Few sequels match their predecessor in terms of quality. Even fewer elevate the quality of the original to stand alone as a “best of” for their given genre. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse does this and then some. It’s better than the first film, better than any other animated feature in the last decade, and probably the best Spider-Man movie, period. From the animation, story, voice acting, and heart, it doesn’t miss a step, the nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime is an impressive feat.
Following the events of the first film, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is living as his universe’s only Spider-Man. When a new villain emerges, Miles is reunited with his friends Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) for a romp through the Multiverse. His mission brings him in contact with the Spider Society. This is a group of Spider-Man variants from many different universes led by Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac). Miles then faces the ultimate dilemma of what it means to be a hero.
Stories about the Multiverse are popping up at an alarming rate in both Marvel and DC films. It is even represented in independent stories like last year’s fantastic Everything Everywhere All at Once. In most cases, the studios use the Multiverse as a gimmick to try and make sense of a complicated release history, bridge storylines told by different studios, or as simple fan service. These films and shows have been a mixed bag of success. Where Across the Spider-Verse stands apart is that it doesn’t try to overcomplicate the why. Viewers know that Spider-Man has had a long history with different versions of the character. This allows each variant to seem like its own identity rather than simply be the same character with a different appearance. This nuance is necessary when there are over 250 Spider-People.
The animation is stunning. In a sense, the animation is its own character. Borrowing from the source material, each world takes on a different identity thanks to the artists who painstakingly work to bring it to life. Fans of the comics will delight in seeing the different aesthetics, but the causal viewer will be able to more easily track Miles’ movements through the Spider-Verse because of the multiple styles. The animation of Spider-Punk, in particular, is top-notch.
The characters come to life through the layered performances that each actor brings. Moore and Steinfeld, in particular, convey such emotion to their performances that it seems almost effortless. Writers Phil Lord, Christopher Moore, and Dave Callaham infuse the script with such pathos that the medium doesn’t matter. The actors bring the words to life as vibrantly as the animators bring the animation to life. It is a perfect blend.
However, the themes at play set the film above so many others. It is not usual for a comic book movie, an animated movie, or a movie geared toward kids to poignantly touch on topics like race, identity, belonging, and destiny. Identity is paramount in a film where every variant of one specific character is present. With that identity portrayed through a mixed-race superhero, representation is not merely an afterthought. The film’s message is clear, and it is powerfully presented.
The film leaves off on a cliffhanger, and though the culmination won’t release until next year, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse stands out among the very best of multiple genres. It will be hard for the filmmakers to top this sequel, but it has cemented itself as one of the best of all time.