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Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Is a Dazzling Web of Unbridled Creativity

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse detonates onto the screen with unbridled creativity, throwing everything at its cosmic wall and marvelously ensuring it all sticks.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Review:

It’s no surprise the multi-verse, with its boundless storytelling potential and sheer existential weight, continues to capture the cinematic landscape. Infinite worlds, lives, and possibilities all collide to create stories that rigorously defy categorization, often forgoing traditional storytelling conventions to cement experiences that are as confounding as they are mesmerizing. From the Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once to the insightfully romantic Palm Springs, the multi-verse and its limitless nature is here to stay, sure to spawn an endless array of films devoted to navigating its incalculable narrows and unfathomable voids.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse might just be the multi-verse movie to end all multi-verse movies. Detonating onto the screen with unbridled creativity, it throws everything at its cosmic wall, marvelously ensuring it all sticks. It wondrously expands on the masterful foundation of its predecessor, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, with astonishing animation, an unforgettable cast of characters, and a bevy of complex themes. It’s a sensory overloading masterwork that not only redefines what a superhero movie can be, but what animation can achieve with each striking, dazzling frame. Putting even its live-action contemporaries to shame with each picturesque web sling.

As if conjured from the mind of a mad artist, Across the Spider-Verse relentlessly refuses to be constrained by the borders of its canvas, with its incredible imagery and absorbing ideas utilizing the medium to its full advantage. Its infectious imagination seeps into a multitude of various animation styles, marrying seemingly incongruous ideas into one breathtaking whole—flirting with stop motion, punk art, and comic book aesthetics in one seamless, bewitching swoop. Each world, each character it explores both bleed into one another and maintain a distinct identity, a wonderfully amorphous experience that is as inexplicably awe-inspiring as its multi-dimensional subject matter.

Sony Pictures

In the vein of great second chapters, like The Empire Strikes Back and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Across the Spider-Verse, leaves viewers feverishly anticipating the next installment (which arrives in March 2024), earning its cliff-hangers by pinning them around a story about young people who challenge how a hero’s arc is supposed to unfold.

Across the Spider-Verse begins with a prologue that oozes more personality and style than the entirety of most modern blockbusters, especially the MCU’s recent output. It centers on Gwen Stacy, better known as Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), back in her universe, trying to keep her identity secret from her father, George (Shea Whigham), while protecting her version of NYC. When battling an alternate version of the Vulture (Jorma Taccone)—rendered in a clever renaissance art style, one of many varied and vibrant character designs— Gwen brushes shoulders with Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac) and a motorbike-riding Spider-woman (Issa Rae). The two are part of a secret, inter-dimensional Spider-society that preserves the space-time continuum by capturing villains who end up in the wrong universe and sending them back to the right one. When Gwen’s identity is discovered by her dad, she joins the society, cleaning up the messes of the multi-verse.

One of those messes is Miles Morales (Shameik Moore). The Peter Parker of his universe died protecting him and the superpower-bestowing spider that bit him was never supposed to be there. But it was, and now in his version of Brooklyn, he’s trying to balance being a straight-A student that lives up to his parents, Rio (Luna Lauren Vélez) and Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry), all the while being the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. These opening moments are laced with great family drama and delightfully delivered exposition that is just as riveting as the more action-packed latter half.

Sony Pictures

It’s a testament to a film bustling with an indelible level of heartfelt spectacle, especially when Gwen meets up with and swings through the city with Miles, rekindling their connection through the sky. It coalesces in a breathtaking shot wherein the duo sits upside down and drinks in New York’s inverted skyline. Across the Spider-Verse is teeming with such mesmerizing frames, radiating a striking visual conviction that is just as palpable in its quiet moments as it is in its more boisterous.

The emergence of The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), once known as Dr. Johnathan Ohnn— a former scientist forever altered by the first movie’s events— nips the film’s serenity in the bud. The Spot controls space and time through a series of dark portals on his body, and at first, he’s amusingly harmless but quickly amasses power. Opening passages that threaten to destroy entire worlds in a heartbeat.

He garners the attention of the Spider-society, as his powers can impact so-called “canon events” which bind worlds and their respective Spider men, women, and things to their paths of loss and redemption. If such events are reversed, it can spell the end for certain universes.

Superhero cinema has often used the multi-verse to amplify the concept of infinite potential but Across the Spider-Verse employs it to expand on the beauty and importance of the worlds we hold in front of us, not all the other ones we might have had. Taking control of your destiny and molding it into your own vision, rather than fitting into a predetermined course of super-heroism. Poignantly capturing what it takes to become an agent of fate rather than a victim. It’s a truly moving take that taps into the core of what begets heroism, powerfully interrogating the genre’s tendency to use tragedy as a crutch for an origin story.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse review
Sony Pictures

Writers Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and David Callahan employ the liberating hand of animation to deconstruct Spider-Man’s revered canon. Overflowing with a wealth of fascinating ideas, it wholly earns every one of the film’s 140 minutes (It’s the longest American animated movie ever). Directing triumvirate Kemp Jones, Joaquim Dos Santos, and Justin K, Thompson reinforce those powerful ideas and themes by realizing one of the most extraordinary, boldly executed animated films ever committed to celluloid. Contouring the very fabric of the medium, let alone space and time, the animators conjure sequences, characters, and worlds the MCU and other modern blockbusters wouldn’t dare to conceive. They exhaust almost every possibility, feeding off the freedom in a manner that is both mind-bogglingly extravagant and wholly purposeful— never failing to ground the stunning madness in a singular method.

Its universe-leaping, time-hopping, and sky-soaring choreography is remarkably easy to follow, taking great care in the small beats that add up to the epic, breathtaking whole. Especially in a late escape sequence that pits Miles against a dizzying number of would-be Spider allies.

Sony Pictures

The entire cast only serves to heighten the experience, injecting it with a heavy dose of vocal prowess. Moore’s dynamic register finds the perfect equilibrium between vulnerability, curiosity, and budding confidence, unearthing a hero who slowly realizes he must leave his boyhood behind. Henry, Isaac, Steinfeld, Jake Johnson (Peter Parker, with a baby in tow), Karan Soni (Pavitr Prabhakar, a delightful Indian Spider-Man), and Schwartzman all land their blows, clearly motivated by the sheer inventiveness of the script.

Like the greatest sequels, Across the Spider-Verse isn’t satisfied with resting on the laurels of its stellar first entry. Instead, it vibrantly expands on what came before, deepening the central themes and manifesting as a natural continuation of a sublime superhero saga. In an era of seemingly unending blockbuster franchises, its open conclusion may seem like a symptom of a tired studio system. Instead, it reads as an epic promise to continue a story that, so far, had been nothing short of visionary.

– Prabhjot Bains

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse releases in theaters on June 2nd.

Written By

Prabhjot Bains is a Toronto-based film writer and critic who has structured his love of the medium around three indisputable truths- the 1970s were the best decade for American cinema, Tom Cruise is the greatest sprinter of all time, and you better not talk about fight club. His first and only love is cinema and he will jump at the chance to argue why his movie opinion is much better than yours. His film interests are diverse, as his love of Hollywood is only matched by his affinity for international cinema. You can reach Prabhjot on Instagram and Twitter @prabhjotbains96

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