Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Spins a Multiverse, Any Size

Film: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

Ask a lot of people what the best Marvel movie is and you’ll get a number of different answers, but for my money, you don’t have to look further than Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It’s a great introduction to the idea of the MCU multiverse (although I don’t really love what they’ve done with it since), so I was interested in the follow-up film. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse picks up kind of where the first one left off, and features the same kind of visual style that made the first film such a surprise.

In fact, there are a number of aspects of this film that can only be described as “frenetic.” We’re going to spend a lot of time in a world where there are hundreds of Spider-people from a variety of dimensions, and many of them will be animated in completely different styles. In that respect, this is kind of like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

While we’re going to be focused on Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), we’re going to start with Gwen Stacy/Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), who is the Spider-Person of her dimension. In her dimension, she became the equivalent of Spider-Man and in a battle, managed to kill her friend Peter Parker. She encounters a variant of the Vulture straight out of a Da Vinci drawing. A pair of other Spider-People arrive to help. When he’s captured, Gwen is forced to reveal her identity to her father, and the Spider-Folks take her back to a different dimension with them to become part of an interdimensional team.

And then we’re on to Miles Morales, who has a new enemy. Called The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), he was created in the same event that turned Miles into Spider-Man. The Spot is figuring out his powers and soon realizes that the anomaly that created him gives him powers to move through dimensional portals. Naturally, this is going to cause some serious problems, and soon enough Gwen shows up to catch The Spot because that’s what her team does, and she takes a moment to visit Miles.

Ultimately, Miles is taken to the headquarters of the interdimensional Spider society to discover that, essentially, he is the only Spider-Man in the multiverse who hasn’t been asked to join the group. The reason? As it turns out, Miles is Spider-Man on Earth-1610, but was bitten by the spider from Earth-42. This means that he was never intended to be Spider-Man, and Earth-42 was denied its Spider-Man. He also discovers that there are canon events in the lives of all of the Spider-People. One of those is the death of someone close to them. This is Uncle Ben in the classic Spider-Man story, but in Spider-Gwen’s world, it’s the death of Peter Parker. However, in many of the worlds, the death is of a police captain…and it just so happens that his father is about to be promoted to captain, and The Spot has more or less promised to ruin Miles’s life.

This is not an easy movie to summarize. There is a definite narrative throughline here, but visually, it’s very difficult to focus on for me. I called it frenetic above for a very good reason. Visually, this has ADHD, and I can’t imagine that this doesn’t come with an epilepsy warning.

There is a lot to love with Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. If nothing else, there are a lot of variants that are fascinating to look at. They haven’t skimped on those. There’s at least one variant in a wheelchair, and another wearing a hijab. There’s also a Spider-Punk variant who uses a guitar as his main weapon. It’s also interesting that while The Spot is clearly a major antagonist in this, arguably the main antagonist is looks to be another Spider-Man variant named Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac).

But (and you could certainly sense that there was going to be one of those, couldn’t you?), it feels like a huge punch in the stomach to watch 140 minutes of an epilepsy warning to realize that this is the first half of a film and that we’re going to have to wait for the third movie in the series for the story to end. This ends on a cliffhanger, and not even a hint of resolution. Even in The Empire Strikes Back we at least got to something that feels like an ending. This, though, is literally the middle of a story.

And so I’m a little torn. This will almost certainly win the Best Animated Feature Oscar in a few weeks because of its ambition, and since I haven’t seen the other nominated movies, I don’t know what to think yet in terms of that. I don’t like the idea of half a movie, though, and this is very much half a movie despite the length.

Why to watch Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: It’s ambitious as hell.
Why not to watch: Two hours, twenty minutes of set-up, no pay-off.


  1. Honestly, not only do I think this is one of the best animated films ever made but I also think this is a film that just raised the bar of what animated films could be. I kind of liken it to My Bloody Valentine's Loveless in how that album redefined of what guitar music could be as I kind of tend to think a film like WALL-E is the equivalent to something like Dark Side of the Moon. I was enthralled by this film as I have to know how in the hell these animators are going to top this.

    1. I agree that there's a lot of ambition here, and there's a lot that it does really well. A complete lack of resolution is really frustrating to me, though--it feels like a cash grab.

      I have no problem with trilogies, and with movies telling only part of a story, but there's no conclusion at all here. We don't get to an ending; we get to a cliffhanger, and that feels like a cheat.