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June 8, 2023


written by: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and David Callaham
produced by: Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller & Christina Steinberg
directed by: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson
rated: PG (for sequences of animated action violence, some language and thematic elements)
runtime: 140 min.
U.S. release date: June 2, 2023


As I experienced “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”, I found myself wishing that every superhero movie could be animated. Think about it – no actors aging-out, no need to recast roles, and no rushed visual effects resulting in subpar quality. Sure, some stunt people might be out of work, but hey, less liability. In animation, the opportunities are endless, just like the “anything goes” potential of the source material, and if the animated features would be this epic, immersive and flat-out amazing, why not?

Making their feature-length directorial debut with “Across the Spider-Verse”, Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson, a trio who are catapulting off the stellar work done by their predecessors on the Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” from 2018. Some will wonder why it took so long, but when the result is a sequel this exciting, funny, and thrilling (not to mention the sheer visual artistry), it really doesn’t matter how long it takes. That last movie did a lot of things right. It gave non comic book readers a sampling of just how inventive and creative sequential storytelling can be, while avid comic book readers geeked out and felt seen knowing it was the closest they’d get to seeing what they’ve read realized on the screen. The directors and talented animators of “Across the Spider-Verse” know all this and they’ve found a way to make this next chapter even more innovative and fun, with a heartfelt screenplay from Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and David Callaham.




The story picks up one year after the events of “Into the Spider-Verse”, with Brooklyn high schooler, Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) of Earth-1610, finding it easier to be Spider-Man and contend with super villains than navigating the expectations of his worrisome mother, Rio (Luna Lauren Velez) and his overbearing father, Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry), who’s about to be promoted to captain of the police force. If his father knew about his extracurricular web-slinging, that would certainly add additional stress.

But before we check in with Miles, the screenwriters cleverly subvert expectations by giving us an opening prologue with Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), one of many other characters from other universes with super-spider powers. Gwen is placed front and center as she tells us in voiceover, “Let’s do things differently this time,” a meta line that proves to be quite literal, showing how this story won’t be simply more of the same.

In the comics, she’s referred to as Spider-Gwen, but it’s more fitting to call Spider-Woman in these movies. In the last movie, we saw the bond that developed between Gwen and Miles, two peers who have more in common than the average teens. Here we learn how they have even more in common, like how Gwen’s father is a police Captain (Shea Whigham) on Earth-65, which makes fighting crime as Spider-Woman quite a challenge. Their already strained relationship increases once a steam-punked Vulture (Jorma Taccone) drops in from a Renaissance-inspired universe to break into the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan and by the time Gwen confronts him as Spider-Woman she is seen as a murderer by her father. This is also where we meet Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), the Spider-Man of the year 2099, and Jessica Drew (Issa Rae), another Spider-Woman from an alternate universe, both of whom are members of the Spider-Society and have a device which enables them to universe hop. Due to her current problematic situation, Gwen winds up escaping with them through a dimensional portal.



Back on Earth-1610, Miles has to contend with a seemingly B-level super villain named The Spot (a perfectly cast Jason Schwartzman), a mysterious albeit awkward character who believes he is Spider-Man’s nemesis. Considering his appearance, it’s understandable how Miles wants to write him off as a “villain of the week”, but that only enrages The Spot, motivating him to master his portal-opening holes and increasing his power, which he gained after Miles saved the day in the last movie. When he first encounters The Spot, Miles is doing everything he can to wrap their confrontation up quickly since he’s already late for a meeting with his school principal and his parents that will determine his future.

When Gwen eventually does drop in on Miles, she lets him know about her recent partnership with this Spider-Society and how they are trying to keep the many multiverses in line, yet there’s a certain Spot that is causing chaos across the Spider-Verses. It also feels like there’s something else she’s not telling Miles. What is she hiding? Figuring something is off, he follows Gwen through a portal, where they travel to different universes, one of which is Mumbattan (a wonderfully creative amalgam of Mumbai and Manhattan), where they meet a couple other Spider-Men, the suave and easy-going, Pavitr Prabhakar (Karan Soni) and the anti-authority rocker, Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya), who carries a thrashing guitar on his back, as they pursue the time-tampering Spot.



Eventually, they reunite with Miles’s mentor, Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), who Miles learns has been aware of Miguel O’Hara and the Spider-Society’s dedication to making sure certain events play out as they should throughout every Spider-Verse. While we catch a glimpse at Miguel’s personal motivations behind all this, there’s a certain obsessiveness about his mission that seems a bit unsettling. Miles soon learns what all this means for him and how the goals of the Spider-Society impact him and his family personally, putting him at odds with (and the target of) just about every other Spider-Hero across the Spider-Verse.

While there’s a lot that happens and many surprises that occur throughout “Across the Spider-Verse”, at it’s core there remains a coming-of-age focus for the two teens at the heart of this continuing story. Yes, Gwen gets more screen time here, but not at the expense of further characterization for Miles. In fact, there’s a great balance here, showing the different-yet-similar dynamics between Gwen and her father and Miles and his parents. Amid all the kinetic action, all the Easter Eggs, and genuine laughs, there remains an intact personal story that has relatable longing and conflict.

Interestingly enough, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive antagonist here for Miles or Gwen and that’s one of many refreshing elements of the movie. They are both at odds with their superhero status and their respective parents, but that’s because they love them, not because their parents are their enemies. The way in which screenwriters Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“The LEGO Movie”) and David Callaham (“Mortal Kombat”) provide us with enough information on The Spot and Miguel O’Hara to lead us to understand there’s more to these characters than wanting to control the universe, get revenge, or whatever other villain motivations have been regurgitated over the years. We may not agree with the chaos they are causing or control they hold on to, it’s still easy to understand where both of these characters are coming from.



“Across the Spider-Verse” does a stellar job at elevating the distinctive animation style on display in the last movie. The variety of innovative animation styles here is simply dazzling. The directors and all involved inject more of a comic book feel to the experience, where captions appear on screen (either providing names of people and places or offering context) and even covers of issues where certain characters made their first appearance. That’ll delight comics geeks, but will also remind viewers who come to Spider-Man with their own references (especially how they were introduced to the iconic character, be it through cartoons, video games, or the MCU), that the source material remains a vital and timeless influence on what they are seeing on screen. Just as Ang Lee’s “Hulk” movie paid homage to the medium by incorporating sequential panels, this movie doesn’t shy away from the format that started it all. In that sense, the “To Be Continued” ending of “Across the Spider-Verse” is fitting and doesn’t feel like an eye-rolling ploy to make more money next time (talking about you, “Fast X”).

If anything, the ending of this sequel feels like a payoff. We’re already hooked and invested in these characters and there’s enough going on here that a continuation feels not only logical but earned. Considering how this movie excels on all levels – rich characterization, solid thrills, and creatively rendered animation – there’s no doubt that next year’s “Beyond the Spider-Verse” will deliver all that and much more and that’s exciting. For anyone tired of the MCU and DC movies or bored with superhero movies in general, this is the movie for you.


RATING: ****


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