Film Review: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is bombastically ambitious, beautifully imaginative and emotionally rich

Expanding everything that made 2018’s revolutionary Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse work so wonderfully, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is bombastically ambitious, beautifully imaginative and emotionally rich.  It’s also drastically complicated for anyone not (Spider)versed in the ways of its animated predecessor, so – like many comic book movies that are specifically intertwined with their own franchise entries – do not enter this particular universe as a casual viewer.

Initially setting itself up as the continued story of Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), Across the Spider-Verse presents her particular dimension where she is its one-of-a-kind Spider-Woman.  Like the Peter Parkers we’ve come to know, she’s doing her best to keep her crime-fighting alter-ego a secret – something that’s becoming increasingly difficult with a police captain father (Shea Whigham) looking out for the safety of her personally and his city as a whole.

In her particular universe Peter Parker was unwittingly transformed into a mutant lizard, and in a battle between him and Gwen, she unfortunately prevailed, leading her father to believe Spider-Woman murdered his daughter’s best friend.  It’s complicated, see?  Initially chaotic and overwhelming it may be – between the story and the visuals, there’s a lot to process – screenwriters Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and David Callaham take the uniformity of Into the Spider-Verse and instead of merely copying their own blueprint, they enhance the page with a boldness that could very well set the standard for animated features moving forward; the Spider-Verse films the type that will let dotted prints, crooked lines and text blocks of exposition rest comfortably on screen without fear of appearing unpolished.

Planes of water-colour textures, inspired anime, and European Renaissance-style sketches fill each frame – depending on which dimension is being represented – and it’s such lush details as that that run the risk of drawing your eye away from the plot at hand; a plot that speaks to the magnitude of ambition and creativity of its writers and trio of directors, Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson.

That aforementioned plot eventually merges Gwen’s reality with that of Miles Morales’ (Shameik Moore).  Doing a much worse job at juggling crime fighting with the school responsibilities of a teenager, Miles’s Spider-Man moniker hasn’t quite had his cover blown yet, but his police officer father (Brian Tyree Henry) and concerned mother (Luna Lauren Vélez) are aware something is distracting their son.  That distraction is “villain of the week” Spot (Jason Schwartzman, arguably the weakest vocal performer on hand), an initially joke-in-appearance type who eventually reveals himself as a much stronger threat when he showcases the ability to travel throughout alternate dimensions; Across the Spider-Verse, if you will.

Like any good comic book movie, further detailing the plot would be doing a massive disservice to the film and to the fans.  For a great comic book movie like Across the Spider-Verse, lips are best remained sealed.  With the title suggesting multi-dimensional travel, it goes without saying that Spider-people of all shapes, sizes, race and gender are showcased throughout – with Oscar Isaac‘s brooding Miguel O’Hara, a “ninja Spider-Man” of the year 2099, overseeing the task to right the correctional wrong that Miles unknowingly started – but in what capacity is too grand a detail to share.

Speaking to a certain fatalistic temperament that feels necessary in creating a hero, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is at once an emotionally complex character study, whilst serving as affectionate tribute to the visual ingenuity that has been put forth in creating the comic series over the years.  It’s so optically fascinating that, even at 140 minutes, you’ll never be lost for sumptuousness.  Admittedly its length is occasionally felt – the film’s climax feels a little extended – but it’s the most minute critique for a film within a genre that, outside of a select few, has started to feel as if it was surviving on auto-pilot.


Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is now screening in Australian theatres.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.