"Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" stars Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Jake Johnson, Jason Schwartzman, Issa Rae, Karan Soni, Daniel Kaluuya, and Oscar Isaac. Releasing on June 2, 2023, the film has Miles Morales traveling across the multiverse to battle a powerful villain.
The film is directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson. Santos is known for working on shows like "Justice League Unlimited", "Avatar: The Last Airbender", "The Legend of Korra", and "Voltron: Legendary Defender". Powers is known for writing "One Night in Miami" and co-writing and co-directing "Soul". It is a sequel to the 2018 film, "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse". Following a packed Memorial Day weekend filled with mermaids, comedians, and Gerard Butler, the month of June is going to get a lot more crowded from here on out. We're getting more big movies based on memorable IPs almost every week that'll likely cannibalize each other depending on their word-of-mouth. Granted, all of the June films look enticing enough to see on the big screen, but it won't matter if some underperform due to the crowded competition. Until we find out how they actually turn out, let's spend the first weekend of June traveling across the multiverse with our favorite web-slinger, Miles Morales.
Sony Pictures Animation, known for providing acceptable to mediocre animated family movies, found a diamond in the animation rough in the form of "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse", a refreshing and highly invigorating take on the superhero's origin story with a multiverse spin. While it didn't earn as much money as the other live-action "Spider-Man" movies from Sony, the animated superhero film succeeded in ushering in a new era of animation through its unique mixture of CGI and traditional hand-drawn techniques inspired by comic books. It was also considered by critics and audiences as one of the best animated films ever, becoming the first non-Disney/Pixar movie to win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature since "Rango". Its humongous success helped spawn a sequel that's already gaining massive hype regarding its upgrades to the visual styles and mature story. But are they enough to swing past the superhero fatigue that plagued the previous superhero films like Ant-Man and Shazam? Let's find out.
The story occurs over a year after the events of "Into the Spider-Verse". Miles Morales (Moore) is balancing his everyday life with his heroic duty as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. But, of course, for the young teenager, it's not as easy as it looks. One day, Miles is unexpectedly approached by Gwen Stacy (Steinfeld), who's sent on a high-stakes mission inside the "Spider-Verse". They're tasked to assist a massive group of Spider-People known as the "Spider-Society", led by Miguel O'Hara (Isaac), the Spider-Man from 2099, to save every universe from destruction. Miles not only has to face a supervillain called the Spot (Schwartzman), who can travel through space and different universes with his portals, but also Miguel and his beliefs in the Spider-Man lore. This forces Miles to question his destiny of being Spider-Man while attempting to save the entire Spider-Verse and his own.
"Into the Spider-Verse" is something I would call a crowning achievement for the animation world and superhero films in general. It miraculously provided the cinematic debut of a new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, through its cultural representation and a unique and thought-provoking approach to the hero's origin story. Not only that, but it also looked incredible, thanks to its ambitious and visually refreshing animation style for its settings and character designs. It did the character justice and proved that animation is more than just a mindless distraction for the kids, something that Disney is seemingly taking notes on for its upcoming film, "Wish". These elements and a subtly touching tribute to the Spider-Man name made "Into the Spider-Verse" one of my favorite films of all time, both by animation and superhero movie standards.
"Across the Spider-Verse" seeks to capitalize on this astounding success while meeting the high expectations set by its predecessor's fans, animation experts, and even casual families. We've seen many sequels that tried and struggled to justify their existence and follow up on what made their predecessors successful, especially ones from the animation department and the superhero genre. However, there were some occasions where a sequel turned out to be as good, if not better, than its predecessor, including the recent "John Wick: Chapter 4". Fortunately, I'm ecstatic to say that "Across the Spider-Verse" is another occasion, marking another massive win for Hollywood's sequel trend. It retained the elements that made "Into the Spider-Verse" an animated gem and a unique big-screen experience, but it also improved them with spectacular results.
"Into the Spider-Verse" introduced audiences to the multiverse filled with different variations of Spider-Man. However, the multiverse angle took a back seat in favor of representing Miles's coming-of-age journey of filling Peter Parker's shoes as the web-slinging hero. In "Across the Spider-Verse", the filmmakers used this opportunity to further explore the "Spider-Verse" by having the characters journey through the divergently creative universes. But, of course, amid the dazzlement of the "Spider-Dimensions", the movie never lost sight of its storytelling and the quality used to express the depth of the characters and its artistry. It's what made "Into the Spider-Verse" more than just an animated kids movie with goofy characters and colorful nonsense, and the same can be said for "Across the Spider-Verse".
