Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

2023 / 140m - USA
Action, Fantasy - Animation
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse poster

The first animated Spider-Verse film was an absolute culture shock, not just finding acclaim amongst respected critics everywhere, but also turning in a remarkable profit. So of course, as is the case with every film that makes money, sequels were given a go. My expectations going into this second part were actually quite low, as I feared they would be content with a mere repeat of success. Turns out they really went for it, throwing even more visual styles and ideas at the audience at a breakneck pace. Films like these don't come around too often, especially when they're big blockbuster sequels, and I couldn't be happier to be proven wrong this time.

screencap of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Watching the trailer for the latest Imagination project up front was a good reminder of how bland and deplorable your average US animation still is these days. They haven't really moved past the Pixar template for a good 30 years, and some studios are still clinging desperately to their past glory (which never was very glorious, to begin with). Across the Spider-Verse isn't a complete turnaround from the first film either, but the style still feels fresh and they did their absolute best to push it beyond its limits. To see this executed with a massive Hollywood budget is insane, and it often felt like taking a leap 10 years into the future.

This is also the first of the Marvel Multiverse films where the Multiverse idea was put to good use. It's smart how they worked in the concept of canon and used the various worlds and characters as an excuse to play with unique art styles and vibes. But what surprised me the most is how they managed to keep the whole thing coherent. It never feels like you're watching different segments or shorts stitched together, which was a real possibility considering the often quite different styles on display here. It's doubtful this quality will spill over to their live-action films, so kudos to Sony for pulling this off.

Gwen and Miles are back in their own universe, once again alone and separated from each other. But anomalies begin to appear in different universes and when Gwen is battling a creature that escaped from a Da Vinci world, several other Spider-Men appear to help her out. They disclose to her they have formed an exclusive club of Spider-Men superheroes who operate across the Multiverse. Reluctantly they accept Gwen into their club. This allows her to visit Miles again, but once she learns about the consequences of the canon, she feels a tad more reluctant to do so.

screencap of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

The visuals are the main treat here, and I'm still in utter disbelief at what they managed to put on screen. Ten years ago I used to look at painted still images and didn't believe they would ever be able to animate such a thing, now they've pretty much nailed it on their first try. The breadth of styles used is amazing and the way everything flows together is stupendous. It's a bit of a shame that Miles' universe is one of the more boring ones, but we spend enough time in the other universes to compensate. The animation is also outrageous, not just fluid and exuberant, but also very expressive and edgy. There's really no going back from this, the bar has been set for other US animated films.

The soundtrack is strong too, though not really the music as such. Looking back, it's tricky to remember any particular pieces, and even rewatching the trailer did little to spark my memory. But while watching, I was very much aware that the music (including various sound effects) and the way everything was edited with the visuals was crucial in determining the pace and focus of the film. Across the Spider-Verse is a pretty frantic experience, and having a tailored soundtrack to guide you along is a real treat (if not a necessity). The dub is a bit trickier. I liked it for the most part, but there were some voices (like Josh Johnson's) that stood out too much and detracted from their character. Voice acting is not just star power, but a discipline of its own.

screencap of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Across the Spider-Verse opens with a bang. The intro and the following action sequence are truly incredible, but they're also the highlight, which isn't quite as ideal. Not that the film takes a big dip later on, but because this is a two-parter we end the story somewhere halfway through, and that makes it a bit of an anticlimax. The last big action scene is too far removed from the ending and the lead-up to the next part feels out of place here. It may be because I'm not all that invested in the actual story (these Marvel people can write whatever they want, so there are no real stakes), but the structure could've been better.

There are some minor quibbles, mostly related to this being a big studio film that still needs to try its hardest to appeal to the largest audience possible. But this never dampened the energy I got from the constant, wild experimentation that drives the film. This is truly next-gen stuff, a peek into the future of animated cinema that will reshape what we consider acceptable, not just on a technical but also on a creative level. I'm really looking forward to the third and final part of this trilogy, then we'll see if this creative team can reinvent itself outside of the Spider-Man universe. An absolute delight.