Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Miles Morales is drawn into the multiverse of spider-themed heroes as an interdimensional threat emerges in Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.
The previous film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a landmark in animation. The combination of slick storytelling, whipsmart humour and gorgeous animation made it stand out among its contemporaries by showing how dynamic and creative storytelling in animation can be. Across the Spider-Verse seems to have started with the mission statement of amplifying what the first film did one hundredfold.
If that was indeed the mission statement then that mission is more than accomplished. Across the Spider-Verse is bursting with creativity to the degree that it’s visually overwhelming. It’s an exhausting viewing experience in the best way with every frame dripping with visual mastery showcasing the creativity of those involved doing their best work. There are a variety of visual styles at play that merge expertly to give each universe and character a unique flavour that helps them be distinct and memorable. From the watercolour aesthetic of Gwen Stacy’s (Hailee Steinfeld) universe to the hand-drawn merged with magazine cutout style of Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya) everything remains distinct without being an incomprehensible mess. It truly is a remarkable achievement to present everything so clearly.
The visual artistry isn’t at the expense of substance, the movie has that in spades and the visuals compliment it wonderfully. An early emotional conversation between Gwen and her father (Shea Whigham) is an excellent example of heightening emotion through visuals. The shift in colours and the background melting signifies Gwen feeling that her world is eroding around her. It’s but one example of how the visuals aid in conveying the intended emotion of a particular exchange or moment. There’s a strong sense that every frame was lovingly crafted to get the most out it and the effort is reflected in the end result.
Across the Spider-Verse is bigger than the first film in every conceivable sense but one of the most remarkable achievements is that the increase in scale doesn’t come at the expense of intimate characterisation. This is still largely Miles Morales’ (Shameik Moore) story. The film picks up around a year after Miles took on the role of Spider-Man and he’s dealing with the standard Spider-Man problem of finding the balance in his double life. He misses classes, is late for engagements and is challenged to come up with a litany of plausible excuses to explain his erratic behaviour. A hilarious montage summarises his superhero career to date with an impressive collection of successes and missteps supporting the notion that he’s a superhero learning on the job.
He has various emotional challenges to overcome. One is the guilt he feels constantly lying to his parents that know he’s being dishonest and wrestling with whether he should burden them with his secret, another is the loneliness that comes with being a superhero. The events of the first film made an impression on him by making him feel like part of a group that understood him. Following the departure of his interdimensional counterparts, he feels isolated because he feels that nobody can understand what it means to be Spider-Man. He’s a young man trying his best to figure out how to use his abilities effectively while pining for the community that literally doesn’t exist in his universe. The notion of belonging and whether he deserves to be part of that community forms one of the central conflicts that the film depicts.
Another challenge is the battle against imposter syndrome. Part of the plot revolves around whether Miles should be Spider-Man with the question being approached in a very interesting way. Gaining spider powers is typically the result of an accident as was the case with Miles but a deeper question is posed around whether the accident should have happened to him as opposed to someone else. There’s an uphill battle for Miles to prove that he’s worthy of being Spider-Man to gatekeepers who believe they get to dictate what makes a true Spider-Hero. This idea extends to gatekeeping in fandoms and whether aspects of a backstory can or should be changed when crafting an adaptation. Miles is the outlier looking to buck the trend and those invested in the status quo want to stop him. Exploding that inward conflict outwards in such an excessive way works brilliantly and neatly supports Miles’ character journey. Shameik Moore is terrific as Miles, skillfully depicting the broad range of emotions and anxieties the character experiences.
Miles faces two major threats that connect to each other. He is brought into the wider multiverse story through a conflict with the Spot (Jason Schwartzman), a villain who uses portals to instantly move both within his home universe and to others. He has a personal grudge against Miles for the part he played in his origin story and wants to make him suffer. He’s not an especially deep character but he isn’t designed to be as his function is more as a commentary to the collateral damage associated with Spider-Man that often allows for the creation of his adversaries. The Spot is charmingly pathetic at first and organically transitions to a significant threat with his petty attitude fuelling the danger that he represents.
The other threat is Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), a fellow Spider and self-appointed guardian of the multiverse who has a clear idea of how things are supposed to be and works to maintain that status quo at all costs. He isn’t a villain so their conflict comes from ideological differences that can’t be resolved. Oscar Isaac’s vocal performance is impressively intense, accomplishing being intimidating with pathos to make his goal an understandable one, at least from his perspective.
Across the Spider-Verse shares the protagonist slot between Miles and Gwen. Many of the same ideas are explored with both characters. Gwen feels the same loneliness that Miles does and struggles with her parental relationship in a way that’s similar to his while being as unique as she is. This reinforces the notion of certain struggles being universal -or multiversal- with everyone experiencing them bringing their unique spin to familiar problems. Hailee Steinfeld is excellent as Gwen, her performance adds to the complexity of the character with the perfect mix of confidence and vulnerability showcasing her well-cultivated skills as a hero contrasted with her inability to embrace a personal life.
The rest of the cast is largely filled out by other Spider-heroes. Gwen, Miles and Miguel receive the lion’s share of attention but Spider-Punk, Spider-Man India (Karan Soni), Spider-Woman (Issa Rae) and Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) boast memorable turns though exist to fulfil a specific purpose. Other Spiders come from previous adaptations of the character and deep-dive references to other versions over decades of comics. Many are fleeting but there’s a lot to notice if your eyes can handle the input. The easter eggs never detract from the story being told as they largely exist to be a fun addition that never overstays their welcome. It’s an impressive feat to include so much from the rich history of Spider-Man without the film collapsing under its own weight.
One thing to be aware of is that this film is very much a part one and ends with a very unambiguous “to be continued” in the vein of its comic book ancestors. As such, this is only half a story and the build-up to the inevitable cliffhanger is a little drawn out. This film is designed to set the stage for what comes next but it never feels like it’s running in place awaiting the concluding chapter in order to accelerate its storytelling. Everything here is necessary and feeds into the larger tapestry of the story playing out. Time will tell if Beyond the Spider-Verse can stick the landing but based on the quality of what is delivered in this outing there’s no reason to be concerned.
An expertly crafted, visually stunning triumph of animation that has more than enough substance to back up the abundance of style.
- every frame dripping with visual mastery
- the visual artistry being complimented by an abundance of substance
- the increased scale not coming at the expense of intimate characterisation
- the exploration of Miles’ various emotional challenges
- making fandom gatekeeping a compelling part of the plot
- excellent vocal performances across the board
- Miles and Gwen easily sharing the protagonist slot
- Gwen exploring similar ideas to Miles in ways as unique as she is
- fanservice never overpowering the experience
- the build-up to the cliffhanger being a little drawn out
What did you think? Select your rating in the “User Review” box below
User Review( vote)
We’d love to know your thoughts on this and anything else you might want to talk about. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up. Don’t forget to share your rating in the “User Review” box
If you want to chat with me directly, I’m also on Twitter