‘Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse’ Is A Painstakingly Elaborate And Gorgeously Crafted Animated Film – Review
Before walking into Across the Spider-Verse, I heard the rumbles and saw the tweets. Those who got to see the Sony Animation and Marvel co-production early RAVED, putting out flowery reviews that were on par with the reaction to the Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. But despite the acclaim from a few highly respected critics and names, I was still hesitant. The impossible can only be done once. Lightning can’t strike a bottle twice. So how can the twice-delayed 2023 sequel even come close to the original?
Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse does not attempt to replicate the success of its predecessor. It aims to elevate, expand, and reinvent this franchise and the medium of animation in general. The film takes the saying “Every Frame’s a Painting” to an extraordinary new level. Your eyes dance around the screen in awe as the superhero flick brings arthouse animation to the mainstream. Captivated by the movie’s magnificent visual dazzle and heart, you’ll forget that you’ve been edge-sitting for the over two-hour runtime. Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos (The Legend of Korra), Kemp Powers (Soul), and Justin K. Thompson, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is penned by Phil Lord, Chris Miller, and Dave Callaham.
The first Spider-Verse is amongst the most seminal animated film of the 21st century. Not since Pixar’s debut Toy Story had animation significantly evolved. 2014’s The LEGO Movie, also from Spider-Verse writers/producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, came very close. But the specificity of the LEGO animation style isn’t adaptable in formats outside of the trademarked toy universe. But Into the Spider-Verse is different. Rather than traditional CGI, the first movie incorporated a slew of new rendering styles mixed in with hand-drawn elements. With the bold usage of vibrant colors, the exposed line-hatching on the faces, the glitchy staccato frame skipping, and the pop art words jumping on and off the screen…the 2018 film broke traditional molds to create an aesthetic that both resembled old comic book print while also being remarkably distinct and fresh.
The cultural impact of the Oscar-winning flick was felt immediately. Dreamworks’ Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, Netflix’s Entergalatic, and Paramount’s latest animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are just a few of the recent animated features that borrow inspiration from Into the Spider-Verse. The original film set a new standard by breaking the rules and taking big chances. Yet somehow, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse takes bigger swings and hits every one of them out of the park.
The 2023 film begins with an emotional cold open that sees Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) still tantalizing the memories of Spider-Gwen (Haile Stanfield). Despite her head-knocking drum skills and metal-influenced hair, a glimpse into Gwen’s world shows how soft her interior is. Told through an astounding experimental merger of watercolor paint and 3D rendering, the animation pulls you into the subjectivity of Gwen Stacy completely. The impressionistic art style peaks during intense conversations between Gwen and her police captain father, leading to some of Across’s most jaw-dropping visual moments. Scenes like these are some of the many brilliant instances of how the film’s aesthetic beautiful plays into the emotional core of the story.
Gwen’s character arch is the centerpiece of the sequel, as her journey reflects the outsider struggle that all Spider-men and women face. But instead of confronting her challenges in her universe, she joins an elite group of Spider-people from the multiverse, which includes Jessica Drew (Issa Rae), a pregnant Spider-woman, Hobie (Daniel Kaluuya), a super cool punk rock Spider-Man that’s interestingly animated through collage art, Margo Kess (Amandla Stenberg), a VR Spider-person, and Miguel/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), a brutal vampire Spider-Man who leads the multiverse of Spider folk. The new voice talents are exceptional, as well as the returns of Brian Tylee Henry as Miles’ father and Jake Johnson as Peter B. Parker.
The film’s visual brilliance is truly awe-striking; it’s easy to spend this whole review discussing the look. But these big cinematic moments hit so hard due to the air-tight story and unforgettable characters. Miles is the same charismatic anchor we fell in love with in the first movie, but now that he is growing up, the stakes are higher in his personal life and as Spider-Man. Ever so relatable, he can’t find the words to tell his police lieutenant and Puerto Rican mother the truth about himself. His conflict cleverly mirrors Gwen Stacy, whose father is similarly a cop who doesn’t know their kid’s identity. Their parallel makes their relationship with each other all the more meaningful.
Miles juggles school and family responsibilities this time, being Brooklyn’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, and mourning Uncle Aaron/The Prowler. But thinking he’s fighting a regular villain of the week, Miles struggles to take down “The Spot,” a crazy new villain that can open portals with black spots on his body. It’s such a weird concept that even summarizing in this review probably didn’t make much sense, but imagine the astonishing amount of work it took to create this guy on screen. The Spot, alongside the aforementioned Hobie, are masterful examples of how this movie flexes the form of animation to bring dynamic universes and characters to life. Across the Spider-Verse excels, whether it is the character designs and movements or entire worlds reimagined in inventive art styles.
Most impressively, Across the Spider-Verse is a perfect homage to all eras and iterations of Spider-Man. Sprinkled throughout are hilarious references to the old school cartoons, the long legacy of Spider-Man video games, and a couple of winks at the live-action flicks. As the story progresses, there are so many twists and turns that your head is on a swivel. But thanks to the flawless pacing and engaging story, you’re locked in for the ride. So much so that when it was over, I was shocked because I was fully ready for more. But if my only criticism of a movie is that it left me wanting more, it did a damn good job.
Every second of Across the Spider-Verse appears painstakingly elaborate and gorgeously crafted. Everything from the awe-inspiring animation, the incredibly engaging story, the foot-tapping new original music, and the intense voice-acting performances combine into a spectacular Spidey adventure. Trying not to let recency bias cloud my judgment, I’d be hard-pressed not to call this the best movie of the year. Across the Spider-Verse will leave you excited for more Miles Morales-led Spider-Man movies and thrilled for the animation medium in general.