SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE
Starring: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Jake Johnson, Jason Schwartzman, Issa Rae, Karan Soni, Daniel Kaluuya, Oscar Isaac, and Shea Whigham
Directors: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson
Only twice in my movie watching lifetime has a film left me utterly speechless. Across the Spider-Verse is the third (Inception and Blindspotting are the others). It took two watches to formulate thoughts substantial enough to describe it because it’s grand in every facet of the word. The transformative animation tops what we thought couldn’t be topped, and the voice cast is so talented that every character is special no matter the screen time. Yet, the most epic part of this The Empire Strikes Back-level sequel is the grounded, introspective story. It’s been 13 years since an animated Best Picture nominee. There shouldn’t be a 14th.
As both part one of its own story and a sequel to the greatest Spider-Man movie ever made, Across the Spider-Verse is one of the most singularly ambitious and creatively realized superhero films ever put to screen. Without question one of the best movies of the year to date, this continuation of the Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) saga elevates and challenges its predecessor on nearly every possible level. It’s less of a joke-fest, but the characters are deeper, the art direction is somehow even more stunning, and the storytelling is second to none. One hundred words cannot adequately capture how blown away I was.
It's no surprise that the standout achievement of Across the Spider-Verse is the animation. It is innovative and stunning, bringing pages of a comic book to screen and creating a work of art worthy of a museum. It's more than just a visual feast, though. The voice work is great, and it is easily the best portrayal of the Multiverse that Marvel has done. The only things working against the film are a cliffhanger ending and an inability to ace things in the humor department. I give the first film the edge, but this is nothing if not a worthy successor.
In its individual elements, Across the Spider-Verse is perfect in nearly every way. As a sequel, an animated film, a superhero movie, a comic book movie, and an Easter Egg deliverer…it’s nearly flawless. The story is equal parts poignant, meta, relatable, and fantastical while exploring themes that capture what it’s like to be a teenager, including self-doubt, young love, parental expectations, and the transition from boy to man. It’s also a great commentary on comic book canon and how strictly it needs to be adhered to. It’s so close to getting a perfect score, if only it weren’t for that pesky “to be continued…” cliffhanger ending.
I still haven’t picked my jaw up off the ground since watching Across the Spider-Verse. It’s a genuine work of art that plays with just about every single animation style to make for one of the most stunning cinematic experiences I can remember. But beyond that, it’s so character-focused that the film’s high visual ambitions feel like they are only there to compliment the character work, and the final hour is so thrilling and wild that I don’t think I blinked once. The cliffhanger ending won’t make everybody happy, but it sure made me excited for the next one.