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REVIEW: ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ is a multiversal masterpiece

By Mikhail Lecaros Published May 31, 2023 9:00 pm Updated Jun 01, 2023 10:07 am

Across the Spider-Verse is the sequel to 2018’s Academy Award-winning Into the Spider-Verse, which introduced moviegoers to Miles Morales, the teenaged Spider-Man of an alternate Earth where Peter Parker was killed in the line of duty. Colorful, kinetic, and endlessly inventive, Into the Spider-Verse was a massive hit with audiences and critics alike, adding literal and figurative dimensions to the world’s most popular superhero.

The story opens in typical Spider-Man fashion, with Miles Morales (Shameik Moore, Netflix’s The Get Down) struggling to balance being a superhero with being a good student and son. Sadly, being in two places at once isn’t among Miles’ powers, a fact that is causing his parents, Jeff (Brian Tyree Henry, Bullet Train) and Rio (Lauren Vélez, Ugly Betty), to wonder just where he’s been spending his days. But Miles doesn’t have time to mope, as the girl of his dreams, Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld, Disney+’s Hawkeye) is back from her (alternate) world and working with a team of Spider-people to bring order to the multiverse. When Miles follows Gwen to another world in an effort to help, he’ll find that his powers may not be enough for the responsibility he’s chosen to take on. 

In Across the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) has to decide which responsibilities he should devote his amazing powers to.

For the sequel, Chris Miller and Phil Lord (who co-wrote and directed The Lego Movie), don their screenwriters’ caps, having previously written and produced Into the Spider-Verse. That their work was cut out for them goes without saying, as that film was crowned 2018’s Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, Golden Globes, and BAFTAs. Thankfully, the duo hasn’t missed a step, and any notions of inferior follow-ups and/or genre fatigue can be set well aside. Across the Spider-Verse is a riotous, non-stop joyride that is as close to pop culture perfection as anyone is ever likely to see.

For as beautiful as its predecessor looked, Sony Pictures Animation steps up its game here, giving each world a distinct look, feel, and animation style that is stunning to behold. Where Miles’ Brooklyn has a decidedly “real world” comic book aesthetic, Gwen’s Earth-65 is awash in watercolors that evoke Robbi Rodriguez’s art from the character’s earliest Marvel appearances. At the same time, the use of hand-drawn animation overlaid onto 3D models allows the characters a spirit and dynamism that hits the sweet spot—we know these characters aren’t real, but we’ll be damned if we don’t feel every action beat and emotion we’re seeing. 

Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) introduces Miles to the wonders of the Multiverse, where hundreds of Spider-people operate under the watchful eye of Oscar Isaac's Spider-Man 2099.

Perhaps the most interesting character, from a visual standpoint, is The Spot (Jason Schwartzman, The French Dispatch), a sad sack of an antagonist who starts out as a “villain-of-the-week” before leveling up to get revenge on the source of his pain. From his look evolving alongside his powers, to the actual use of said powers in three-dimensional space, the character doesn’t just look cool, he’s far more interesting here than he ever was in the comics.

Narratively, Across the Spider-Verse takes what worked so well last time—the idea of infinite Spider-people across an infinite number of realities—and runs with them to points that would have crushed lesser filmmakers. The scale here is ludicrous (with a reported 280 unique Spider-people featured), but Miller and Lord ground the interdimensional insanity with likable, well-acted characters that we can’t help but root for. 

At the fore is Moore, who convincingly conveys a Spidey who, other than knowing he’s meant for greater things, hasn’t quite figured out how to juggle his dual lives. His chemistry with Steinfeld (as Gwen) from the first film is very much intact, and the two play off each other well as a pair of dimension-crossed sweethearts. Midway, Jake Johnson’s (TV’s New Girl) formerly world-weary Peter B. Parker shows up to provide brief moments of middle-aged comedy, and we get a couple of cameos from the last movie’s variants, but the Spider-person who steals the show is Oscar Isaac’s (Dune) Spider-Man from the year 2099.

Introduced as a “villain-of-the-week,” The Spot (played by Jason Schwartzman) quickly builds himself up into a true multiversal threat.

Tall, dark, and brooding, Isaac’s variant is a stern taskmaster who doesn’t suffer fools in the mission to protect the multiverse. Recruiting Spideys from different worlds, he’s taken it upon himself to ensure the survival of innocents from every world and reality. While Isaac’s curt, no-nonsense persona establishes the seriousness of the stakes, the filmmakers use the multiversal premise to go absolutely bananas with the amount of variant Spideys we meet here—if you’ve ever watched a Spider-Man show, movie, or cartoon, or read a comic book in your life, you’re likely to find your favorite version here. Heck, you’re likely to find versions that aren’t around anywhere else. It’s a lot to take in, and the fact that each variant acts in a manner consistent with their inspiration means there’s no lack of hilarity or potential for action.

By the time we hit the final act, we should be exhausted, but the film’s blend of action, humor, and drama is so balanced that one leaves the theater hungry for more in the conceptual and narrative senses. Whenever it was established that there’s no such thing as a perfect movie, it’s a good thing that the people behind Across the Spider-Verse clearly weren’t listening. If the next Sony animated film is anywhere near this good, then Disney’s live-action MCU is going to have its hands full trying to keep up. 

I can’t wait to go back to the Spider-Verse.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is now showing in Philippine cinemas. Watch the trailer below.