Action Adventure

Review: ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ is a Superhero Sequel that Balances Universe-Shattering Stakes with an Intensely Personal Story

June 2, 2023Ben MK

By and large, the animation genre is regarded primarily as children's entertainment. But while the vast majority of moviegoers might hold firm to that opinion, filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro, Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater have all done their part to champion the notion that animation can also be a viable storytelling medium for adults. It's a passion that's also shared by producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, whose 2018 blockbuster, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, proved that it was indeed possible to make an animated feature with mass appeal for both grown-ups and kids alike. Now, Lord and Miller are back with the highly anticipated follow-up, which promises more web-slinging action and even more epic stakes, as Brooklyn's one and only Spider-Man must do the impossible — prevent the destruction of the entire multiverse, as well as save the lives of those he loves the most.

Set one year and four months after the near-cataclysmic events of Into the Spider-Verse, Across the Spider-Verse finds Earth-1610's Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) at a crossroads. Still reeling from the death of his beloved uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), who also happened to be leading a secret life as the supervillain known as the Prowler, Miles has been feeling the pressure to live up to his family's expectations, especially those of his soon-to-be-police-captain dad Jeff (Brian Tyree Henry). Now, with high school graduation looming and college applications at the forefront of his dad and mom Rio's (Luna Lauren Velez) minds, all of Miles' stressors are coming to a head. For little do his parents realize that their son has also been dealing with the pressure of being New York City's friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. And when a ridiculous new supervillain calling himself the Spot (Jason Schwartzman) arrives on the scene to disrupt the peace and exact his revenge on the person he blames for his misfortune, it's up to Miles to stop him and attempt to restore some semblance of order to the chaos.

Meanwhile, in the parallel dimension that is Earth-65, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) has also been going through some emotional turmoil of her own. Ever since the unfortunate death of her best friend, Peter Parker, the relationship between her and her police captain father, George (Shea Whigham), has been strained, to say the least. But when a fateful battle with a version of the Vulture from another dimension has her coming face to face with the elite Spider-Society and their stoic leader, Miguel O'Hara (Oscar Isaac) aka Spider-Man 2099, Gwen's life is irrevocably changed. Suddenly thrust into the far-reaching fight for the fate of the multiverse, along with other such Spider-People such as Jessica Drew (Issa Rae) and Hobie Brown (Daniel Kaluuya), Gwen is tasked with tracking an anomaly — a mission that brings her back to Earth-1610, where she's reunited with Miles for the first time since they saved the multiverse nearly a year and a half ago. This time, however, things are a bit more complicated. And even though Miles doesn't know it, he may be the key to it all.

A joint directorial effort by Joaquin Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson, what follows is a sequel that's bursting at the seams with superhero spectacle and blink-and-you'll-miss-it Easter Eggs. From the dimension-jumping set pieces that will see Gwen and her teammates going head-to-head with a multiverse-bending enemy to the uncountable variations of Spider-Men and Spider-Women — not to mention Spider-Cats, Spider-Rexes and Spider-Cars — that populate the Spider-Society's headquarters on Earth-928, there's no shortage of action-packed eye candy to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. What's even more impressive, though, is how the filmmakers are also able to imbue the movie with heartfelt emotion and gravitas, which is an achievement that not only goes a long way in legitimizing Across the Spider-Verse as a serious Oscar contender, but also keeps our heroes' journeys feeling intensely personal, despite the film's record-setting high stakes.

Throw in a few references to the Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland Spider-Man entries, as well as a fun tip of the hat to the Tom Hardy Venom movies and a throwaway LEGO Spider-Man gag, and the result easily ranks as a new high-water mark for the wall-crawling franchise. Just don't be surprised if Across the Spider-Verse doesn't tie things up in a neat and tidy web — because with Beyond the Spider-Verse slated to wow audiences in 2024, there's still so much more multiverse to explore.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse releases June 2nd, 2023 from Sony Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for sequences of animated action violence, some language and thematic elements. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 20 min.

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