Directors: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson
Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Oscar Isaac, Issa Rae, Daniel Kaluuya, Andy Samberg, Jason Schwartzman
Running time: 140 mins
Spidey’s Spectacular Return: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Takes Audiences by Storm
It’s been an agonising five year wait, but the hotly-anticipated sequel to 2018’s ground-breaking Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has finally arrived. Happily, it more than lives up to the original film, delivering jaw-dropping animation, great characters, laugh-out-loud humour and more spider-action than you can possibly imagine.
Conceived as the first half of a two part sequel (Beyond the Spider-Verse is due in 2024, so at least we won’t have to wait another five years), Across the Spider-Verse picks up some time after the events of Into the Spider-Verse, with Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) established as his universe’s only Spider-Man. After a battle with “villain of the week” The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), whose powers involve tossing around wormholes, Miles is visited by a dimension-hopping Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), who recruits him into the Spider Society, an elite team of Spider-people lead by super-serious Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), aka Spider-Man 2099, whose appearance was teased in the post-credits sting of Into the Spider-Verse).
Collectively tasked with preventing the collapse of the multiverse, Miles’ new Spider-companions include heavily pregnant, motorbike-riding Jessica Drew, aka Spider-Woman; Pavitr Prabhakar (Karan Soni), aka Indian Spider-Man; and ultra-cool, British accented, Hobie Brown, aka Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya). However, when Miles makes a startling discovery about Miguel’s intentions, it sets him on his own course, putting him at odds with the entire Spider-Verse.
Visually Breathtaking: The Animation of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
The animation in Into the Spider-Verse was nothing short of extraordinary, perfectly recreating the comic book aesthetic with a visual feast of different animation styles, as if the characters were literally leaping off the page. Incredibly, Across the Spider-Verse somehow manages to push that idea still further – in theory, it should be distracting that different scenes have different animation styles, and yet the film makes it work effortlessly. At times, the effect is sublime, most notably in Spider-Gwen’s universe, where the colours and shapes shift and swirl, according to the characters’ emotions.
In addition, the level of detail is astonishing. If anything, the filmmakers – incoming directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson – are a little bit cheeky with it, at one point including a barrage of introductory captions for barely-glimpsed characters that will only be fully appreciated with access to a pause button. Needless to say, there are also a number of delightful references and in-jokes for die-hard comics fans, from the opening “Approved by the Comics Code Authority” stamp to the inclusion of editor’s notes along with other captions.
The genre savvy script embraces the madness inherent in over fifty years of comics continuity (in other words, don’t expect to get every reference), while thoughtfully exploring the tragedy inherent in superhero storytelling, encapsulated with a powerfully moving montage of familiar-looking heroes bent over lost love ones. Those themes – what it means to be a hero, a pervading sense of sacrifice and defining sense of pain – permeate Across the Spider-Verse, along with compelling ideas about whether you can ever truly escape your destiny.
As with the previous movie, the sequel has been cast to perfection. Moore and Steinfeld make an achingly sympathetic double act, and their continuing relationship is beautifully written, performed and animated – the scenes where Gwen meets Miles’ parents are just one of multiple highlights. Similarly, Schwartzman is -ahem- spot-on as The Spot, and a returning Jake Johnson is once again pitch-perfect as Peter Parker, while Daniel Kaluuya effortlessly steals every scene as Spider-Punk, whose individual animation style is a fabulous mish-mash of Sex Pistols-inspired collage.
If there’s a problem with the film, it’s only that a key plot point raises some tricky questions, though hopefully those will be addressed in the next movie. It’s also fair to say that certain sections of the audience may find the ending both frustrating (especially if you didn’t know it was part one of two) and underwhelming, even in terms of cliffhanger management. It definitely leaves you wanting more, but mostly because so much is unresolved, rather than a proper “How are they going to get out of THAT?” nail-biter.
Those minor quibbles aside, this is a genuinely thrilling sequel that once again sets the bar extremely high for inventive and imaginative animation. Let’s just hope the third movie sticks the landing and ends the trilogy in suitably dazzling style.