Review: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Score: A

Directors: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson

Cast: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac, Jason Schwartzman

Running Time: 140 Minutes

Rated: PG

It had to be intimidating to follow up one of the most creative and beloved movies of the last five years. Into the Spider-Verse received massive acclaim, earned an Academy Award, and made more than $375 million worldwide. Its animation style has overtaken DreamWorks (Puss in Boots: The Last Wish) and Nickelodeon (the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film). And while it never had the profile of the MCU-connected Spider-Man adventures, it trumped that series' attempts at multiverse storytelling. Topping that had to be a lot of pressure. But just like Miles Morales did in the first entry, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse rises to the occasion and soars.

Despite featuring several new characters and multiple dimensions, this sequel remains laser-focused in its storytelling. The first 15 minutes or so could work as a stand-alone short, and it would still be one of the best things I've seen all year. This prologue serves as a stellar reintroduction to Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), who's taken up drumming to cope with the loss of her universe's Peter Parker. The fantastic music from Daniel Pemberton here takes center stage, as Gwen's solo loudly overtakes her own monologue. Her relationship with her cop father (Shea Whigham) has fractured to the point that she leaves her world, and takes a job as an inter-dimensional bounty hunter.

Struggling to relate to parents remains a constant theme throughout. Miles (Shameik Moore) would rather spend his days catching bad guys than going to school. At the same time, he feels the weight of not wanting to disappoint his mom (Luna Lauren Velez) and dad (Brian Tyree Henry). The very best Spider-Man entries remember that its protagonist is still a teenager with relatable problems. There may be supervillains to stop, but they're not as important as personal relationships.

This is one of many reasons why this sequel works so well: It raises the stakes but never at the expense of its characters. They're so important to this story that even the animation changes as they do! In one heart-wrenching scene with Gwen and her dad, the walls of their apartment begin to drip and smear as their tears begin to flow. It's a risky aesthetic choice, but one that pays off extremely well.

Even though this entry runs nearly two-and-a-half hours, it never wears out its welcome. It covers a ton of emotional ground and world-building. Its forward motion makes it fly by, but its climactic twist and cliffhanger land with tremendous power. That's because it's earned all of its pathos and all of its laughs. You only get filmmaking at this scale when it's allowed to take its time, and not churned out as content.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a spectacular sequel. It takes everything amazing about the first film and kicks it up a notch. It'll be hard for any other summer blockbuster to top this.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.