As issues of uneven tone and shoddy CGI have plagued many superhero franchises as of late on both the big and small screen, it’s reassuring to know that the filmmakers behind the animated Spider-Man/Spider-Verse franchise keep coming up aces. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE in 2018 instantly laid claims to being one of the best superhero films of all time as it told a smart, fresh story, complemented by truly stunning production values. Now, the Spider-verse gets an amazing sequel, the first of a two-parter, with SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE. The film is both action-packed and character-driven, amazingly, with some of the most artistically stunning visuals you’ll ever see anywhere. It’s a dazzler.
You’ll remember that the first Spider-verse story concerned teenager Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) as he became Spider-Man of his universe, only to discover that there are quite a few of them out there across different dimensions. A hole in space was opened by a super collider created by the villainous Kingpin (Live Schreiber) and soon Miles was battling the badass with the help of other Spideys that the collider enabled to visit from other worlds. Amongst Miles’ allies were alternate universe’s Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), along with Miles’ NYC classmate Gwen Stacey/Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld). Gwen also became Miles’ love interest in the last film as the two went through their incredible adventure together. (Nice work if you can get it, for sure.)
Now, it’s a year later, and SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE finds Miles older, wiser, and in more danger. A new villain called The Spot (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) has come a-calling. He used to be Dr. Jonathan Ohnn, a former nerdy scientist, now imbued with superpowers and out for revenge. Mile’s Spider, you see, destroyed the collider he built for the Kingpin and the fall-out left Ohnn with a new supervillain body full of black holes that can suck in people and props and transport them from one place to another. The Spot can also throw the same objects into black holes that he creates on Earth, condemning them to limbo in darkness. Miles has to save the world, but he’s still new enough at the heroics game and could use some help.
Thus, Gwen/Spider-Woman steps in to assist, along with a few other Spideys who now have permanent access to our planet after the last story. Eventually, the battle with the Spot leads to them all careening into the Spider-verse where Miles discovers hundreds and hundreds of Spidey characters, all variations on the theme, representing the superhero from their various universes. Amongst the assortment are a pregnant African American version of Spider-Woman (Issa Rae), Spider-Man India (Karan Soni), and Spider-Punk (a hilarious Daniel Kaluuya doing a riff on Johnny Rotten). Miles’ actions continue to change the fabric of the universe, not always for the better, and one Spider-Man is furious about it. He is Spider-Man 2099, AKA Miguel O’Hara, a muscular, “ninja vampire” version of Spidey who becomes, in his way, the second villain of this piece. And as voiced with growling menace by a terrific Oscar Isaac, he’s one formidable foe.
In addition to the astounding voice cast on hand for the film, including the returning Brian Tyree Henry as Mile’s cop dad and Luna Lauren Velez as his nurse mom, the film boasts an incredible score, non-stop flying, spinning, and web-weaving action, as well as the most incredibly lush, detailed, and colorful production design of any film since…well, the first Spider-verse film. Every shot is a work of art, eye candy for days, all making for an adventure film you’ll want to watch repeatedly.
Despite all the magnificent artistry on display throughout, directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson still manage to make it all spectacularly clear and easy to track the action. The threesome also knows how to slow the film down for significant effect, stopping periodically to let the characters just speak and showcase their expressions that speak volumes too. Kudos to Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and David Callaham for their exceptionally clever, and often moving, dialogue. The scenes between Gwen and her forlorn father (voiced by Shea Whigham) are so affecting that they’ll plant a lump in your throat.
Additionally, the film finds room for Easter egg upon Easter egg with so many Spider-Man versions from the decades of comics, not to mention in-jokes and throwaway gags, that it might take dozens of viewings to catch them all. But who’s complaining? This is an incredible experience, one to be savored in the Cineplex on a big screen. It’s gorgeous, dramatic, and funny as hell. Plus, it does a better job of breaking down the angst of superheroes better than any other comic franchise at play today.
My only real complaint about this sequel is that it’s “to be continued.” The second part of it won’t be released as a feature until May 2024. That film will be well worth the wait, of course, but it’s almost torturous to leave audiences hanging by that thread. Even if it is Spider-Man’s exquisitely rendered web-slinging goo.