Hitting theaters five years after Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse wowed audiences, along with capturing the Best Animated Feature Film Academy Award, the sequel Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is somehow better.
Quite frankly, this film isn't just better than the original. It's one of the best films out so far this year. Period.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse explores more characters in a natural and nuanced way, that doesn't detract from the story or sideline Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) while expanding his own development. The initial focus of the story to be on Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), engaging the viewer in a new world, adds some beautiful context to not only Gwen's methods or motivations, but those of all the additional spider people encountered later on. Animation-wise, Gwen's world is stunning. Beautiful long sweeping brush strokes and popping color paint an almost Van Gogh-esque world that morphs into different patterns dependent on Gwen and her father's relationship. Balanced in style and engagement you feel transported to another dimension and are ever more empathetic to Gwen's struggles as Spider-Woman.
Much of where the film soars is rooted in this standard set from her world. When Miles is brought to the Spider-Verse to meet with the elite spider people of the multiverse, Miguel O'Hara (Oscar Isaac) is quick to bring up how the canon of Spider-Man connects all of them together. Every Spider-Person (or animal I guess) has to go through a level of trauma, a loss of a loved one, to truly become the Spider-Person of their world. Gwen understands this, pointing to the loss of her best friend Peter referenced in the first film and shown in the beginning of this one, and loses her father in a strictly emotional sense for majority of the film. All of the various Spider-People that share their story and struggle with Miles, and the audience, are so naturally expressive that even through the animated medium you can't help but really feel for everyone. Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) returns from the first film, with a hilarious new baby theme in tow, and immediately builds upon his stellar work from the first film. His, and Gwen's, careful tone around Miles to not break his heart, to care for him, and help him become Spider-Man is touching and emotionally outstanding.
The big twist of Miles' spider not being from his dimension, briefly hinted at in the first film through some "42" imagery throughout, and him not even belonging as a Spider-Person is gut wrenching. Spending this much time in Miles' corner along with Moore's wonderful voice acting, leads this reveal to be much more crushing than I expected. I want him to be the best Spider-Man he can be and I love watching him grow, exceeding all expectations. Pulling the rug out from under his spider feet was a great little twist and pushed Miles' character into a much more mature growth arc that I'm very excited to see play out in the next film.
Outside of the characters and the voice acting, the film capitalizes on the stunning animation of the first film by, what's that? That's right, making it even better. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a gorgeously crafted piece of artwork in which every frame could be hung in an art museum and studied endlessly. There's no way, no way, I caught everything I could've in just one viewing. The profusion of details in every frame is something that has to be digested over multiple viewings, and when the movie is so damn good it makes for an exciting goal. Many characters are animated in their own way, uniquely adding new flair and characterization to a wide array of wacky Spider-People. Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya) has one of the most interesting animation styles that at times can be difficult to digest visually, but is otherwise aesthetically phenomenal. There's various little shifts in shape and color throughout Spider-Punk/Hobie's movements that introduce more wrinkles into the frame, to the point where you may as well just stand up and applaud the animators for their sheer level of craftsmanship.
Another impeccable factor in the film is the sound. Oft an overlooked, yet important, part of an animated film is how all of these characters and voice actors sound on screen. How does the animated movement, mouthing, and action line up with what you're hearing? Poor sound mixing for an animated movie can immediately destroy any sort of audience engagement whereas a pitch-perfect sound team can elevate every scene to merge the animated medium with the physical reality. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse has some of the best sound mixing in an animated film. The crazy thing is how small, possibly mundane, the mixed pieces are. Something as subtle as a muffling of Miles' voice when his head is in his arms. Or when Miles sticks his head out of his window and yells at Gwen the shift in his vocals helps you adjust into believing he's outside instead of in his room. All in all, this was one of the most engaging animated films I've seen and definitely one of my favorite films of the year so far!
A superhero story that is so deeply rooted in the idea of finding your community, having a sense of belonging, only to have that very group tell you you don't belong, is so incredibly human it's hard to fathom. A teenager that has to wear a mask and have a double identity to exist across two worlds (now infinite?) in an attempt to find his place is astounding. One of the more mature characterizations of the superhero genre and to bundle it in a gorgeous animated film is downright amazing. I can't wait for the finale in Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse because this film has done what every other MCU film hasn't been able to do effectively.
End with a mind-blowing twist/cliffhanger that has me thirsting for more. I could watch a five hour mega-cut of anything related to these two, soon to be three, movies because I was so engrossed in the vibrant world created.
Oh, and more Spider-Cat please.
No, but seriously I'm obsessed with Spider-Cat. I laughed pretty hard when it came on screen and the web hair ball was a genius bit of animation. A couple of other favorite spider persons would definitely be the Spider-T-Rex, Spider-Red-Dead-Redemption-Guy, super serious comic book Spider-Man that likes to stare at walls, and of course I did really enjoy Pavitr Prabhakar (Karan Soni). I don't think you can go wrong with backing up any of the various spider persons, just like you can't go wrong with a beer choice for the film!
With so many options you're just gonna have to throw your weight behind one and pick it, which is what I did with Spider-Cat. Pairing with my fixation on this feline I went with the Meowsa! Double IPA from Georgetown Brewing. This has been an offering at the SIFF Cinema Uptown for a while and I'm a huge fan of it. Meowsa! is full of wonderful citrus flavor from a combination of Simcoe and Citra hops but also has a nice floral and bitterness element to it from some El Dorado and Columbus hops. Throw in a nice 2 row pale malt and some pilsner malts and you have a beautiful concoction of a double IPA. Of course, you have to pace yourself with this beer across the runtime of the film because it does hit pretty hard at a whopping 8.1% ABV, but overall the taste is well worth it.
I'm excited to see what spider persons come out to play in Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse and what beer I'll have to throw my support behind for it!