Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (now on VOD services like Amazon Prime Video) triumphantly establishes this seriesâ inspired use of prepositions in its titles. The first film, youâll recall, was dubbed Into the Spider-Verse, and the third will be Beyond the Spider-Verse, and we word nerds love it, just love it, because movie titles with numbers and extra punctuation like colons and dashes and whatnot are so passÃ©. As so many of us say so often, ALL HAIL THE PREPOSITION. Of course, there are other things to appreciate about the Spider-Verse movies, like their innovative animation and storytelling, their admirable inclusivity and diversity, their willingness to take the increasingly wearying comic book movie formula and tear it down to the studs and rebuild. The first film blew us away and won itself a well-deserved Oscar, which is a hard act to follow; this second one rotates in a new collection of directors (Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompsons) but offers more of the same (the primary voice cast returns; Phil Lord and Christopher Miller continue to guide the films creatively) and then some, but in doing so, will it further expand our minds or feel like diminishing returns? Letâs find out.
SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) exists in a world visually defined by the brushstrokes of Impressionism; itâs known as Earth-65. (You taking notes? I was; I had to.) In her world, Peter Parker transformed into the Lizard and was killed in a brouhaha, and Gwen got the blame, specifically by her police-captain father, who doesnât know his daughter is secretly a superhero. This presents a multi-faceted problem in a movie with many, many multi-everythings, so you better keep your wits sharp, my friends. Anyway, Spider-Gwen ends up slinging her way to the Guggenheim to battle a version of the Vulture from a Renaissance-themed dimension, and the time-space rift puts her in the company of Spider-Man 2099/Miguel OâHara (Oscar Isaac) and Spider-Woman/Jess Drew (Issa Rae), who head up a legion of interdimensional Spider-Peoples, banded together to maintain order across the multiverse. Since life at home sucks rocks, Gwen joins their crazyass Spider-Society because sheâs eager to help, and also because maybe sheâll end up hanging out with Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) again .
Speaking of. Miles exists in Earth-1610, which youâll recall looks like a vintage comic book with all the tiny little pointillism dots of old printing styles. Miles is late for an appointment with his parents and guidance counselor, and he keeps getting later and later because heâs trying to apprehend a dude who calls himself The Spot (Jason Schwartzman). This guy creates little portals that allow him to, say, reach inside an ATM and grab all the money, and Miles/Spider-Man dubs him a âvillain of the week,â a quippy quip that ends up coming back to bite him right in his skinny little ass. See, those portals eventually allow The Spot to wreak havoc across multiple universes, which is no small shakes. Spider-Gwen ends up back on Earth-1610 to investigate, and to also resume the awkward teenage attraction between her and Miles, who defies his parents â they grounded him for several eons for showing up stupid late to the party honoring his dadâs promotion to police captain â to join her travels where, exactly? Not near or above or through or in the general vicinity of but ACROSS the Spider-Verse, of course.
And so they end up chasing The Spot to Earth-50101, and specifically to Mumbattan, where Pavitr Prabhakar (Karan Soni) is Spider-Man. Miguel and Jess also show up, as does Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya), a Black British Spidey with a spiky mohawk and a guitar, from Earth-some-other-number. Here they encounter an âincoming canon event,â which sounds really important, doesnât it? And indeed it is, because it has capital-I Implications that threaten the stability of the very fabric of space-time â capital-I Implications that capital-I Implicate the living crap out of Milesâ very existence. Thereâs a lot on the line here, see, and this plot follows suit by being a twirling whirling dervish of everythingness. Good thing the stakes are so high, otherwise we might not be compelled to try to keep up with all the fuss.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Here we must note that the Spider-Verses are setting the standards, not following them. But if anything is even more dizzying than Everything Everywhere All at Once, itâs this movie.
Performance Worth Watching Hearing: Shameik Mooreâs vocal performance is perfectly on-point, getting across the confused blend of bewilderment and confidence of a teenage Spidey who finds himself at a personal, professional, and interdimensional crossroads. (Which is kind of a lot. Hope he can handle it.)Â
Memorable Dialogue: I liked this sweet moment:
Miles, who just saved Pavitrâs police-captain father: What do you think?
Gwen: What I always think â youâre amazing.
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: There are times when I wished Across the Spider-Verse pumped the brakes a bit so we could admire its myriad visual wonders. Itâs incessant â both the filmâs nigh-boundless creativity and its pace, which had my pupils so intently speed-dilating, I worried that my synaptic functions would frizzle and fry beyond repair. During the many borderline-hyperactive action sequences, at least; one of the filmâs assets is its willingness to indulge character development, rendering the dynamic between parents and their teenage children tangible, realistic and relatable. Without that, all this motion would lead us pretty much nowhere.
So I was a little frustrated by Across the Spider-Verse, especially since its predecessor more successfully tamed its impulses. It also indulges the many over-the-top convolutions of plot of the comics medium that inspired it, prompting one to split a hair and label it complicated instead of complex. On the Muchness Scale, is it too much? Almost. Itâs not a spoiler to reveal that at one point Spider-People from every conceivable dimension (and then some, probably, whoâs counting, not me) fill the corners of the frame, and our heads spin more with delight than discombobulation. Itâs a trip, and ultimately for the better.
Viewing at the theater allows one full immersion in the world. Viewing at home allows one to freeze-frame as often as one wants, since, as they say, every frame is a painting. Its visual design is preceded by nothing save for the first Spider-Verse, and Lord and Miller oversee further progression by crafting distinctive aesthetics for each of the half-dozen or so universes within this narrative: Mumbattan stands out from Milesâ and Gwenâs version of New York and the Nueva York of 2099 where the Spider-Society dwells; even Spider-Punk looks pasted together from newspaper and magazine clippings like he just walked off a Sex Pistols flier from 1976.Â
Thematically, the film builds upon its predecessorâs coming-of-age story and exploration of identity and belonging. Itâs also an invigorating expansion upon the classic WGPCGR Spider-Man ethos â you know, With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility, and what if that power and responsibility was greater than ever before, and the very nature of reality hangs in the balance? Itâs provocative stuff, but never so heady that it tempers the fun. Across the Spider-Verse isnât beyond reproach, but its positives far outweigh its negatives as it wields the great responsibility of reinvigorating the borderline-moribund state of the comic book movie, which has reached a level of predictability and conservatism that feels increasingly dull and stifling. What do you want? Another White guy cast as Peter Parker so he can fight another outsized villain in another bloated live-action escapade? Or do you want something like this occasionally exasperating, but ultimately exhilarating whirlwind of imagination? It isnât even a question, is it?
Our Call: I hate the cliffhanger ending. Renders the film incomplete. But the incalculable ingenuity of these movies is eminently admirable. STREAM IT.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.