The best thing about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is that it’s an irreverent love letter that dares to challenge and satirize the Webslinger’s mythology. By introducing Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) into the cinematic universe, not only did we see the Spidey persona in a whole new way, but we also got to see the social impact of representation. Now Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse puts a twist on the themes explored in the first while diving into the complex themes of individuality.
Because Across the Spider-Verse isn’t confined to a particular story arc, it has the creative liberties to expand upon key character mythologies and explore other Earths with greater depth. As such, it makes someone like The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) an excellent foil to Miles. Their origins and motivations are two sides of the same coin, with Miles seeking acceptance and identity. Yet, simultaneously, The Spot was rejected by his friends and family and robbed of his identity because of Miles. And though the plot is somewhat complicated, Miles and Gwen’s arcs are grounded with a sense of humanity, allowing the audience to connect.
The premise is simple: The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), a former Alchemex scientist turned inter-dimensional villain, blames Miles for turning him into a faceless and blotchy villain covered in inter-dimensional dots. He clumsily commits petty thefts, and his silly appearance doesn’t even warrant a “villain of the week” label from Miles. That kind of disrespect only further enrages The Spot, whose singular focus is to take away everything Miles holds dear. Eventually, this draws the attention of the tough and very serious Miguel O’Hara, aka Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), the supercool and very pregnant Jessica Drew (Issa Rae), aka Spider-Woman of Earth-332, and the rest of the clandestine Spider-Society. O’Hara’s newly created group of other Spider-People are tasked with protecting the multiverse by apprehending multiverse anomalies that could cause Canon Disruption Events.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’s animation style is unparalleled, with every frame like a comic book coming to life. The animation ups the visual ante with its uniqueness, and how it is used to take audiences to colorfully expressive new places while exploring the characters’ emotional depths. And much of that relatability comes through in Miles. He’s growing up and isn’t afraid to flex about it. He prioritizes being Spider-Man over his academic and family responsibilities as he tries to figure out his place in the world. He has big dreams, some of which scare his mom, Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Velez), because it’s a sign that she will eventually have to let him go out into the world. And his dad, Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry), wants the best for his exceptional son. Still, he wishes he could reciprocate that by being on time for a party to celebrate his promotion as Captain. And they ground him when they feel he isn’t living up to his responsibilities as a student and son. This leaves Miles feeling misunderstood and out of place. It’s as if they aren’t listening to him. But he can’t delve into his experiences because it would mean revealing he’s Spider-Man. So, their relationship is an opportunity to tell that even parents are still learning as their children grow up. So even if Miles feels isolated, it’s only when Gwen comes to pay a visit that his world lights up.
The relationship that Miles and Gwen have likens to a star-crossed high school sweethearts that just so happens to live on different Earths. Though it looks like Miles is comfortable, he faces the same challenges as any kid trying to figure out his place in the world. He loves his family and yet wants independence. And he finds that in Gwen, who pushes Miles to be the best, even if that means getting him into more trouble. That relationship comes alive as the two swing through New York gracefully and with acrobatic flair, with the graphics expressing their emotions and the dangers of oncoming traffic.
However, Gwen’s visit isn’t entirely sincere. And Miles’ parents — Jefferson and Rio — consider their son’s mysterious new friend a bad influence. Nevertheless, both want nothing but the best for their child. Jefferson is tough because he knows Miles is exceptional, while Rio wants Miles to never forget about that kid who had big dreams or where he came from. From the outside, it’s a sweet and tender moment between mother and son. And looking deeper, it speaks to the shared stories and narratives with cultural and generational specificities.
But Gwen’s journey is quite different. She left her Earth because of a strained relationship with her father, Captain George Stacy (Shea Whigham). However, her story mirrors her fellow Spider-Brothers and Spider-Sisters as Spider-Man’s arc across the multiverse is preordained and out of the hero’s control whether or not they know it’s a part of their canon.
And so, Miles sets off to find his place, holding on to his mother’s advice close to his heart while finally feeling that sense of belonging wherever his journey may take him. He’s excited about possibly joining O’Hara’s clandestine Spider-Society because it’s where he feels accepted for who he is. Though Miles’ overeagerness throws a wrench into Miguel’s plans, he wants to take this opportunity to prove his capability because he’s found such an exclusive clique. The irony is that the futuristic hero rejects Miles because of his individuality and lack of a similar tragic arc. And when the two clashes on how to handle The Spot, their relationship becomes more adversarial and turns Miguel into more of an antagonist.
The dynamic visual storytelling is stunning across the board as it uses six different animation styles with multiple character design iterations inhabiting those spaces. The Gwen-centric world uses bold graphics and character silhouettes set against the backdrops of heavy vertical streakings of color that closely resemble a mood ring. One moment, it will inspire a sense of joy, and then it will spur anger and rage in another. Whatever the case, it was meant to elicit an emotional reaction on cue. Thought and exposition bubbles help inform the audience about the plot, characters, and slang. At the same time, much of the action comes alive using text as sound effects.
The film looks unhinged with the various animation styles and numerous character designs clashing in the same frame. But that unconventional approach makes Across the Spider-Verse shine even brighter. Because in any other film, it would collapse in on itself. Instead, the film turns something crazy into the ultimate crossover for every Spider-Man fan.
And the new characters include a Vulture (Jorma Taccone) whose parchment designs are inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci’s Renaissance art. Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya) has this style that screams anarchy that resembles the London punk rock scene of the 1970s and 1980s. For the confident and sauve Pavitr Prabhakar’s (Karan Soni), his designs draw from various Indian art ranging from Theyyam and Yakshagana dancers to Henna patterns and contemporary Indian fashion. And Jessica Drew as Spider-Woman is a welcomed addition to the franchise, as she wants to inspire the future generation while protecting her family while pregnant.
And Hobie Brown’s Spider-Punk respects the Spider-Society, but isn’t afraid to denigrate it. And that personality comes alive in his designs which honor the web-slinging style with a sonic punk rock vibe. The messy collage of different cartoon drawings, cutup graphics, and Xerox copies is a tribute to that medium. And his bad boy image is instantly likable — as noted by how starry-eyed Gwen gets whenever she’s near him. Even The Spot’s design changes from a villain who looks like a cow or dalmatian to an angry and unstable inkblot symbolizing his rage.
Much of the film continues to revolve around the theme of identity. Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and David Callaham‘s script is incredibly clever and funny from start to finish. But it also takes the time to delve into some complex ones. Because it has a multiverse plot and invites other Spiders, it doubles down on the meta-ness in more ways than one. All that makes for something hysterical and satirical while delivering some irony on the message that anyone can wear the mask. Here we see Miles searching for his identity in a place where everyone has similar mask designs and similar lore.
Story-wise, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse hits those familiar story beats that its predecessor hit. Miles’s journey of self-discovery is an emotional human story that uses the Spider-Man look and feel to make the sequel wildly entertaining. While it is the first half of a bigger story, it ends on a polarizing cliffhanger that underlines the exciting infinite possibilities exploring the Spider-Verse holds. The sequel is fearless in expanding upon the themes its predecessor touched on, and it dares to put a twist on it by building upon that by illustrating a theme that extends to all of the Spiders’ lives. They may have these parallel stories with the same tragedies and emotional nuances because that’s how it goes. But Miles’ journey is a reminder that you have the power to write your own story and do your own thing to be your own Spider-Man.