It can’t be overstated just how impactful 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was.
It may be too much to say it revolutionised theatrical animation, but it sure did rejuvenate it. This movie sent a message to the public, to the filmmakers and to the money men in Hollywood that things could be shaken up in a big way and still be successful.
We’ve already seen the effect of this with Puss in Boots: The Last Wish which is already considered an instant classic and one of the best animated movies of the young 2020s. The upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is clearly inspired by Into the Spider-Verse too and there’s much more on the way that will owe a lot to what that 2018 movie pulled off.
And right now the MCU is in debt to Into the Spider-Verse too. The multiverse is the bed stone of the MCU’s Phase 4 and Phase 5 and we don’t think that it would be as widely understood, accepted or appreciated without Into the Spider-Verse introducing it so well to the public. We’re not saying that these two phases would be doing any better or worse without Into the Spider-Verse, but that movie seems like it paved the way for multiverse stories of all kinds.
So with all those expectations we arrive in mid-2023 for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse to find out if Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, the extensive voice cast, and the countless animators can do it again, and maybe do it better.
Well they did do it better. We won’t lead you on any longer and we’ll just say that Across the Spider-Verse improves in most ways compared to its predecessor. The animation is even more impressive (if you can believe that), the story is more compelling and so far it has been our best theatre experience this year.
In terms of where it sits in the pantheon of Spider-Man movies it may just be on the top, but one specific aspect of it may drag it down for many people. More on that later.
Everyone wants to know about the animation and while we have trailers you can watch on this page it can’t be appreciated until you’re in a cinema. We’re truly floored by what Sony Pictures Animation has accomplished and at the same time we also wince at the sheer gruelling effort this must have required. It takes a village to raise a child but it must have taken an entire army to animate this masterpiece.
When you think about these two movies you imagine the extremely bold, audacious visuals, but the real trick that Across the Spider-Verse pulls off is the more mundane animations. Our favourite example is, early in the movie, a cop arrives at a crime scene and walks into cover behind a police car while at the same time drawing their gun from a holster. The animation for this split second movement is so good that your brain will just switch over to “yeah that’s real life I’m seeing”.
This may not sound impressive after decades of motion capture and CGI that is as good as live action, but it has an extra X factor in Across the Spider-Verse. It’s heightened reality through the unreality of animation and it’s almost unbelievable.
The action and bombastic scenes also deliver in spades. Despite moving at a thousand miles an hour when things get hectic, everything on screen is still clear and understandable.
Even better is the dimension hopping. In the 2018 movie we spent most of the time in Miles Morales’ universe with the visiting Spider-People bring their own art style into his world. For this movie we get to see so many more dimensions and discovering each distinct look and logic is pure fun.
This balance of the real and the unreal extends to the story too. It’s no secret that the true appeal of Spider-Man is telling a touching human story through the lens of high fiction with spider powers. When you up the ante and there’s countless Spider-People and endless worlds the fate of one person and their own story has the protentional to best lost in the shuffle.
That’s not the case as the film expertly balances personal moments with the multiversal, “everything is on the line” overarching plot.
Unfortunately that overarching plot is the biggest weakness of Across the Spider-Verse. It’s no secret that the true sequel to Into the Spider-Verse isn’t just one movie.
Across the Spider-Verse is half of one story that will be continued in a third movie, Beyond the Spider-Verse, slated for late 2024. The two-movie plan was revealed to the public quite a while ago, but now sitting in this movie it’s effects can be felt.
We can’t and won’t spoil anything so let’s use an example – Avengers: Infinity War is a complete story without the existence of Avengers: Endgame. Infinity War can exist as a standalone Avengers movie where the good guys lose despite their best efforts. It’s grim, but if Endgame never released for whatever reason, you won’t be too gutted with Infinity War feeling unfinished.
The same can’t be said for Across the Spider-Verse. As amazing as it is and as high of a score as we’re going to give it, it is half a story. Those who pay less attention to entertainment news may even feel slighted and a bit mislead when the credits start to roll.
Thankfully this is the movie’s biggest problem with the rest being solid gold. The aforementioned large cast really brings their A-game the two leads Shameik Moore as Miles Morales and Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy required to put in a lot of emotional depth to properly sell this sometimes sombre tale. The impeccable facial animation to sell that emotion helps too.
Like the first movie the music is full of hits featuring both an original score and use of existing songs. We did find that the existing songs didn’t get as much time to play, however, with some being used for just a handful of seconds. We couldn’t help but feel like those shorter moments could have just used some of the original score, or the scenes could have been extended to play more of the music.
Our other complaint with the audio is one that we leave for every movie: terrible sound mixing for the audio, especially for dialogue. Please, Hollywood, we just want to hear what the characters are saying. We’re exhausted bringing this up in every modern movie review but it hurts even more here with a movie that is constructed so carefully by filmmakers who clearly have high reverence for Spider-Man.
As the momentum finally spun down in the credits we were left with a feeling of excitement that permeates this movie entirely. “Excitement” as a descriptor for a movie can be nebulous as everyone defines it differently, but we doubt anyone with a heart and a brain can watch Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse without a big grin and an elevated heartbeat.
We unfortunately didn’t get to see this movie in IMAX, but we highly recommend you do. This is a movie that is worth paying to see on the biggest screen with the loudest speakers. Hopefully on those loudest speakers the dialogue is clearer, but we doubt it.
FINAL SCORE: 9 OUT OF 10.