Four and a half years after the landmark Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a follow-up has finally arrived. It was worth the wait and then some.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse does all of the things that great sequels need to do: it follows the continuity and ethos of its predecessor, boldly expands on the world that it set up, and leaves us wanting even more.
At 140 minutes, it’s the longest animated film produced by an American studio, but it never feels bloated or dragged down by its densely layered storytelling.
Assembled by a trio of directors entirely different from the three that worked on Into the Spider-Verse, this follow-up is another testament to the power of collaboration among storytellers with divergent creative backgrounds.
The previous film ended with Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) communing with Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) through a portal in his bedroom ceiling, her final line of “Got a minute?” setting up further adventures across dimensions. The beginning of Across the Spider-Verse catches us up on her backstory and what she’s been up to since the events of the first movie, most notably her admission into the Spider-Society. This is a team of other Spider-Man variants, led by Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), who aim to keep peace in the multiverse by disposing of dimensional anomalies and preserving “canon events,” crucial moments of growth similar among the Spider-People. Rejoined by mentor Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) along with new Spider faces Pavitr Prabhakar (Karan Soni) and Hobie Brown (Daniel Kaluuya), Miles and Gwen must stop a new villain wreaking havoc across the multiverse.
Across the Spider-Verse joins recent films like Best Picture winner Everything Everywhere All at Once and MCU entry Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness whose storylines go deep into parallel universes. There are essays and thinkpieces to be written about why audiences are seeming to respond so strongly to movies with this theme, but it’s enough to say that the “what if?” aspect of the plot device remains effortlessly effective here. Where Into the Spider-Verse introduced us to a few twists on the Spider-Man character we typically know from movies and TV shows, this film gives us glimpses of dozens of new Spider people, creatures, and machines that exist in other dimensions. There are tangents and cameos of the Lego and live-action variety that constantly remind us of the boundless creative energy that goes into making these movies.
Into the Spider-Verse introduced a bold new animation style that visualized the comic book experience like never before, and Across the Spider-Verse goes even further with its artistic ambitions. While Miles’ timeline on Earth-1610 retains the Ben Day dots and chromatic distortion of the first movie, we spend more time in other dimensions like Gwen’s home on Earth-65. Her world is rendered with jaw-dropping impressionist vigor, where every frame is a painting that emotes with the scene it’s canvassing. The film’s most moving moments are between Gwen and her police captain father, reeling with the news that his daughter is a vigilante crime fighter. The frame is awash with watercolor paint whose hues bleed into one another; watching paint dry has never been this exhilarating. This is a new cinematic language of animation being created before our eyes, and it’s simply a wonder to behold.
Reuniting frequent screenwriting partners Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Across the Spider-Verse adds veteran scribe David Callaham for a script that is somehow just as clever as the screenplay for its predecessor. It keeps up with all of the manic mythology surrounding the character but packs in gobs of pathos and wit too. There’s a clever bit about redundant initialisms that is set up in a New York bodega and then called back during Pavitr’s introduction in Mumbattan, which I take to be a portmanteau of Mumbai and Manhattan.
It’s no secret that the superhero genre is a packed clubhouse when it comes to modern movies, but if you’re sleeping on these Spider-Verse chapters, you’re missing out on the finest films this pocket of cinema has ever produced.
New movies coming this weekend
Playing in theaters is Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, an action sequel starring Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback which takes the franchise back to 1994, where Maximals, Predacons, and Terrorcons aid Optimus Prime against the Unicrons.
Streaming on Disney+ and Hulu is Flamin’ Hot, a biopic starring Jesse Garcia and Annie Gonzalez about a Frito Lay janitor who disrupted the food industry by channeling his Mexican heritage to turn Flamin’ Hot Cheetos from a snack into an iconic global pop culture phenomenon.
Premiering on Netflix is The Wonder Weeks, a comedy starring Sallie Harmsen and Soy Kroon which follows three modern couples as they juggle relationships and demanding careers while navigating the unpredictable terrain of new parenthood.