Film Reviews

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse – Film Review

Contains spoilers.

As an intellectual property, Spider-Man has rarely been in better health. Spider-Man: No Way Home was regarded widely as the strongest entry in phase four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (even if that was not a view shared unanimously), The Insomniac video games have received rave reviews, with another entry due somewhere near the end of this year.

Right at the outset of this extraordinary run came Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. At the time, this was seen as a risky venture. The presence of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller on writing duties suggested a film that may have ended up with a frivolous tone. To the general public, Peter Parker is Spider-Man, so making a big screen entry with Miles Morales as the lead risked either indifference from an audience not familiar with him, or possible dilution of the brand. Quite apart from this, Sony had proven, in recent years, to be somewhat erratic with this property, when Marvel Studios were not there to assist. In the event there was really no need for concern, as the end result proved to be one of the most inventive superhero films ever created.

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Over four years on, we have our first sequel. A little over a year on from the events of that film, Miles (Shameik Moore) is now a 15-year old sophomore (a relatively meaningless term in the UK, but it means he has two years of school left after the current one), doing reasonably well at school, though proving an unreliable timekeeper, as his hero duties keep getting in the way. He misses Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) but is otherwise well.

Speaking of Gwen, she is our first focus, as the opening scenes of the film see her Spider-Woman hunted by her own father, Captain George Stacy (Shea Whigham), as she is mistakenly thought to have killed her universe’s Peter Parker – her best friend. Cornered by her dad, in the midst of saving the public from a beast from another dimension – the first sign that the events of the first film has opened to door to alternate realities – she is saved by the arrival of Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac) and Jessica Drew’s alternate Spider-Woman (Issa Rae), a pregnant African American woman who operates from a motorcycle. Offered the chance to join them, Gwen leaves her reality to join a team looking to deal with cross-dimensional anomalies.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation. © 2022 CTMG, Inc.

Picking up with Miles, we see him visited some weeks later by Gwen. Having never expected to see his friend again, it is clear that he still retains feelings for her. Currently, he is dealing with a new supervillain, The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), formerly Dr Jonathan Ohnn, a scientist damaged by an explosion during the events of the first film, and left a featureless, faceless man, completely white but covered in black spots that he can use as portals to steal from various places. In fighting Spider-Man, he ends up beaten into one of his own spots, allowing him to access all different dimensions (this makes perfect sense when viewed).

With Miles forcing his way into the team, the race is one to prevent The Spot from causing damage across the multiverse, with the help of the local Spider-Man in each dimension. This includes a Lego world and Manhattan reimagined as Mumbattan – an Indian New York with Peter Parker variant Pavitr Prabhakar (Karan Soni). We meet or see virtually every Spider-Man ever committed to comic or film, including the insomniac version, all versions we met in film one – with Peter B Parker (Jake Johnson) now father to a young girl, all television cartoon variants, Ben Reilly’s Scarlett Spider (Andy Samberg) and, well, too many to count. There will be significant re-watch value in pausing this at home to identify all of the background versions of the character. All of which are animated faithfully to their source.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation. © 2022 CTMG, Inc.

The crux of the plot is that this is a Spider-Verse: a connected matrix of Spider-Men, women, and animals that all live lives with common elements. All lose family members and/or a police captain with whom they have a friendship. These are known as ‘canon events’, and O’Hara explains this to Miles in a quite superb piece of visual exposition in which we see parallel events involving Miles, Peter B Parker, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield‘s version of the characters, amongst others. As Miles was bitten by a spider from a dimension different from his own, he is an anomaly: he was never meant to be Spider-Man, and both his existence, and his actions are seen as a threat to the integrity of the Spider-Verse. This is all we can say without completely ruining all surprises and reveals.

There is a risk of overload here, as this runs to a hefty 2hrs 20 minutes and crams in a substantial number of realities and plot points. In fact, in the event the film finishes on a cliff-hanger that will be resolved next year, and this is for the best, as this entry simply could not contain any more plot, any more visuals, any more… anything.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation. © 2022 CTMG, Inc.

It is all made with so much love, however. If the viewer has ever loved any version of Spider-Man or Spider-Woman, there is an overwhelming chance they will see that version here (we did not spot Tom Holland’s version on this viewing, to be fair). For all this, it never plays like lazy fan service, rather, it has captured the sweet spot of the feeling of a love letter to the property.

Every such version is animated so accurately, with Scarlet Spider looking ripped from the pages of a comic book (ripped in both senses of the word, as the character is jacked), and Spider-Punk (“Hobie” Brown played by Daniel Kaluuya) comes from a completely different colour palette from the rest of the film. To place such disparate visuals together in a way that works is just extraordinary.

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Take Gwen’s reality. Gwen fits just fine in Miles’ world, but her home dimension is really painterly, with colours changing as she interacts with others; it is truly beautiful. Whereas Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness did a decent job of showing different realities, it was largely brief glimpses given in a slightly throwaway fashion. Here, directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson have given us a film in which every frame is filled with loving detail.

Where Into The Spider-Verse gave us the hope that non-MCU Spider-Man projects could be made to work, and that the property did not have to begin and end with Peter Parker, Across the Spider-Verse shows us infinite diversity in infinite combinations in a way that celebrates us all, and never panders to its audience. Apart from the slight lull in pace in the second half of the first hour, and a small feeling at the very end that is would be best to leave the denouement to another entry, as we were starting to run long, this is damned near perfect, demonstrating an inventiveness that moves several steps beyond film one. In short, it is stronger than its predecessor in every conceivable way.

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse is out now in cinemas.

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