Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, out now in cinemas in India and globally, is among the biggest theatrical releases this year, and for good reason. The first film in this specific series, 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse was a surprise package that far exceeded expectations and won various accolades including an Oscar, offering a fresh new take on the beloved web-slinger. Its sequel, Across the Spider-Verse, not only lives up to expectations but goes even further in the expansiveness of its concepts, artwork, and visual experience.
As with the first instalment, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse hinges on the multiverse concept that has been heavily explored by comics and comic-based films and shows. However, one can argue that Into the Spider-Verse did this in a big (and enjoyable) way before it became ‘mainstream’, so to speak. Across the Spider-Verse takes this idea even further, and here’s my spoiler-free review of the movie.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse review— colour, colour everywhere
The idea of an animated Spider-Man movie might have felt a bit strange initially, and indeed many view animation as ‘childish’ or ‘lazy’ filmmaking, but it’s this very element that makes Across the Spider-Verse so good. The use of animation gives the film its ‘comic-book’ feel, and also allows for the wild creativity of the visuals to flow freely; this kind of aesthetic would be near-impossible to achieve in a live-action film.
That said, there are brief live-action sequences in the film, combined with the animation and the CGI, including some interesting cameo appearances and old film clips brought in to aid the multiverse plot element. Those are brief though; the heart of the movie is its various art styles, which changes depending on the Spider-Man in focus or the Earth version where the action is taking place.
Gwen Stacy/ Spider-Woman’s (Hailee Steinfeld) universe is splashy and bright, using its colours to portray emotion, and Miles Morales/ Spider-Man’s (Shameik Moore) setting is classically comic-inspired and familiar if you’ve watched the first movie. However, the aesthetic that stands out the most is Mumbattan, the chaotic, Mumbai-inspired, futuristic world of Pavitr Prabhakar/ Spider-Man India. It’s by far the most unique and appealing, made better by Pavitr’s goofiness and silly jokes.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse review — powerful original score sets the pace
Many will remember Into the Spider-Verse for the iconic songs such as Sunflower by Post Malone and Swae Lee, and What’s Up Danger by Blackway and Black Caviar, and Across the Spider-Verse similarly has some powerful tracks that might just go the same way. However, it’s the original score of the new film that has much more impact, capably setting the pace and flowing well with the bright and busy action sequences.
Despite the rapid pace of the film, everything flows with a sense of purpose in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. The speed is really in the background and setting the tone of what’s going on, while you’re firmly focused on the hundreds of Spider-People (and Spider-Animals), swinging around as only Spider-Individuals can. You do get breaks where things slow down to do a bit of story-telling, and you’ll appreciate how well everything plays together, seamlessly moving from intensity to emotion, and back.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse review— so many characters, so little time
Perhaps the only aspect of the film where things drop off a bit is character development, but this being a sequel, you’re expected to already have some background into the primary characters and their dynamics after having watched Into the Spider-Verse (you might want a refresher by rewatching it even if you’ve seen it before). New characters unfortunately don’t get enough screen time to have their stories told effectively.
This is particularly the case with the two key negative characters of Across the Spider-Verse, Dr. Jonathan Ohnn/ The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) and Miguel O’Hara/ Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac). Their motivations and villainy is somewhat explained through silent cut-scenes, but I never quite got why they were as angry as they were portrayed throughout the film. O’Hara is more of the anti-hero; not a villain as such, but just vehemently opposed to Miles and his superhero philosophies, while coming off as an authoritative leader who seldom takes advice from anyone else.
The Spot starts out as goofy and underwhelming, but progressively gets more powerful and sinister, hilariously because of his own clumsiness. While those bits were admittedly funny, his transformation from a clumsy mini-villain to the biggest threat to the multiverse felt a bit jarring and sudden.
Apart from Gwen Stacy/ Spider-Woman, other returning characters include fan-favourite Peter B. Parker/ Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) and Aaron Davis (Mahershala Ali) in an alternate form. New characters such as Hobie Brown/ Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya) and Jessica Drew/ Spider-Woman (Issa Rae) also appear, with the former brilliantly portraying a British activist Spider-Man, who fights fascism with punk rock ideals and a guitar.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse review— final thoughts
Just like Into the Spider-Verse, Across the Spider-Verse is a film so expansive and aesthetically lush, that nothing short of animation could even achieve this level of creativity. It also suitably taps into the comic-book roots of the superhero, giving all the various versions of Spider-Man a great outlet through the multiverse concept. There are a handful of meme and pop-culture references as well, providing a perfect blend of classic and modern story-telling.
It’s also worth mentioning that Across the Spider-Verse ends on a cliffhanger, and will lead directly into the third instalment in the series, Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse, which is expected to release in March 2024. A quick tip to conclude this review — there are no mid or post-credit scenes to look out for.