By Bradley Lane
2018’s Into the Spider-Verse was not a guaranteed hit. It was an animated superhero film in an era dominated by live-action comic book adaptations, and more importantly it didn’t look anything like its animated contemporaries. It pioneered a hyper-stylized, expressive mix of hand-drawn animation with computer-generated imagery that blended different styles of animation to distinguish characters. What makes that film a classic, however, is that the over-the-top style serves to emphasize the strong writing and story at the heart of the film. Its anxiously awaited sequel, Across the Spider-Verse, ups the bar for modern animation, surpassing the original’s visual style while balancing lots of character development, and delivering a compelling, if incomplete story.
At the film’s start, Miles Morales has been Brooklyn’s one and only Spider-Man for just over a year in his home dimension, Earth-1610. Like all great Spider-Man stories, Miles is struggling to balance his duties as the city’s protector with his personal responsibilities. Feeling isolated after having been disconnected from his Spider friends from the first film, Miles meets a struggling wannabe crime doer, The Spot. This encounter sets off a chain reaction of events that leads to Miles being reunited with his Spider comparatives and puts into question Miles’ place in the multiverse.
The obvious first point to bring up is the awe-inspiring visual storytelling on display. Each universe on display has a unique animation style, a choice that becomes mind-blowingly impressive when each of the many Spider-people are introduced with their own hyper-unique style of animation. This collage of stylistic influences culminates in a feast for the eyes throughout the film’s lengthy runtime. The film features a particularly effective use of color as the backgrounds change based on character dynamics through particularly tense points of drama.
This sequel is ambitious. It is interested in telling a dense, action-packed story focused on the dynamics of multiple characters and the film suffers under the weight of these conflicting priorities. While there are interesting setups, and compelling character motivations, the film packs so much into its runtime that it often feels like it was rushing through the beats of each scene to get to the next one. It also functions as part one to its upcoming sequel and for that reason, it can’t help but feel incomplete as a film, even if that means it might retroactively get better next year.
Even with some reservations, I can unequivocally recommend seeing this as soon as possible on the big screen. The visual inventiveness on display in Across the Spider-Verse is unmatched in modern film today and begs to be experienced in theaters. – 4/5 stars