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Film Review: ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ is a Brilliant Half of a Potentially All-Time Great Story

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This may be sacrilege but I think it’s important for context here. I actually only thought Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was good, not quite great. Mind you, I had no real complaints or anything, but I wasn’t as bowled over as most others were. I only start with that confession to illuminate just how much the sequel impressed me. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is not just a step up in all regards, it’s one of the year’s best films so far. Everything works, is heightened from last time, and somehow, still leaves you wanting more (in the best way). I was on the edge of my seat for 140 minutes, which is no small achievement. This is a potential classic movie in the making.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is an incomplete work, but the part we’re given here is downright spectacular. We’ll see it presumably wrap up in Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse next year, which I promise you will feel an eternity away. Despite a running time closing in on two and a half hours, which is massive for animation, there’s so much momentum you’ll be stunned when it ends. There are no spoilers to be found here, but the flick contains so many surprises, when the “to be continued…” title card comes up, you may well gasp.

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Set a year after the events of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales (voice of Shameik Moore) and Gwen Stacy (voice of Hailee Steinfeld) are in different parts of the Multiverse, destined to never see each other again. Both are going about their duties as Spider-Man/Spider-Gwen, at least until two events come into play. One features a villain from another part of the Spider-Verse coming to Gwen’s, which leads to her meeting Miguel O’Hara (voice of Oscar Isaac) and his team. After proving herself, Gwen is invited to join his Spider Society, protecting the Multiverse from all sorts of threats. The other is Miles having an encounter with The Spot (voice of Jason Schwartzman), previously a scientist named Jonathan Ohnn. Initially seen as a nuisance by Miles, The Spot eventually opens up a rift in the Multiverse that brings Gwen back to him.

Miles is thrilled to see her, but bummed he won’t be able to join her and the society. However, events lead him into the Multiverse with her, teaming up with the likes of Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman (voice of Issa Rae), Hobart ‘Hobie’ Brown/Spider-Punk (voice of Daniel Kaluuya), and more. However, while the villain grows more powerful, Miles and Miguel differ on not just how to deal with the threat, but what the cost of it should be. It all sets up an adventure I wouldn’t dare spoil, though so much of it has to be seen in order to be believed.

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The voice cast again is excellent, with this installment giving them even more emotional ranges to play. Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld are given tough assignments and ace them thoroughly. They have the emotionality of the story, as well as the biggest parts, and they build on the work from last time in rewarding and surprising ways. Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez also get to shine, as the Morales family dynamic gets more and more complex. Other returning players like Jake Johnson are great to have back, while some of the newcomers like Daniel Kaluuya and Issa Rae are terrific as well. Oscar Isaac is the brooding straight man, but he does it well. In addition to a fun Jason Schwartzman, the cast includes Rachel Dratch, Andy Samberg, Amandla Stenberg, Karan Soni, Jorma Taccone, Shea Whigham, and more.

Directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson fill every frame of this film with wonder. Working off of an ambitious and strong script by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Dave Callaham, they never take their feet off of the pedal. This is a jam-packed movie, filled with everything you could ever want out of this property, and more. The imagination on display here is utterly astounding. With a different visual palate for every Spider’s universe, it would be easy to end up with overkill, but that never comes close to being the case. Moreover, not only do they have cameos, surprises, and fan service of the first order, they don’t skimp on the emotion. The family dynamics and character work are even stronger here than in the first one, where that was a highlight. The prior flick perhaps is a bit funnier, but this is The Empire Strikes Back, in more ways than one.

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Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse really only has one flaw, and that’s that it’s only half of the story. There’s an inherent feeling that we aren’t getting everything, though that would have been about a four hour behemoth. Now, this doesn’t feel craven at all, like so many franchises that have split their finales into two parts. It’s just too big a story to finish in one telling. That being said, the feeling of a complete and full tale being told isn’t there. If nothing else, it does make the anticipation for the sequel far greater than you could have expected.

A lot rides on the follow-up, but right now, this film is an achievement of the tallest order. Assuming the next installment sticks the landing, we’re going to have not just one of the best animated franchises of all-time, or even superhero properties, but just a classic trilogy. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse has more than got the goods, so bring on Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse!

SCORE: ★★★1/2


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Written by Joey Magidson

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