who are fleshed out and made more sympathetic and more powerful. The choreography of the fights involving Spot is exciting and inventive.
Summary: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is everything a sequel should be. The movie has its cameos and references, but those aren’t its greatest joys. The way it builds upon the first film, advancing character arcs and expanding on themes and world-building, while never losing sight of its emotional centre, is. Both Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy remain the focal points of the story, even as new and exciting Spider-People (Spider-Punk being the most fun) get tossed into the mix. Be warned that this is kind of the Empire Strikes Back of a planned trilogy, so it ends on a cliffhanger, but is wholly satisfying all the same.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars