SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE -- More Ambitious Follow-Up Doesn't Touch Its Beloved Predecessor
Review by Sean Boelman
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was lightning in a bottle, taking a cult favorite version of the beloved superhero to the animated medium in a way we had never seen before. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse takes much bigger swings than its predecessor, but also ends up being far inferior by falling victim to many of the traps live-action comic book movies have suffered from in recent years.
The film follows Miles Morales as he goes on his next adventure, correcting the aftermath of the reactor incident that has the potential to wreak havoc on the entire multiverse of Spider-People. The scale in this one is definitely bigger than the first, but in that approach, it also loses much of the intimate quality that made its predecessor so special.
While the first movie was relatively lean when it comes to comic book movies, with a runtime well under two hours excluding credits, this sequel is the first part of a two-parter, and runs two hours and twenty minutes by itself. There’s a lot of story to tell and a lot of world-building to do — and the whole thing unfortunately ends up taking itself too seriously.
Ultimately, the biggest disappointment of the film is that it gets far too caught up in its capeshit — something which the first movie delicately managed to avoid. Sure, you expect there to be easter eggs and cameos in a movie like this; but it feels like this turned into a spectacle filled with moments that could have a flashing “APPLAUSE” sign — similar to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. In other words, this film has become the exact thing it was designed to deconstruct.
Because the movie is constantly throwing different versions of Spider-Man at us, it can be easy to lose sight of the film’s emotional core. And it’s a shame — because this aspect of the story is truly excellent. There’s some really powerful stuff that deconstructs the “with great power comes great responsibility” mythos of the Spider-Man property, but it’s buried beneath layers upon layers of fanservice.
Much of the praise in the voice cast is going to go to Oscar Isaac for his performance as Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099, but he is far from the shining star of the cast. Hailee Steinfeld is probably the biggest standout here, taking her performance to the next level. Luna Lauren Vélez and Brian Tyree Henry are simply extraordinary as Miles’s parents. And in terms of new additions, Shea Whigham is a welcome emotional behemoth, and Jason Schwartzman and Daniel Kaluuya are both very fun.
The visual style in the movie, much like its predecessor, is ambitious to a fault. There are definitely some very ambitious swings here, as Across the Spider-Verse dives even harder into the multiverse concept, giving us animation with a variety of approaches. While you have to admire what the film is trying to do, the frames often end up being overly busy and creating a sense of visual overload. Although some viewers may appreciate this, others could find it overwhelming.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is definitely a disappointment. While you have to admire the things that it was going for, its more ambitious elements blow up in its face and create a comic book movie that — narratively, at least — is frustratingly par for the course. Hopefully, this was just the set-up to a conclusion of the trilogy that knocks it out of the park.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse hits theaters on June 2.