Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse review: Delightful superhero movie trapped within a conventional franchise sequel
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse review | You'll love the sequel just as much if you loved the 2018 original.
Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse gets both bigger and smaller than its 2018 predecessor. Grander and still more intimate, flashier, and more personal with truckloads more of the heart and humour that made 2018’s clutter-breaking Into The Spider-Verse one of the most distinctive, refreshing, and beloved superhero movies of the decade. Once again we get the same enchanting concoction of action, emotion, and inventive, eye-popping animation. Writing, imagination, and vibrant visual style come together gloriously to ensure that, if you enjoyed the first part, it’s near impossible not to have a blast with much of this second film. (Also read: Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse review)
Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) is Spider-Man in a universe of Spider-Men. His by-the-book story is so well known, so set in stone, it’s as if there’s no room for his own. The world keeps telling him who he is and who he’s going to be. He’s just another Spider-Man, forced to live out the same core beats of every Spider-Man - bitten by a radioactive spider, dealing with the death of an uncle, the villain of the week, struggling with two lives. Saving the day, paying the price. The journey has been charted out, he merely has to follow it. Among the elements that made Into The Spider-Verse so memorable was that Miles, like the movie he inhabited, refused to fall in line. He made the journey his own. He defined his story.
A journey into the multiverse
It’s been over a year since the events of the last film. 16-year-old Miles is the only Spider-Man of his world and he’s getting pretty great at it. When a new inter-dimensional villain called Spot arrives on the scene, who appears to have a strange connection to Miles, he’s once again yanked into another multiversal adventure. To track Spot down, Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) AKA Spider-Woman from a parallel universe, is back. She’s recently joined an elite team of Spider-Men who serve as a sort of multiverse police, stopping villains from one dimension causing havoc in others. (For those who’ve seen the MCU series Loki - think of them as a kind of Time Variance Authority). At the top running the show of this new team is the gruff, self-serious Spider-Man 2099, Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac).
Before all the dimension-hopping adventures kick-off, the beautiful first leg of Across The Spider-Verse gives us something we almost never get in modern superhero blockbusters - quiet and humanity. Alongside Miles’ Spider-Man-ing, we get scene after scene of just two people talking. Portraits of family, love, and connection. The movie lets Miles be a person first and a superhero second. It’s Miles struggling to balance his dual lives while missing his friends. It’s his parents attempting to let go and come to terms with the fact that their boy is becoming a man. It’s fathers struggling to connect with their children, wondering if they’re doing right by them.
Pavitra Prabhakar MVP
But soon enough, Gwen arrives on the scene and Miles is sucked into the plot. Their first adventure tracking Spot down takes them to a parallel world whose Spider-Man is Pavitr Prabhakar (a wonderfully playful Karan Soni). Pavitr is the protector of a futuristic city called Mumbatten. In arguably the most dizzyingly fun sequence of a movie full of them, we’re transported to the richly imagined, densely populated metropolis of Mumbatten (picture multiple Mumbais all stacked on top of each other). What’s endlessly exciting and whistle-worthy about this sequence, apart from the everything about it, is how culturally specific the humour is. This isn’t the glaringly outsider’s perspective of India we see time and again. Come for the cheeky background references to everything from Zomato to the ridiculousness of “chai tea”, stay for the cheeky poke at white people who come to India to find themselves.
Like much of the Mumbaitten scene, so stunning and evocative are many of this film’s frames, so bursting with imagination and background gags are many of its moments, that you’d have to watch this movie twice to fully appreciate them and take it all in. That said, unpopular as the opinion may be, I did struggle with the first movie’s frenetic visual style. As inventive and ambitious, creative and commendable as the animation is, I found much of it to be immensely overactive and overexcited. The kind that makes you wonder - is there such a thing as too much animation? While I didn’t feel that as much in this sequel (perhaps I’m just used to it now) there are times when it limits your ability to fully comprehend what’s happening on screen. Take many of the action scenes, for example. As undeniably fun as they are, you can’t always tell where one kick ends and the next punch begins.
What didn't click
And then the last leg of the Across The Spider-Verse happens. I’m not quite sure when, but somewhere along the way, amidst the immensely crowd-pleasing thrills of Miles meeting the hundreds of other Spider-Men (My personal favourites were Lego Spider-Man, horse Spider-Man, and Peter Parked-Car), things start to feel scattered. The proceedings gradually seem to descend into an unfocused blur of multiversal mumbo jumbo. The kind we’ve come to expect from most blockbuster sequels - bigger, flashier, messier. What’s even more frustrating - there’s a moment half an hour from the end that sets up a clear climactic showdown to end the story. Instead, we get an empty, out-of-nowhere unsatisfying cliffhanger as a means to set up the next movie (slated to release next year). Even Avengers: Infinity War - a giant set-up movie if ever there was one - had the decency to give us some sense of finality and closure. It’s why the last half an hour here has nothing to say.
The bigger issue here are the callbacks and cameos we get through the film not only refer to the old, they also set up new movies outside this franchise. The purity and honesty of The Spiderverse movies, which once felt like a kind of antidote and refreshing response to the blurry glut of exhausting interconnected superhero franchise universes, are made to fall in line and become just that.
Miles Morales is Spider-Man in a universe of Spider-Men. Despite his by-the-book story, like the movies he inhabits, what made him so memorable is his refusal to fall in line and his determination to do it his way. But Across The Spiderverse risks making his journey, and this series, the one thing it never was. More of the same.