Directors: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson
Writers: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Dave Callaham
Stars: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Tyree Henry
Synopsis: Miles Morales catapults across the Multiverse, where he encounters a team of Spider-People charged with protecting its very existence. When the heroes clash on how to handle a new threat, Miles must redefine what it means to be a hero.
If you randomly ask anyone worldwide to name any superhero, Spider-Man would likely be one of the most common replies. The character’s popularity – primarily the Peter Parker iteration – is astronomical. Since the turn of the millennium, there have been 9 Spider-Man films, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) version has featured an extra three times on top of his solo trilogy. Not to mention, the character has made multiple appearances in other forms of media such as video games and television projects. One of the reasons his popularity has been so mainstream, and the reason creator Stan Lee fought so hard to make the character, was because of his relatability of being a normal kid with everyday struggles. He wasn’t rich and he wasn’t popular, he was every anxious and scared kid who thought battling superpowered villains was easier than going to school, but deep down wants to help the people who couldn’t help themselves.
To spread this message to a broader audience, Spider-Man became an alias for more than just one individual, it evolved into a moniker for a group of some of the most diverse and unique superheroes that have ever existed. This has been something the comics have delved into but until 2018’s surprise masterpiece, Into the Spider-Verse, films hadn’t touched on any Spider-Person other than the original Peter Parker. That changed when Into the Spider-Verse had their main character as one of the more recent additions to the Spider-Man lore, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore). The film also included the well-known Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), but also other lesser-known Spider-People such as Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage), Penny Parker (Kimiko Glenn), and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney as a talking pig with Spider-Man powers). With this film, Spider-Man as an idea grew past what anyone in the mainstream ever realized, and with the sequel Across the Spider-Verse, it gets even larger.
Across the Spider-Verse opens with a drumming Gwen Stacey talking through how hard it is to be the only Spider-Person in her universe – a situation that is even harder now knowing there are people in other universes who can understand her. She heads to the local art gallery after hearing reports of an attack from The Vulture (Jorma Taccone), however, when she sees this Vulture she notices something off about him – he isn’t from her universe. During their fight, Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac) and Jessica Drew (Issa Rae), two other spider-people, appear to help Gwen and return the out-of-place Vulture to his original timeline.
Meanwhile, back in Miles Morales’s universe, a new villain is attempting to rob an ATM at a local shop. This villain, Spot (Jason Schwartzman), is covered in spots that let him open portals to different places. During a fight with Miles, Spot explains to him how he was created and the role that they both took in each other’s creation. Spot escapes Miles and figures out a way to traverse dimensions so he can grow more powerful. Gwen and other members of the “Spider-Society” (a group of spider-people created by Miguel O’Hara tasked with stopping anomalies among timelines) must find a way to stop Spot, while Miles is forced to reconcile with the role he must play in everything.
Into the Spider-Verse is, and always will be a crowning achievement in cinema. It didn’t just change the way an animated film could be told, or viewed, it completely shattered the very fabric and understanding of what an animated film is. Across the Spider-Verse could have mainly followed in the footsteps of its predecessor and still have been a better movie, animated or not, than most over the past few years. Luckily for us, the minds and massive team of around 1000 animators didn’t want to take the easy path, no, they once again absolutely shattered how a film can be told through animation. So much so that Across the Spider-Verse almost transcends being just a film, it’s pure art.
From the beginning drum solo, which features only a small section of Daniel Pemberton’s miraculous score, the frenetic animation pulls the audience in giving only clues of what is about to come. Blending together what seems to be every animation style known to man with a massive cast of almost every version of Spider-Man there has ever been expands on the idea of what film can truly be. The action sequences are created with such ferocity to raise the heart rates of the viewers, but the emotional beats are displayed with enough pathos that feels palpable at any given moment. It’s an enthralling work that, even though it very much exists, still feels imaginary.
The mesmerizing visual style isn’t the only thing this film has going for it, as the characters and the emotions are explored even more in this sequel. The scared kid who had his life change overnight is growing up, and now a year older, Miles’s confidence has grown with it. Gone are the days where he is scared to even use his powers as now his focus is to become a part of something bigger. However, as he finds out, not everything he wants is as great as it seems. If his journey in the first film was to learn to trust himself, his journey here is to become his own person. Not just Miles, but Gwen as well, have to learn that if they want to tell their own story, they have to take control of their own lives. Its emotion, while sad at times, isn’t rooted in sorrow, but displayed in these characters learning to command themselves and carve out their own paths within a myriad of universes.
Across the Spider-Verse is, like the first of this soon-to-be trilogy, a masterpiece. An animation spectacle that doesn’t just redefine what it means to be an animated film – something Into the Spider-Verse did itself – it redefines filmmaking as a whole while always still keeping the emotional beats and characters at the focus. A stellar score and soundtrack as well as a voice cast constantly giving their all make this not just one of the best films of the year, but one of the best ever, and is now two-thirds away from being one of the best trilogies in cinema history.