The movie provides a mature and consistently thrilling plot that continues the coming-of-age journey of Miles and its theme of heroism through a chosen destiny. In addition to Miles's journey, which sees him exploring his origin further, the movie also puts equal focus on Gwen Stacy encountering her own personal problems as Spider-Woman. It may seem like one of the reasons the film is surprisingly over two hours long, but it's also necessary to further explore the spider-verse's purpose, the movie's themes, and the relationship between Gwen and Miles. This is due to the film's well-written screenplay, which delivered characters with understandable motives, especially Miguel O'Hara, a satisfying mixture of action and comedy, and a few bold elements to stray beyond the traditional family-friendly and superhero narratives. The film may be rated PG, but it certainly has some moments that should've pushed it to PG-13 territory regarding its thematic material and shocking conclusion.
Like its predecessor, "Across the Spider-Verse" features three directors making their feature directorial debuts, including Joaquim Dos Santos and Kemp Powers. Considering how much I enjoyed their past animation works, especially Kemp Powers's involvement with "Soul", I had high hopes that they would deliver the goods with their vision of the "Spider-Verse" lore. Unsurprisingly, they didn't disappoint. You have the stunningly fluid action choreography from Dos Santos, best known for working on "Avatar: The Last Airbender" and "Korra", and the authentic drama within the African-American and Puerto Rican community from Powers. These things go hand-in-hand with the superhero genre and plenty of surprising easter eggs and cameos to create an experience that's both fun and occasionally emotional.
The voice cast was also great as they were in the predecessor, even though some of their dialogue was periodically a tad hard to hear. Shameik Moore continues to do fantastic work bringing Miles's charismatic personality to life and expressing his vulnerability and concern regarding his conflict. It's still pretty impressive how far Moore has come outside his music career following his acting debut in 2015's "Dope". Unfortunately, he doesn't have much star power under his belt outside of voicing Miles, but his role in the film and the upcoming sequel could change that. Hailee Steinfeld also delivered another captivating performance as Gwen, further showcasing her undeniable talent in the film industry, both in animation and live-action. I will also credit Oscar Isaac for displaying Miguel's anger and unhinged nature amid his duty of protecting the Spider-Verse from destruction. Another highlight I should add was Jason Schwartzman as The Spot, a villain with ties to Miles's past. The Spot is an inexperienced antagonist with no idea how to be one, adding to the movie's comedy. However, his powers and blind obsession with revenge and wanting to be taken seriously makes him a worthy and threatening foe for Miles to face. Schwartzman did a splendid job displaying this personality through his voice work and humor. As for the supporting cast voicing the other Spider-People, they also have moments I genuinely enjoy, including Issa Rae as Jessica Drew and Daniel Kaluuya as Spider-Punk.
Now, some of you have been patiently waiting for me to talk about the film's animation, which inspired Hollywood to experiment with this technique with other movies and shows. As mentioned earlier, the unique visual style made "Into the Spider-Verse" a breathtaking piece of animation art and an immersive experience best seen on the big screen regarding its scope, quality, and action sequences. "Across the Spider-Verse" is obviously no different, with a few upgrades to further reflect the feeling of being inside a comic book. "Across the Spider-Verse" is another incredible showcase of animation as a tool for storytelling and creativity. The color palettes, the character designs, and the artistic and stylish details for each universe are effectively combined to make a visually imaginative and overly busy trek through the colorful and limitless multiverse. The animation also works incredibly well for its action sequences, which were both entertaining and stylistically thrilling, including the Miles vs. Miguel scene. I also got a kick out of the film's music, with Daniel Pemberton returning from its predecessor to compose the sequel's score and Metro Boomin making some catchy hip-hop tunes for the soundtrack.
Overall, "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" swings over the sequel pitfalls from the animation and superhero departments to deliver a worthy and visually sublime follow-up to the recent animated superhero classic. Despite its surprisingly long runtime, the movie consistently impressed me with the amount of love and craft put into the narrative and the universes the filmmakers create. More importantly, it's another fantastic example of animation being more than just a distraction for little kids. It's also a filmmaking tool for expressing the user's artistic creativity through storytelling, characters, and settings. But, of course, it remembered to balance this goal with the intention of providing a smart, entertaining, and intense superhero film that sets up big things to come in the upcoming third installment. Thanks to the stellar voice cast, compelling screenplay and direction, great soundtrack, and outstanding animation, the movie is another jaw-dropping and vividly immersive experience that's also one of the best films of 2023. If you're a fan of Spider-Man and even love "Into the Spider-Verse" and animation in general, you definitely don't want to swing past this one.