Powered by numerous directors (three) and animators (untold multitudes), the visual funk of writer-producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the follow-up to their powerhouse Into the Spider-Verse, is all the way back—and then some (and then some more). In fact, while there’s never not something to look at in this film, it can also overwhelm.
As per the glib tone of its predecessor, Across the Spider-Verse takes as a given that everyone knows the Spider-Man mythos. That’s part of the fun, with the quick movements of its setup giving way to the film’s many (many) characters, including our universe-crossed heroes Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld). The ostensible villain here is the Spot (Jason Schwartzman), whose life is undone via the previous film’s events and who now exists in a weird limbo—for which, naturally, he blames Spider-Man. The actual villain, however, is continuity itself, with Miles introduced to countless Spider-people, led by 2099’s Miguel (Oscar Isaac), labouring away to protect the multi-verse and the integrity of Spider-Man as a concept. No doubt: it’s a lot to take in. This challenge, though, is embraced as an opportunity by Lord and Miller (and co-writer Dave Callaham), even as it does strange things to their film’s pacing. For every sequence packed with more pizazz than the eye can track, there are matching back-to-back expository scenes that bog things down as everything gets talked through again and again. While the film is generally enjoyable as a wild pop mishmash, this hyper-narrative whiplash is not.
Still, Across the Spider-Verse threads the needle—to borrow an oft-used phrase from the film—with all its winks and cameos to say something about the strict adherence to established canon. As a result, there remains an inventive sense of possibility in Lord and Miller’s version of Spider-Man as it plays with the typical beats of comic book lore. It also makes the oncoming sequel both enticing and frustrating. Of course, there’s more.