We’ve been talking about animation a lot lately. The history, its limitations, its triumphs. The style and art form have existed on the big screen for more than 100 years at this point and it’s often easy to overlook these films. I mean, kids’ movies, right? Not so, my friends. Sometimes a movie comes along capable of reminding us just where animation can take us. It is art after all. It’s with that, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse hits theaters this week, ready to captivate the eyes and tug on the heart. Is it worth getting caught in this web? Read on! 

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse follows Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Life is going pretty well. He’s juggling school and superhero-ing with only minor complications. 

Gwen Stacy as "Spider-Gwen" fires a web from her web shooters.

Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE.

However, things shift suddenly when he comes across a new supervillain with a strange skill set. The man known as “The Spot” (Jason Schwartzman) appears with a peculiar power and an uncanny knowledge of what makes Miles tick, something seems off. Is this his nemesis? Every superhero needs a nemesis after all. 

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With the reappearance of Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Miles is pulled into a strange multi-verse. Suddenly, he’s not alone. However, Miles also must learn the world isn’t as simple as it once felt. Jake Johnson, Oscar Isaac, Issa Rae, and Daniel Kaluuya co-star in the movie. Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson direct the film from a script by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Dave Callaham. 

Few animated films in recent years… heck, in recent decades have truly classified as “art.” Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse stands alongside movies like Sleeping Beauty as examples of just how beautiful animation can be when done right. 

Gwen Stacy as "Spider-Gwen" looks through a broodingly colorful rainbow of debris.

Gwen Stacy in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE.

Watching Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, each and every frame stands out in its beautiful vibrancy. In fact, there isn’t a second of the movie which isn’t framable art. 

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However, unlike so many classic animated works, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse isn’t limited by a consistent style. Instead, the art is symbolic of mood, environment, and feeling. This free-wheeling vibrancy serves almost as sneaky character development. We learn about these people and the worlds which they populate without weighty exposition pulling the story to a halt. We see where the characters are mentally by looking at the frame and with that, they’re that much more human. 

Meanwhile, the intersection, of animation, script, and voice performance further results in a beautifully human feature. In fact, I’d go as far as to say there’s more humanity in Miles and Gwen’s story than in many of 2023’s live-action films… especially of the franchise variety. 

Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy enjoy private time together as they look over New York while sitting on the underside of a building.

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

This is also thanks to a well-crafted blend of creative tones and vocal performances. Jason Schwartzman dominates as “The Spot” bringing a manic performance that brings a new level to this already zany character. 

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Meanwhile, the same can also be said about Daniel Kaluuya who once again stands out as a film’s MVP.  He’s just that good. His take on Hobie “Spider-Punk” Brown is a flipping delight. He nails the humor allowing a character who could easily fade into the background to emerge as a fan favorite. In Kaluuya’s hands, Hobie looks cool, but he manages to sound even cooler. I’ll say it. I want a “Spider-Punk” spin-off.

At the same time though, the film is awash in Lord and Miller humor. The comedy creators return to write after also penning the series’ first film, 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. 

Miles Morales fights "The Spot" with the help of Gwen Stacy.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) take on The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN™: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE.

Their comedy voice is all over this story. It’s quippy and pop culture savvy. From this film to their early work on The Lego Movie, Lord and Miller aren’t afraid to show their giddy joy in everything they do. They’re fans and it shows. 

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Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is plain and simply a love letter to Spider-Man. It isn’t inaccessible for those who aren’t fully versed on every incarnation of the character, but those who are in the know will love it that much more. There’s a chase sequence in the second act set in the Spider-Man multiverse which is a shining example of this pop culture joy. It’s a must-see for fans of the web-slinger. I for one never knew Spider-Man could also be a cowboy! Who knew? 

Ultimately, the biggest downside is the story’s pacing. The film is a beast at almost two and a half hours. While there’s plenty of humor and fun, it struggles occasionally with its length before hitting a frustrating wall with a surprising cliffhanger ending. 

Gwen Stacy, Jessica Drew and Peter Parker stare into the camera as they think though their next move.

Jessica Drew (Issa Rae), Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) and his daughter Mayday in Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animations’ SPIDER-MAN™: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE.

With that being said though, I don’t think Spider-Man fans will feel the length as much as casual viewers like myself. There is so much here to see and so many references to take in, it’s a lot of fun to watch, especially for those who know what they’re looking for. Easter eggs certainly abound. 

Often animation can just be animation. Every so often though a movie comes along reminding us it can be a genuine cinema. Yes, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a comic book movie. It’s more than that, however. This heartfelt story, gorgeous animation, and these fun performances make this a stunning must-see this summer. If you’re a fan of “Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man,” don’t miss Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse opens in theaters around the country on June 2, 2023.


Kimberly Pierce
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