As the follow-up to Into The Spider-Verse, the high expectations for Across the Spider-Verse are more than met. While the previous film was playful and experimental with the Marvel comics hero in a way that live-action films lacked, this sequel comes closer to touching a postmodern perspective on the nature of superhero canon. Suffice to say, it’s easily one of the best superhero films of the year, if not the decade.
Having established Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man of his universe, he gets used to all the hallmarks of being the friendly neighborhood superhero who slings webs. Before attending a school meeting with his parents, he needs to dispatch with the portal-producing villain, The Spot. He seems like a throwaway villain meant to establish Miles’s current role as Spider-Man merely, but that’s not the case here. Though regarded as a D-lister, The Spot has some strong desires for revenge against Miles, and he becomes an even larger threat when he figures out how to tap into the multiverse.
Fear not, weathered Marvel moviegoers! The plot of this film does not entirely focus on saving the multiverse, as that seems to be the superhero story de jour these days. It’s more about Miles trying to establish himself and not be bound by a strict set of rules.
He forms an increasing bond with Gwen Stacy, the Spider-Woman of another universe. She makes a trip back, and they have a sweet sequence of swinging around the city while they catch up on their lives. The problem is that Gwen has tapped further into the multiverse and knows that things usually don’t work out for those in this line of work.
Trying to make sense of Miles’s situation Miguel, known as Spider-Man 2099. Rather than fight the universe that requires pathos for all superheroes with Spider in their name, Miguel embraces it as he learns it was a system he couldn’t bend. So when Miguel learns that Miles is an anomaly, he plans to eliminate this error. And, yes, he really does argue that he’s trying to preserve canon, a blunt punch toward the fans who argue against Miles Morales as a relevant Spider-Man.
The whole film operates in this manner of never pulling punches when they need to hit hard. Take a look at the appearance of Spider-Punk, a rebellious Spider-Man of the UK who wields a guitar. It’s not just a look for this rebel; he really does despise capitalist structures and authoritarian regimes like the one created by Miguel and his band of Spider-People/Animals. There’s a Spider-Man of India as well who doesn’t try to hide the fact that British people stole their stuff. And the whole arc of Gwen Stacy is plastered with signs for being an allegory of the transgender experience, complete with a literal sign in her room that states Protect Trans Kids.
While this is a darker Spider-Man than the last film, it still has moments of hilarious and knowing charm. This is best showcased in the return of Peter B. Parker, the Spider-Man who desperately needed to get his groove back. He appears in this film as the Spider-Man that comic book fans had been asking for but always felt denied: a married man allowed to have a kid. It always felt taboo, but here it is in an animated film, as glorious as one could have hoped. Parker hasn’t just gotten his life back together; he may be the most well-adjusted Spider-Man ever, able to balance family life and still support Miles. Real heroism is all about the fact that he risks it all to save this kid.
The animation is beyond fantastic. It goes above and beyond to stage a multiverse of mediums that becomes exciting to see where each portal leads next. This allows 2D, live-action and even LEGO to mingle with the CGI, crafting a kaleidoscopic depiction of a multi-faceted superhero world. It’s so breathtaking to watch it all unfold that it begs the question of why there are not more animated superhero films to take advantage of this medium. There’s so much innovation and eye-popping creativity packed into this film than the entire Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe combined.
Across the Spider-Verse is the Spider-Man film we need more of for its groundbreaking animation, writing, and diverse depictions that feel leagues beyond other superhero movies. It doesn’t even matter that this film is the first of a two-parter. While that may infuriate some, it only excites me for the next picture, ensuring there’s more to come of this fantastic animated superhero adventure.