For all of it’s spider-strengths, Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse can’t help but feel held back by the fact that it’s entire story is a set-up for a more action packed sequel.
It’s only been 16-months since the events of Into the Spider-Verse, and Miles is continuing to mature not only as his universe’s resident wall-crawler, but also as a teenager. Having played a key part in saving the multiverse, Miles is starting to feel like he’s established himself.
Meanwhile, his parents are growing evermore frustrated with their son, as while they’re trying to get him to think about college, Miles is choosing to prioritize his life as Spider-Man. As they don’t know about his extracurricular activities, they presume that he’s just not taking his responsibilities seriously.
However, after a new villain arrives on the scene – one whose history is actually intertwined with Miles’ – the fledgling Spider-hero finds that his life is about to be altered forever.
There’s also a heavier focus on Gwen Stacy’s Spider-Woman, brought to life by Hawkeye‘s Hailee Steinfeld, this time around.
Not only do we get a reboot of her origin story, as well as an explanation as to why she currently feels alienated within her own universe, but there’s also a ton of interpersonal interactions between Gwen and Miles when she returns to his universe – and, unbeknownst to him, with ulterior motives.
In keeping with its predecessor’s multiversal storyline, the CGI-animated sequel encompasses six universes, while teasing a few others.
The most familiar one is Earth-1610, Miles’ home universe and one whose defining animation quirk is giving everyone textured clothes and halftones on their skin, ultimately looking like they stepped out of one of Telltale Games’ adventure games such as Batman, The Walking Dead, or The Wolf Among Us.
There’s also a significant amount of time spent on Gwen Stacy’s Earth-65, which has a watercolor feel to it, its backgrounds loaded with pink, blue, and purple streaks while lacking black outlines and seemingly dripping and smearing at the height of her emotions.
We also get to see Earth-50101, otherwise known as the universe of Pavitr Prabhakar, as voiced by Deadpool and Deadpool 2 star Karan Soni, the one and only Spider-Man India. This world is given a unique feel largely thanks to its being inspired by the movements and aesthetics of Kalaripayattu, a 2000-year-old form of Indian martial arts.
On Earth-928B, we get to see Nueva York, the home of Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099, as played by X-Men: Apocalypse star Oscar Isaac. Heavy on the blue and red, this universe’s sleek and slightly unfinished look feels like it was ripped directly from the neo-futurist illustrations of the late ’80s and early ’90s.
And though it only appears in his introduction montage, we also get a glimpse of New London, the home dimension of Hobie Brown/Spider-Punk, himself cooly voiced by Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluya. Taking 2-3 years just to nail down its animated aesthetics, Hobie’s universe is inspired by punk rock album covers and underground show fliers that were mass produced on copy machines that were running out of toner.
Finally, the last world we get a good look at is the mysterious Earth-42, whose darker version of New York boasts purple-heavy visuals and holds a fascinating connection to Miles.
And while not technically a universe in and of itself, the film also takes a trip to the Spider-Society HQ, an ‘outside-of-time-and-space’ meeting ground for the multiverse’s legion of Spider-people. While only appearing in the film for a short moment, the HQ serves as the backdrop for an especially jaw-dropping chase sequence which sees every member of the Society chasing after Miles.
In light of their previous work on The Mitchells vs. The Machines, the film’s large focus on reality-hopping makes it feel as if producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller just wanted an opportunity for them to show off what they could do a with variety of different animation styles.
To that end, Across the Spider-Verse eventually ended up employing the largest crew ever for an animated film, with over 1,000 creators ranging from artists, to background designers, to animators, to bring its spectacle to life.
And while their efforts have certainly helped establish the film as an incredible feat for animation and is one of the primary reasons so many people are enjoying it, the real question still remains: Outside of its dazzling visuals, will it be worth checking out it in the long run?
For most audiences, all of the multiverse-centric films that have been released in the past couple of years are starting to feel the same – and unfortunately, this applies to Across the Spider-Verse as well.
As a bigger sequel, Across the Spider-Verse expertly expands on every aspect of the original film. However, with 100 different story webs to follow rather than a concise five or six, the film’s storytelling is, to say the least, strained.
From a critical standpoint, the film is at its most enjoyable when providing audiences with a heavy dose of nostalgia or presenting them with a mass amount of characters – and even then, these cameos lose their luster when you realize that they’re only meant to say a few lines or occupy background space before inevitably becoming expensive canon fodder.
With six universes, a large cast of characters, and a fair helping of universe-hopping, the film unsurprisingly features a lot of dialogue and exposition in-between its actions, and as such tends to drag at numerous points throughout its two-hour-plus run time.
Further, the film’s thematic use of different visual styles for all the Spiders makes the entire package feel like an anthology of stitched together stories, like a Frankenstein’d and ADHD-infused version of Netflix’s Love, Death, and Robots, rather than a single cohesive story.
Maybe this stylistic experiment will smooth out its cohesion over the course of another two-and-a-half-hour outing, but as it applies to Across the Spider-Verse, the film feels like a piece of Banksy-inspired street art that is so monumentally cluttered yet mesmerizing at the same time.
And perhaps Beyond the Spider-Verse will retroactively make Across’ story more enjoyable, but for now, the franchise’s flashy visuals are fully in controls of its web-shooters.
As a stand alone feature, Across the Spider-Verse is groundbreaking with its half-a-dozen animation styles and plethora of Spider-Men. The Spot is an insanely cool villain, Spider-Man 2099 is an anti-hero teetering on the verge of becoming a full-time villain, and Spider-Punk oozes overall awesomeness.
But with the film sitting at 162 minutes and a sequel on the way in less than a year, the story ultimately feels like it’s stretched beyond its means.
- Unbelievable animation.
- The new characters are increedible.
- The ending leaves you hooked and waiting for 'Beyond the Spider-Verse'
- Feels like too much of a good thing.
- So many different animation styles make the film feel detached and disjointed
- The story drags at times and there are too many Spider-People.