Halfway through Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, I wanted to snap my glasses in two. Not because I didn’t like what I was seeing, but because I wanted those rays of light to shine directly onto my brain pan. My eyes were inadequate witnesses to the sheer imagination and talent on display. This thing deserves to be hanging from the walls of museums. Am I being hyperbolic? Maybe a little.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse threw down the gauntlet and opened up so many possibilities for the superhero movie, and I’m not even talking about the characters or the story. You could practically smell the ink and the paper, so in love with the medium was that film. There’s a tactile joy to that movie, but it wasn’t just the visuals. In the editing, the sound, the score, more than any other movie in the genre Into the Spider-Verse felt like a comic book.
There have been a few movies that feel like they go beyond the standard visual storytelling we’ve gotten so far, but Across the Spider-Verse goes beyond even the first film in the ways it gives out information, plot, and emotion. I’ve never seen anything quite like it – if you thought the first film was overwhelming visually, you are not ready for Across the Spider-Verse.
When we last saw Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) had come into his own as Spider-Man. Now juggling school and hero work, Miles is doing the best he can, but it’s affecting his relationships with his mother (Luna Lauren Perez) and father (Brian Tyree Henry).
He’s also a bit lonely – although he formed friendships with Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), they haven’t been to see him. Meanwhile Gwen has had some issues of her own – her father George Stacy (Shea Whigham) doesn’t know she’s a superhero and thinks her alter-ego Spider-Woman is a murderer.
When an interdimensional being attacks her universe, Gwen discovers that there are a lot of others like her out there, and they are trying to keep the Multiverse from unraveling. All the Spider-people are led by Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), and Gwen soon discovers that her adventures in Miles’ universe may have caused a rip in all of them, personified by the Spot (Jason Schwartzman), a scientist who became a nexus when Miles destroyed the collider in the first film.
It’s best to not reveal too much of the plot – like The Empire Strikes Back, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse ends in a cliffhanger, and none of the characters are unchanged by the end. This is also a movie tailor-made for repeat viewings – at many points in the film I wanted to press pause just to try to catch all the Easter Eggs and take in the sumptuous visuals.
There are so many Spider-People this time around that you could blink and literally miss ten of them. Some of the Spider-People stand out – like Nicolas Cage’s Spider-Noir in the first film, Daniel Kaluuya‘s Spider-Punk steals ever moment he’s on screen. Even his character is drawn like he came straight from a 1980s fanzine. He’s not just imagery, either – Kaluuya gives a hilarious, earnest, winning performance. Oscar Isaac’s Miguel O’Hara is a formidable presence and has his own agenda that may not be the same as Miles.
This movie is just as much Gwen’s as it is Miles, and Hailee Steinfeld is terrific as the conflicted Gwen, who yearns for friendship but is cursed with knowledge that tests her relationship with Miles. Shameik Moore also does great work.
Miles is at that age where he yearns to be taken seriously, but his friends and parents just can’t take that extra step to meet him at the level that he wants. Miles is told by so many people how he should move forward, but as he realizes his own sense of agency, Miles not only becomes the hero he was meant to be, but the young man, in charge of his own fate, that he is supposed to be.
If the first film felt like reading a comic book on a Saturday morning, this one feels like a comic book come to life. There are so many twists and turns to the story in Across the Spider-Verse, but it also knows when to slow down for essential character moments. Sometimes the film feels like it’s too much, or it slows down to catch its breath, but it’s always incredible to look at, and it feels like a real world with depth, color, and scope.
This is yet another Multiverse movie, but it’s done right this time, and each new world we see feels tangibly different from the others. It uses the storytelling of comic books and makes each panel its own living world, only contained by its margins. It’s a stunningly-beautiful film to watch, and there were a few fleeting moments where I glanced at the audience, and it was quite moving just to see how awestruck everyone watching was.
There are movies that feel like they must be experienced on the big screen, and Across the Spider-Verse is one of those. It’s got a spectacular soundtrack, great characters, and leaves everyone wanting more. I just hope we don’t have to wait another five years, especially with this particular cliffhanger. I wanted to start the movie over right then and there.
Only time will tell how Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse ranks among the best superhero movies ever made, but I’d say it should be in the conversation. The rest of the Spider-Man movies have a lot to live up to, because so far, the Miles Morales saga is batting a thousand. I think Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is one of the very best superhero movies ever made. This one may even be better.
SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE REVIEW SCORE: 9.5 OUT OF 10
Sony Pictures will release Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse in theaters on June 2, 2023. The film is rated PG for sequences of animated action violence, some language and thematic elements.