REVIEW: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023, dirs. Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson)

Certificate: PG

Running Time: 140 mins

UK Distributor: Sony

WHO’S IN SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE?

Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Jake Johnson, Oscar Isaac, Issa Rae, Daniel Kaluuya, Karan Soni, Jason Schwartzman, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Vélez, Greta Lee, Rachel Dratch, Jorma Taccone, Shea Whigham, Andy Samberg, Zoë Kravitz, Amandla Stenberg

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson (directors), Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (writers, producers), Dave Callaham (writer), Avi Arad, Amy Pascal and Christina Steinberg (producers), Daniel Pemberton (composer), Mike Andrews (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Miles Morales (Moore) is whisked across a multiverse of countless other Spider-People…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE?

In 2018, along came a Spider-Man – but this one was different from all the others that came before him. In fact, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ended up being such a unique, stylish, and above all emotional rollercoaster of animation and storytelling that not only did it win immediate acclaim from critics, audiences, and awards voters across the board, but it has single-handedly influenced a whole new wave of cartoon features that seamlessly combined CG and hand-drawn methods with thoughtful and layered plots, from The Mitchells vs. The Machines to Puss in Boots: The Last Wish to the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.

But for all its acclaim and inspiration, is it even possible for the movie to out-do itself with its anticipated sequel Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (the first of two, with Beyond the Spider-Verse due out next year) finally arriving? Yes, it is possible, for this is a follow-up that goes full Empire Strikes Back in that it ups the ante considerably and may even be richer and more dynamic with its storytelling than even its modern classic of a predecessor.

The film reintroduces us to Brooklyn teen Miles Morales (once again voiced by Shameik Moore) as he’s juggling his responsibilities as an everyday kid as well as being the sole Spider-Man in his universe. One day, he’s suddenly paid a visit by his interdimensional pal Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), who like Miles operates as her own universe’s web-slinger, and soon he’s whisked across the multiverse where he meets several different incarnations of Spider-Man in numerous imaginative locations – including an Indian version named Pavitr Prabhakar (Karan Soni) who lives in the city of Mumbattan, the heavily pregnant Jessica Drew (Issa Rae) who operates with a motorcycle, and a British punk rock variant in the form of Hobie Brown (Daniel Kaluuya) – as well as new foe The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) who has the ability to create portals to different universes with his body. Miles is soon brought to a secret society of Spider-Beings run by Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), where he discovers a tragic connection shared by all Spider-Folk that is destined to happen to him imminently, causing Miles to race against time to try and save his future, while at the same time risking the collapse of the Spider-Verse.

It’s hard to know where I should even begin with talking about how intricate and occupied Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is, which packs a whole lot of movie – and not even a complete one, with it being the first of a two-parter set to conclude with next year’s entry – into a near two-and-a-half hour running time, a length that is practically unheard of in mainstream American animation. The opening fifteen or twenty minutes in and of themselves – an extended sequence incorporating the backstory of Steinfeld’s Gwen Stacy and a showdown with a Renaissance universe incarnation of the Vulture at her universe’s Guggenheim Museum – are jam-packed with detail, both in the animation (more on that in a bit) and in the set-up for certain characters’ arcs throughout the remaining feature. It barely takes its foot off the pedal from there, as there’s so much more to unpack with Miles Morales’ own superhero arc, his relationship with his parents, everything going on across the multiverse, and other things which I simply don’t want to give away here.

In normal circumstances, a film with all this and more going on at once would collapse into itself like a neutron star, but Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse isn’t a normal piece of cinema. It is one that is held together by a revolutionary team of animators who have crafted an astonishing look for the film that greatly expands upon the combination of styles introduced in the previous movie, giving each universe and its own unique Spider-Being – whether it’s a therapist Spider-Man, or a T-Rex one, or even a web-slinger that’s a car named Peter Parkedcar (one of the many giggles I had while watching this) – a singular identity that feels different to its many, many counterparts. The visuals in this film set a new high bar for what animation can be, combining everything from straightforward CGI to hand-drawn 2D to even live-action, but without feeling overstuffed or excessive to where you are begging for it to chill for a couple of moments just so you can catch your breath.

Perhaps more important, though, is the fact that you are not only able to follow along with all the madness, but that you really do care about these characters and sympathise with what they’re going through. Miles Morales continues to be an exceptionally endearing character in these films, as is Gwen Stacy who is effectively a co-lead opposite him, because they and the people in their own lives feel like well-defined and three-dimensional people with understandable struggles and a keen (spider)sense of right and wrong. There are moments in this movie where you feel the weight of their situation dragging them down from an emotional standpoint, but the tender script – co-written by producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who at this point can’t seem to do a whole lot of wrong – also allows them the space to be charming, funny, and smart enough to make their own wise (or not so wise) decisions that feel right for who they are. By the cliffhanger finale, you are so drawn towards these characters and their situations that it’s going to make the wait for Beyond the Spider-Verse all the more gruelling, because you just want to know what happens to them next immediately.

So, yeah, at the risk of sounding just like every other critic in the land, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is absolutely spectacular. A masterclass in both animation and storytelling, somehow even more so than its predecessor, this is the kind of sequel that, to paraphrase a well-worn line, they just don’t make like they used to. It ups the stakes, the drama, the universe(s) and everything else that worked last time to almost unfathomable degrees, and yet it will still leave you in awe and wondering exactly how (not if) they will undoubtedly top themselves once more with the next one. Don’t just run to it; swing from the nearest rooftop to it (provided you have all the safety equipment, of course).

SO, TO SUM UP…

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is an astonishing sequel that expands on the revolutionary animation and the three-dimensional storytelling of its predecessor, but it never runs the risk of feeling overstuffed or excessive because there’s so much to take in from a visual and emotional standpoint that it sets a new high bar for what animation can be.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is now showing in cinemas nationwide

Click here to find showtimes near you!

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