I’m not a superhero enthusiast, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Spidey, maybe because his origin story, while admittedly rife with the tiresome trappings of adolescent male power fantasy, is at its core a coming-of-age tale. In that tradition, 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse allows its Spider-Man, Miles Morales, to not only find himself, but also find his tribe: a variety of spider-heroes, each representing a different far-flung dimension. The demographically diverse influx of coexisting spider-personae makes the character more universal; the script’s breezy wit takes the edge off the frenetic action; and the production’s rich visual style is an undisputed landmark in animation, the first animated blockbuster in decades to truly embrace the form’s expressive essence. And though a sequel is undoubtedly in the offing, Into the Spider-Verse feels more like a satisfying standalone story than the launch of a franchise.
Like its predecessor, 2023’s Across the Spider-Verse is a lot of fun and it looks amazing, but its premise makes for a somewhat contrived sequel. Without getting into spoilers, it expands on the first film primarily by introducing dozens of additional interdimensional spider-heroes. I give it a lot of credit for keeping this Byzantine multiverse comprehensible, especially when it’s literally in constant motion, but ultimately its haywire maximalism feels self-conscious and unnecessary, like a Rick and Morty for non-edgelords. Meanwhile, the Morales family drama meant to balance the multiverse madness is ponderous and corny.
It does have an interesting narrative twist that simultaneously trumpets the virtue of forging one’s own path and lambasts fandom culture’s stifling preoccupation with “canon,” but it’s hard to tell if that theme is undercooked or just unfinished, because the film ends with a rather abrupt “to be continued…”.
In short, Across the Spider-Verse is a fun summer movie and a treat for the eyeballs, but it’s both overstuffed and incomplete, and not the essential viewing the first film was.