Across the Spider-Verse” review: The Spider-Man sequel is even more colorful and creative, if incomplete.

The highly anticipated sequel builds upon the strengths of the 2018 Oscar-winning hit, but its expansive narrative proves to be too much for a single movie.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse may arguably stand as one of the best superhero films of the last five years, if not the single most influential one of recent times. Its impact has reverberated across both live-action and animation, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe drawing inspiration from its multiversal concept in Spider-Man: No Way Home, and its vibrant visual style inspiring other animated works like Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and The Mitchells vs. The Machines. With such high expectations set by its predecessor, the long-awaited Spider-Verse sequel, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, delivers on its promise with stunning visuals and profound character development.

While the first film explored the joyous journey of becoming Spider-Man, the sequel delves into the challenges and sacrifices inherent in being Spider-Man on a daily basis. It tackles the weighty responsibility of the mantle and the personal struggles faced by its characters as they navigate their roles as superheroes.

In Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, there’s a noticeable shift in storytelling focus. While Miles Morales remains a significant character, the central point of view transitions to his friend from another dimension, Gwen Stacy, also known as Spider-Woman. This shift brings a refreshing perspective to the narrative, offering viewers a deeper exploration of Gwen’s character and her experiences as a superhero.

Spider-Man (Shameik Moore) and Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE

In EW’s original review of Into the Spider-Verse, writer Darren Franich criticized the film for dedicating too much time to the original Peter Parker character, despite the introduction of new heroes like Gwen and Miles. However, Across the Spider-Verse addresses this concern more effectively. While Peter still makes appearances, voiced by Jake Johnson, his role is largely comedic, serving as a humorous portrayal of new parents obsessed with showing off baby pictures.

This sequel prioritizes Gwen’s character development, delving into her backstory and exploring her complex relationship with her father, who unknowingly hunts Spider-Woman while being her own daughter. This dynamic adds depth and complexity to Gwen’s character, offering a perspective distinct from Peter and Miles. Additionally, the film expands on the romantic tension between Gwen and Miles, particularly in a beautifully choreographed rooftop swing sequence across Brooklyn. By giving Gwen her own narrative arc, the film avoids reducing her character to merely a love interest for the male hero—a common trope in Spider-Man movies.

One standout sequence occurs early in the film when Gwen’s world is infiltrated by a Renaissance-inspired version of the Vulture, equipped with projectile weapons and flying contraptions reminiscent of Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketches. The clash between this Vitruvian Vulture, Gwen’s vibrant animation style, and the cyberpunk technology of Spider-Man 2099 creates a visually stunning spectacle. While some might describe movie frames as resembling paintings, this scene feels more like a painting hurled into a holographic comic book projected as part of a high-tech art installation. It’s truly breathtaking to behold.

However, not all characters share the same enthusiasm for these multiversal mash-ups. The Spider-Society, a group dedicated to maintaining the barriers between dimensions, is adamant about preserving the “canon” of Spider-Man across the multiverse. Yet, not everyone appreciates being confined to predetermined roles. When Miles initially dismisses the Spot as a disposable “villain of the week,” the character takes it upon himself to enhance his abilities and become a formidable threat worthy of the Spider-Man legacy.

Spider-Man/Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animations’ SPIDER-MAN™: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE

The result is a mixed bag. Gwen gets a complete arc, while Miles does not. The two-movie split does give the filmmakers more time with Miles’ family, and his mother Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Vélez) especially pops as a warm, loving character. Too many superhero movies try to imitate Batman and his missing-parents motivation, but Across the Spider-Verse mines greater emotional depth by exploring the familial relationships of Gwen and Miles from the perspectives of both parents and children. It truly is a family movie in that sense, with relevance for viewers of many different ages.

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