Picking up about a year and a half from the events of the Oscar-winning film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse takes us back to the animated world of teenaged Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), who is Spider-Man in his universe after the death of his universe’s Peter Parker. 


That adventure introduced Miles to the “Spider-verse”, a multiverse of Spider-people such as “Spider-Noir” and “Spider-Ham” and “Spider-Gwen”, aka a Gwen Stacy who doesn’t die (here voiced by Hailee Steinfeld). Miles has a huge crush on Gwen, but separated as they are in different dimensions, he is left to pine, alone, in his home world. His family doesn’t know he’s Spider-Man, and he, like all Peter Parkers, struggles to balance his everyday life as a teenager and his superhero job. 

Across the Spider-Verse (directed by the trio of Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson, and written by the trifecta of Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and David Callaham) is in almost all respects a fantastic sequel. The animation remains eye-poppingly beautiful, chock full of visual inventiveness that can only be realized in this medium. The bendy physics of animation makes for especially stunning web-slinging sequences through cities and the multiverse, and every frame of this film is stuffed with beauty and wonder. More than any other superhero film, because the Spider-Verse films are animated, they capture the breathless feeling of turning a comic book page and being amazed by some new intricate image.


And Across the Spider-Verse effectively ups the stakes for both Miles and Gwen, continuing to deepen their relationship even as the consequences of their actions mount, and not just in their home universes. Miles’ blunder across the multiverse opens the door to the villainous Spot (Jason Schwartzman) becoming a major threat, and not the one-off member of the rogue’s gallery he initially seems. But the real antagonist of Across the Spider-Verse is Miguel O’Hara, aka Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), a particularly humorless Spider-person who is dead set against Miles joining “The Spider Society”, a group of Spider-people dedicated to preserving the multiverse.

There is so much energy and joy in Across the Spider-Verse, especially in the chemistry between Miles and Gwen, but if there is a knock on the film, it’s that after the utter revelation of Into the Spider-Verse, Across lacks the ability to surprise. The visuals are still stunning, but there is not the feeling of discovery the first film offered, which is only to be expected now that we know the aesthetic of these movies. Also, as this is the second entry into a planned trilogy—Beyond the Spider-Verse is due next year—Across does the thing Fast X and The Two Towers does and just stops. 


Film is a unique narrative form, and films end. That is literally the difference between film and television—films have definitive endings. Even within a larger franchise context, individual films should have endings. A recent example of this is Avengers: Infinity War, which has a fantastic ending. If we never saw another MCU film, that is a helluva ending. Sad, yes, but an ending all the same. Similarly, the go-to example everyone always gives as a great middle franchise entry is The Empire Strikes Back, but that film, too, has a definitive ending. Like Infinity War, it’s a sad ending for the plucky heroes, but it is an ending, nonetheless. Across the Spider-Verse, however, has no ending. It’s frustrating, when the rest of the narrative is firing on all cylinders, delivering witty dialogue, delicious teen angst, and compelling drama. In the face of all the good writing that precedes the ending, “To be continued…” feels lazy. 


There’s also a slight issue with multiverse stories in and of themselves, that they are inherently exhausting and that with every superhero thing invested in a multiverse arc, there is a certain degree of tedium in the proceedings. Across The Spider-Verse offers the almost obligatory montage of skipping through different universes—impressionistic, LEGO, live-action, et cetera—which we’ve already seen in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Again, the sheer scope of the animation renders (most) of these universes interesting to look at, even for just a few seconds, but it does have that “seen it before” feeling. 

It really drives home that what makes Spider-Verse special are the characters and the story. The animation allows for a unique look and feel that, honestly, serves superheroes and especially Spider-Man better than live action, but now that these films have an established aesthetic, the thing that makes each film feel fresh is the new adventure Miles and Gwen embark upon. 


Though they are still teenagers, they are a little bit older and should be a little bit wiser, and how they handle the multiverse, and The Spot and Miguel O’Hara, is what makes Across the Spider-Verse a great sequel, a great superhero movie, and a great Spider-Man story. I just wish it had a real ending.

This review was published during the WGA strike of 2023. The work being reviewed would not exist without the labor of writers. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is exclusively in theaters from June 2, 2023.