Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse movie review: This Spidey adventure is visually brilliant art but a frustrating watch


Director: Joaquim Dos Santos and Kemp Powers

Cast: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Iscar Isaac, Daniel Kaluya, Brian Tree Henry, Luna Lauren Vélez, Jake Johnson, Jason Schwartzman, Karan Soni, and Issa Rae

Where to watch: Theatres

Rating: 3 stars

In 2018, when Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was released, the film was a milestone in animation. The way it utilised different styles of animation and painting to depict different worlds set a benchmark. It was also the first film to talk about the multiverse before MCU and Everything Everywhere All At Once took it mainstream a few years later. The sequel Across the Spider-Verse takes that art style a notch higher with beautifully intricate urban landscapes, creatively dazzling use of colours, and a canvas filled with life. But where it struggles to match up to its illustrious predecessor is the actual plot and content.

Years have passed since the events of Into the Spider-Verse. Miles Morales is older now and he is trying to adjust being Spider-Man with the weight of academic pressures and his parents’ expectations. Meanwhile, in another dimension, his friend Gwen Stacy is also facing the same hurdles. Things change when Gwen learns there is an ‘elite task force’ of Spider-people who protect the multiverse and she joins them. But soon, Miles’ world is also intertwined with the multiversal threat and Miles must decide if he can trust the Spider Society or go against them to protect those he loves.

Across the Spider-Verse is art. The way the different universes and dimensions have been constructed and depicted is sheer genius. The film painstakingly, and in great detail, marks subtle and obvious differences between different worlds that are quite apparent through different art styles. The homage to vintage comic books is clever, wonderfully done, and brilliantly presented. Some of the frames ought to be framed and hung in a museum. It takes the bar set by Into the Spider-Verse and sets it higher.

But art is not the only thing that makes a film. The plot has to move with the same finesse too. Here, the sequel is found lacking. The story moves slowly at first, setting up multiple arcs, before reaching breakneck pace with action happening at every turn and then collapses into a disappointing conclusion. Where Across the Spider-Verse lost me is that it becomes all too predictable after a while. And even as you can predict what will happen, the characters are clueless which makes them across as naive, making sure you can’t fully root for them or even like them as much as you should. I just wish the writing was half as clever as the animation. This film would have been a masterpiece.

The film is salvaged somewhat by its performers. Shameik Moore as the 15-year-old Miles is the film’s beating heart and he does well, as does Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen. The two form the emotional core of the film and the two actors up their game after a relatively less intense Into the Spider-Verse. But the real winners are Karan Soni as the Indian Spider-Man Pavitr Prabhakar and Daniel Kaluya as Hobie. The maverick characters are much more likable than the leads and the actors do justice to them. The film’s biggest crime is reducing Oscar Isaac’s Miguel O’Hara to an angry trope. Both the character and the actor deserve better.

Without spoiling much, I can reveal that the film does end on a note that directly sets up part three, the already announced Beyond the Spider-Verse. So, fans of the franchise may find it a must-watch. But in isolation, as a standalone movie, Across the Spider-Verse disappoints, largely because of the expectations one had from it. Hey, but if you are Indian, you can totally go cheer for our boy Pavitr Prabhakar from Mumbattan!

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