As any middle child can attest to, it’s always hard to live up to the standards of the eldest child (this is coming from the oldest child in my family). That degree of difficulty is furthered when the eldest child is borderline revolutionary — as seen with the latest two animated Spider-Man feature films, Into the Spider-Verse and Across the Spider-Verse. Whilw the sequel is not bad — its animation gives its predecessor a run for its money and may even top it — this middle installment in a sequel falls more in line with an Infinity War than an Empire Strikes Back, and it’ll take about nine months before being able to fully reflect on this film.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse review
It has been about a year since the events of Into the Spider-Verse, and Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is doing his thing as Earth-1610’s Spider-Man. It’s not a perfect science, however, as balancing his home life is still an issue as he should be getting ready for life post-high school.
But one day, he’s approached by Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld, who practically co-leads the film) and is roped into a fight against the Spot (Jason Schwartzman) and has to team up with a group of Spider-People. However, Miles is classified as an “anomaly,” and thus some don’t view him worthy enough to be in the crew.
Across the Spider-Verse is a visually stunning film that tops what its predecessor did. There are a lot of subtleties and attention to detail in the animation, especially with facial expressions and body language, and some of the different universes are all unique. For example, Gwen Stacy's reality has a paintbrush aesthetic with less detail than say Earth-1610 or the world where the Spider-Man society meets. It's also cool to see something like the Guggenheim Museum be used as a set piece. The iconic museum is known for its circular layout, and Across the Spider-Verse finds a way to use its simplicity to its advantage.
The action sequences are also breathtaking. In the first film, Miles was still learning the ropes (or webs). In Across the Spider-Verse, he's a full-fledged Spider-Man, so the animation runs a lot smoother in these sequences than it did in the forest chase in Into the Spider-Verse. The Spot is also a unique villain that can open portals a la Doctor Strange, which results in some cool/trippy visuals like the villain literally kicking his own butt through the portals or Spider-Man webbing himself through them.
But at the same point, you can't help but think about Infinity War when watching Across the Spider-Verse. While it is a fun watch, it’s hard to really judge a film that’s the first of two parts. While not as egregious as the ending of Fast X, the pacing of Across the Spider-Verse is very uneven. It opens with an extensive amount of Gwen — no qualms here — but then spends a lot of time focusing on Miles and his family drama. And that’s great — Shazam 2 could’ve used that attention to family — but by the time the Spot disappears from the film for an hour and a half, it feels like we’re halfway through the story. Then it kicks into a higher gear before ultimately rushing to a climax.
Plus, the film's antagonist, the Spot — who bears a great resemblance to Bill Cipher — just dips after the first 40 minutes or so. Obviously, this plot will be paid off in the next film, but Schwartzman brought his usual hilarious self to the role and it's a shame that he's not present for over half of the film. We understand his motivations, but we focus far more on the conflict between Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac, who's far more charismatic here than in his previous comic book role in Moon Knight) and Miles.
Speaking of the new Spider-Man characters, there are a lot of new ones in addition to Isaac's character including Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman (Issa Rae), Pavitr Prabhakar/Spider-Man India (Karan Soni), and “Hobie”/Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya). Soni and especially Kaluuya stand out amongst them. Spider-Punk is an anti-establishment rebel with some of the best quips in the entire film.
It does feel obvious when Across the Spider-Verse is coming to its conclusion, too — I’m not entirely sure if there’s supposed to be a “mic drop” revelation right at the end or not, but it feels like the story is only just beginning once the credits roll. Sure, it's good enough that you'll want a third film, but it's hard not to feel unsatisfied and like we've only gotten teased with what's to come.
Should you see Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse?
I’ll be there for the conclusion of this Spider-Man story, but Across the Spider-verse feels like a stepping stone and a cog in a machine more than it does its own story. We all view The Empire Strikes Back as a classic 40 years later, but without knowing the events of Return of the Jedi, would we view it the same? Perhaps the same effect happens here, but only time will tell. For now, Across the Spider-Verse is a masterpiece from a technical standpoint, but its story will make you feel like you've only eaten the empty-calorie appetizers ahead of a better meal.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse will be released on June 2.