From the opening frame of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, it was clear that the team behind the sequel to the 2018 Oscar-winner had set out to do something ambitious: to top what had been done with the renowned first film. With high expectations, even higher hopes, and a touch of trepidation as I found myself nestled in to watch the second installment to the franchise, I was immediately enraptured by the two-hour and 16-minute run, which ultimately gives Spider-Man fans a banquet for the senses and emotions.
It all begins with what is arguably the best, certainly now my personal favorite, opening sequence for a superhero film to date. It’s evident right away that Across the Spider-Verse wants to showcase the talent of the team behind it by providing stunning, ethereal, vibrant, and downright striking visuals that serve to heighten the overall mood, set primarily by an emotional script with predominantly excellent performances from the cast. Every frame delivers exactly what it’s intended to — whether that be the intense action, heart-wrenching moments, or the sheer weight of some characters, every visual pops and there isn’t a single moment that isn’t a visual masterpiece.
As is with most Spider-People stories, what we watch Miles Morales navigate in Across the Spider-Verse is relatable and rooted in realities so many of us have to face. While in the first installment we watch Miles find his place in his world, we now watch him begin to find his place in the multiverse … all while seeing the lengths he is willing to go to and the sacrifices he is willing to make to save someone he loves.
The team behind the sequel had some changes from the first, with Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson stepping into the director’s chairs, directing off a script by a returning Phil Lord along with Chris Miller along with Dave Callaham. However, the heart of the first film is just as present in the sequel.
A consistent highpoint for the Spider-Verse films has been character design, a continuing trend for the sequel, which showcases 280 variants of Spider-Man — all of which were unmistakably designed with their comics, television, film, or game counterparts in the forefront of the artists’ minds … or carefully crafted to fit seamlessly in as they took their place in the ranks of Spider-People. For me, a definite highlight in terms of character design is the Spot and his noticeable lack of eyes, something that former adaptations have needlessly added.
In an era where superhero films are crammed full of cameos, Across the Spider-Verse is no exception — but while in the genre these appearances have become an eyesore throwaway to many, this is never the case for this installment. Every cameo and Easter egg is clever, well-timed, and it’s evident none of them were thrown in simply for the sake of doing so … rather, every character cameo and call-back serves as a hat tip to Spider-Man fans across every generation.
The returning voice cast delivers fantastic performances for an emotional script, with many newcomers finding their place in the multiverse seamlessly and adding their own flare to their specific variant. Shameik Moore continues to shine as one of the most authentic performances for a superhero to date, giving an emotionally gripping performance that will have you rooting for Miles once again … and hoping you could be his friend, of course. It’s easy to empathize with Miles in his struggles with loneliness, isolation, anxiety, and he continues to be a character everyone can see a bit of themselves in.
There were a couple of standout performances, of course: Oscar Isaac as Miguel O’Hara and Jason Schwartzman as the Spot. For Isaac, whose voice alone generally radiates an inviting warmth, it is a change of pace to see him as the cool, calculated, and militant leader of the Spider Society, but his performance as Spider-Man 2099 is just as gripping as audiences have grown to expect from him in prior roles. Schwartzman, meanwhile, lends the perfect voice to honor the adaptation precedent of giving the Spot a less-than-serious, unthreatening voice and matching aloof demeanor. However, his aura flawlessly snaps just as the character does, and if you weren’t already a fan of the Spot, you will be leaving the theater.
But if the emotional weight is heavy in your chest, have no fear … Andy Samberg as the Scarlet Spider and Daniel Kaluuya as Spider-Punk will provide plenty of laughs to lighten things up.
Everything about the Spider-Verse franchise is elevated and groundbreaking, so it should be no surprise that this extends to the soundtrack for the new release as well. With a blend of hip-hop and original composition, the soundtrack only adds to the overall experience, using the rhythm of the songs to elevate the mood of each scene.
To put it simply: Across the Spider-Verse is bold, energetic, well-executed from every angle, and has far surpassed the vast expectations bestowed upon it to provide nothing short of a work of art. The Spider-Verse franchise is well on track for a perfect trilogy, and it’s impossible to leave the theater without a clawing eagerness to see the third installment present.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is playing now exclusively in theaters.