Rating: 5 out of 5.

Serving as the definitive Spider-Man cinematic experience, Across the Spider-Verse expands the scope of the mythology like never before, forming a deeply emotional visual extravaganza. This trio of directors (Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson) have crafted a movie that manages to transcend its complex inspirations. While the previous animated iteration, Into the Spider-Verse, was one of the best reviewed comic book movies ever, this sequel tops it in every imaginable way. That a subgenre filled with clichés can deliver a film so overstuffed with constant surprises makes an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film a surefire inevitability. Miles Morales grows immeasurably as a teenager discovering himself—balanced aside Gwen Stacy’s moving arc, the character work here is remarkable. Eagle-eyed viewers should keep a lookout for the plethora of franchise Easter eggs sprinkled throughout, in this unique exploration of the Spidey mythos.

In the time that passed since the ending of Into the Spiderverse, Miles (Shameik Moore) and Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) are separated by a literal world. He is stuck over on Earth-1610, while Gwen hides her true identity from her obsessed father (Shea Whigham) over on Earth-65. Myles struggles with keeping his burgeoning crime-fighting as the new Spider-Man separate from his schooling. Over the last four months, Miles recalls, he has designed a new suit, issued numerous public apologies over hilariously small incidents, but moreover, Miles cannot stop thinking about the friends he made when the dimensional holes threatened to end them all. Gwen similarly cannot figure out where she belongs without Miles, who was essentially her only friend. Not even her own Mary Janes Band can distract Gwen long enough to bring her out of her funk.

The introduction of a watch capable of multi-dimensional travel changes everything. Just as Gwen’s personal life is on the brink of collapse, Spider-Man 2099 arrives with a mission to return all things to their actual time and place. Reluctantly, he brings Gwen along to join an elite society of Spider-people for a dimension-hopping out-of-this-world adventure. So where does Miles fit into this? Apparently nowhere, as Gwen’s new friends are reluctant to grant him access to their world. When “villain of the week” The Spot (Jason Schwartzman, whose awkward personality perfectly fits the character) actually becomes a hole-consuming supervillain, Miles must decide whether to leave behind his obligations and potentially destroy the relationship he has with his loving parents in order to pursue a horrifying threat and potentially save the world before it’s too late.

The very concept here allows for a Rogue’s Gallery of both villains and heroes, but Across the Spider-Verse is so much more than just a greatest hits compilation. Meta humor colors the proceedings with a different approach from most Spidey features. The weight of the world is nothing compared to the pressures of commitment weaving heavy over both Peter and Gwen to repair their familial ties. Emotional resonance ripples through both of these core storylines. This second chapter of the Spider-Verse trilogy may not hit the same tragic highs as Uncle Aaron’s death in Into the Spider-Verse, but I have a feeling the next film will be devastating.

As with the previous movie, the soundtrack and score only add to the zinging, web-slinging fast-paced energy. A movie that gifts us with the single greatest version of the Spider-Man pointing at himself meme cannot be ignored. My favorite of the new characters is undoubtedly Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya), whose badassery knowns no bounds. Furthermore, the film’s massive scale and implications could easily supercharge Spidey films forevermore.

Across the Spider-Verse cleverly recaps events of the previous movie in a unique way without overdoing the exposition. Comic-strip bubbles and split-screen is used to convey everything from slang word definitions to mythology-drop descriptions. As a huge video game fan, I really enjoyed this approach myself. It immerses the audience in whatever is onscreen by adding rare additional visual context. Crisp, eye-popping animation fits perfectly with the Dolby Vision format; the colorful comic-book style has frankly never looked better. Into the Spider-Verse had a slightly more rough around the edges charm to its animation—Across the Spider-Verse smooths out the action into something decidedly more beautiful. Stunning framing of shots and filmmaking techniques drive the medium of animation to further heights. We almost never see this cinematic attention to detail from mainstream animation, unless Pixar comes into the conversation.

Across the Spider-Verse contains the single most jaw-dropping cliffhanger since 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. At the very least, watercooler conversation amongst casual and hardcore fans alike should make the laborious wait for 2024’s epic finale Beyond the Spider-Verse sting just a little less. This is a special, explosive and altogether beautiful experience of a movie that will become a favorite for families everywhere. Despite an over-saturation of comic book film content, Across the Spider-Verse is a knockout of a movie unlike anything we have ever seen before.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse breaks through the multiverses and into cinemas nationwide on Friday, June 2nd.

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