The impact of 2018’s Spider-Man: Into Spider-Verse on the animation industry can’t be overstated. Its iconic animation style with its constantly shifting frame rate clearly influenced recent cinematic animated ventures like last year’s Puss in Boots: The Last Wish from DreamWorks and the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. Disney, meanwhile, with its recent lackluster theatrical output and general business in decline, appears not to have received the message. I’m guessing it will by this weekend when Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the long anticipated Spider-Verse sequel, arrives in theaters.

Most animation historians cite An American Tail as the film that forced Disney to up its game and led to the Disney Renaissance. If we’re lucky, Disney will realize it’s time to shake things up or once again be left completely in the dust by the competition. In the meantime, it’s safe to say that producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who penned the script along with Dave Callaham, can probably start on their award speeches and making space on their shelves for another Oscar trophy for Best Animated Feature Film next year. 

After juggling life as the new Spider-Man and student at Visions Academy, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is now a sophomore and already beginning the college admissions process. Much like his predecessor Peter Parker, Miles is feeling the pressure in between clashes with his parents, Lieutenant and soon to be Captain Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) and mother Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Vélez), and aspiring arch-nemesis The Spot (Jason Schwartzman). If we’re being honest, most people are waiting for the multiversal mayhem to ensue as teased by the film’s viral marketing. Although breadcrumbs are dropped here and there, the actual Spider-Verse doesn’t begin in earnest until more than an hour into the film. Even before then, the film opens with a rather extended prologue catching up with the alternate universe Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld) and her tumultuous relationship with her father Captain George Stacy (Shea Whigham). You may feel like Milhouse impatiently waiting for Itchy and Scratchy to finally arrive at the fireworks factory, but it’s all completely necessary in order to properly build up the stakes and themes that pay off by the end.

Across the Spider-VerseStepping into the directors chair this time around are Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson. This trio is faced the unenviable task of somehow topping the visual smorgasbord of the previous film. For Across the Spider-Verse, the dial is turned up to 11 and then some, exemplified by the novel idea of employing different art styles for the various characters and worlds. For instance, Gwen Stacy’s world of Earth-65 utilizes a watercolor-washed style and Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya) is distinguished by the aesthetics of the latter half of his namesake through newspaper and magazine collages.   

Stories about the multiverse tend to have a meta-narrative component, which as defined by the late/great Dwayne McDuffie adds a second level of meaning above and beyond the actual story. No stranger to multiverse stories himself, McDuffie cited it as a favorite storytelling device that allowed him to to comment about genre fiction while still delivering the tropes that audiences expect. Across the Spider-Verse is no exception. Much like the Time Variance Authority in the MCU, the mission of the team of multiversal Spider-People of the Spider-Society is to preserve the “Canon” in order to prevent the Spider-Verse itself from unraveling. Without going into details, the very existence of Miles Morales completely threatens the Spider-Verse which some could view as upending the traditional Spidey and superhero narrative. In that regard, the film simultaneously praises the foundational work that came before while acknowledging and proposing a new approach to reflect the modern world may be in order.

Across the Spider-VerseThis is perhaps best seen in the film’s commitment to diverse representation. Whether it’s Spider-Man 2099/Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), Spider-Woman/Jessica Drew (Issa Rae), or any of the multitudes of Spider-People, the film continues a core tenet of the franchise that, “Anyone can wear the mask.” Even before we’re introduced to the wonders of the Spider-Society, the filmmakers painstakingly render a vibrantly diverse NYC with rooftop parties, wheelchair basketball games, and so much more. A New York Times review for the recent The Little Mermaid criticized Disney’s latest live-action remake of being “dutiful corrective with noble intentions and little fun.” As commendable as it may to see studios amplify diverse voices and cultures, the end result was a film that lacked any fun or joy. Once again, Across the Spider-Verse provides Disney the guiding light on how best to entertain without reeking of pandering. 

Though hard to find, if there are any flaws or disappointments it would be the absence of breakout characters Spider-Noir and Spider-Ham. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the story it can’t be helped but the film promises to rectify this in the followup Spider-Verse film next year. Perhaps some small consolation is that Miles’ multiversal mentor, Peter B. Parker voiced by the imitable Jake Johnson, is back along for the ride. A large part of Peter B. Parker’s charm was both the humor derived from his schlub demeanor in contrast to the iconic image of Spidey but also the character’s relatability as someone constantly beaten down by the world, an essential quality of the Webslinger. Since we last saw Peter B., he’s reconciled with his ex-wife Mary Jane and now has superpowered baby in tow. Although seeing him have his life together takes away some of the character’s original allure, fatherhood gives Johnson a whole new baggage of neuroses to amuse viewers. Also filling in the role of lovable loser is Schwartzman’s The Spot whose initial benign appearance belies a truly worth foe for Miles. 

The jokes and and dialogue give the Deadpool films a run for their money at how fast they fly. As a result, until it’s available for streaming at home and you can properly pause the film, multiple viewings may be required in order to not only see the gags you likely missed the first time but to appreciate the level of detail in every frame. I had the fortune of my preview screening in Dolby Cinema that touts a top-tier and immersive move-going experience. I can’t emphasize seeing the Across the Spider-Verse in the best screen possible.

Much like Charlie Barkin in All Dogs Go to Heaven, I can’t help but find myself lamenting the dearth of genuine surprises in recent blockbuster tentpole films. It certainly doesn’t help that with the realization that it’s impossible to keep plot points off social media, studios are pretty cutting out the middleman and spoiling the movies themselves. Look no further than the upcoming The Flash movie. To my delight, not only was I able to watch Across the Spider-Verse absolutely spoiler free, but I found myself audibly gasping and literally on the edge of my seat at several points. 

As revealed a few years back, this Spider-Verse sequel was originally conceived as a single film but split into two parts when the filmmakers realized they couldn’t properly tell the story they wanted in one film. As such, it won’t be a complete shock to know that in the same vein as The Empire Strikes Back or Avengers: Infinity War, Across the Spider-Verse ends on a cliffhanger, one I daresay may be on the same level as those films I just mentioned. 

We’ll just have to wait until March 29, 2024 when Beyond the Spider-Verse arrives in theaters to find out how the filmmakers will stick the landing.


  1. I may be the only one who hated the new Spider-verse movie. I LOVED the animation, but I felt the story was a complete mess — and most of the scenes seemed padded and overlong. I mean was father-Peter-Parker-with-baby funny and why did they go to the well 20 times? Did Gwen want Miles’ dad to die or not? The whole captain death concept was only revealed toward the end of the movie? After 2 hours, I just wanted it all to end. But then… guess what? Nothing resolved and wait a few years and the story will continue for 2 MORE hours.

    DC’s been doing multiverse for 60 years now, and Marvel’s been milking it for several movies now. I guess I was just hoping for something different. Feels like a waste of great art to have such a mess of a plot.

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