‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ was so revolutionary in both its visual imagery and its engaging storytelling that it’s truly a tough act to follow. It was a perfect cinematic experience that was well-deserving of its Academy Award for Best Animated Feature that managed to properly capture the travails of a teenager – all their thoughts, hopes, and dreams (and disappointments) – while discovering they now have superpowers. Surprisingly, or maybe not, the sequel, ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ takes everything that made the first movie so good and antes up. The five years between films was not wasted as directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K Thompson offer up a smorgasbord of visual styles that manages to merge and mix very well with each other while screenwriters Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and David Callaham continue to infuse all this visual magic with a pulsing heart that surprises at every turn.
Time has passed since the events of the first movie and Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) and Miles is juggling being an exemplary (though often missing) student and fighting crime as Spider-Man. The strains of his double life weigh heavy on his family. His parents, Jefferson and Rio (voiced by Bryan Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez) are worried that they are doing their best as his parents, that he’s changing, that he’s growing up and they are feeling helpless about it. Miles, on the other hand, is feeling alone. No one else knows what he is going through. The only people who do understand are in another universe.
And that’s when Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) returns. Having joined a group of different iterations of Spider-Man from various multiverses, Gwen can now travel to the different dimensions, and she visits Miles while on a mission to stop a villain known as the Spot (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), who is in Miles’ world. This mission, though, leads to larger, more serious events that allows Miles to go to various dimensions, interacts with different Spider-Men (and women) from other worlds, and discovers a truth about himself and a newfound resolve about his powers, his identity, and his relationships.
What is absolutely incredible about ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ is that, at the very heart of this story, is yet another heartfelt coming-of-age story for Miles. Even with the backdrop of superheroes and stunning animation, fighting crime and death-defying heroic stunts, at the core of every beat is that of Miles and Gwen discovering truths about themselves, the world, and what it means to grow up.
Lord, Miller, and Callaham write this script with such depth but never takes away the fun and the wonder of what’s happening around these characters. By nature, all Spider-Men and Spider-Women are funny, and this isn’t lost to the characters but so many moments are also so incredibly written that they pack a punch. When Gwen first visits Miles, they have a talk while web-slinging through the city and it’s beautiful to watch: all the movements are so graceful and both heroes have distinct styles of web-swinging. But their conversation is so authentic to the experiences of both. I don’t know which one is more arresting.
Even when Jefferson and Rio talk about their son or Rio’s fantastic speech as she tries her best to get through to Miles and Miles is always at the verge of telling his mother his secret, it’s so emotionally true that it can bring a person to tears. The animation is so precise that the posture, the gestures, the mannerisms of each character is expressed so vividly. The film is breathing at every moment.
So while the film manages to give us both very powerful human moments, character-driven scenes, it also gives us explosive superhuman sequences that allows us to also enjoy the comic book aspects of the movie and, for the Spider-Man fans, it gives us tons of Easter Eggs to watch out for as Miles enters the world of Miguel O’ Hara or Spider-Man 2099 (voiced by Oscar Isaac) and the hundreds of different Spider-Men,
The voice acting is superb. Especially that of Moore, Steinfeld, and Velez. Daniel Kaluuya also is incredible as Spider-Punk. Can I just reiterate how wonderful Luna Lauren Velez is as Rio and how much warmth and soul she infuses Rio with in each of her scenes? She is the MVP of this movie, for me. The art is phenomenal, changing with every dimension – one that suits the style accordingly to the character – and they all interact so well with each other.
You may not be aware (as I was not) but the film is only part one of two. This was an announcement that was made before the release of this film, apparently, and I was not aware so I was shocked to see it end in such a cliff-hanger and I cannot wait for the next installment. Already, as it is, I feel that it is already a sure win at the Oscars for the way by which it revolutionizes the way animated stories are told and the way by which the story really captures the ways by which growing up can make life so difficult. It captures it with so much heart and empathy. I can’t wait to see this film again.