The phantasmagorical beauty of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the most admirable thing about it. From 60s pop art to anime, neon-doused spirographs to minimal black and white sketches, the second instalment of the 2018 animated Spider-Man spin-off – which turned out to be a critical and commercial phenomenon – certainly displays the elaborate work that went into a five-year-wait for it.
Unfortunately, it is overstuffed and overlong, and in spite of a first half that suggests greatness, it lets itself down with a televisual cliffhanger of an ending. A two-parter, but one you have to wait several years to see come to a resolution, is nobody’s idea of a good time at the movies.
Still, like its predecessor, it’s a visually rich animated romp across the metaverse, based in an alternate reality wherein a young Afro-Latino teen from Brooklyn, Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), unwittingly takes the place of Peter Parker and becomes Spider-Man. The initial film jumped between styles and artistic mediums as its protagonist hopped through the Spider-verse.
In Across the Spider-Verse, there’s a prologue from the point of view of Spider-Girl, or Gwen Stacy, a tough teenager whose cop father is on the hunt for her alter-ego, believing the superhero is responsible for murder. Her world, a melting popsicle of pastels that radiate and grow rosier dependent on the feelings emanating from its occupants, is strikingly pretty.
We are then re-introduced to Miles, living in a livelier and more realistic animated Brooklyn, and still keeping up his double-life as Spider-Man and as a gifted 15-year-old student with strict but loving parents. When Miles and Gwen face a “villain of the week” named Spot, whose accident with a reactor allows him to create holes to jump through time and space, they soon learn that what began as a minor annoyance has greater will power than they bargained for. They must team up with an elite crew of Spider-people from various universes to defeat Spot, whose sinister intentions slowly become known to young Miles.
The narrative is fun and often heartwarming, with plenty of homages and funny surprises along the way. But it’s a shame that the MCU feels the need to stuff every possible moment of the film with another reference to one of its potential properties. It seems to be throwing everything at the wall here: overegging the cake in the hopes of the potential success of this franchise.
During the visual inventiveness and beauty of the first 45 minutes or so, I was nearly convinced I was watching a new superhero classic – but Across the Spider-Verse lets itself down by leaning into the episodic, more-bang-for-your-buck attitude that spoils so many films like these.