Writer’s note: The second paragraph of this article (just below the first image) contains a basic outline of the film’s premise. There are no spoilers that weren’t already inferred in the film’s own trailer. However, if you want to completely avoid potential spoilers, skip over the second paragraph.
Usually it takes a good few years to see how any given film has (or hasn’t) influenced cinema, as the initial reactions don’t always give the full picture. For example, American Hustle (2013) was widely acclaimed upon release, but has completely faded from memory since. The Wizard of Oz (1939) was far from a success when it opened, yet is now considered one of the best, most famous and most influential films ever made. Very rarely can we see the cultural impact of a film immediately, but when it does happen it’s always something truly special. This brings us to the Oscar winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), a film so monumentally groundbreaking that it not only became the yardstick by which all comic book films are judged, but breathed new life into animation, and cinematic creativity as a whole. With such a notable stamp on popular culture, it was going to be near impossible to match, even for its own sequel, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023).
Set directly after the events of the first film, Across the Spider-Verse finds Gwen Stacey (Hailee Steinfeld) back in her universe, missing the friends she made in that previous adventure. This isolation isn’t helped by the complex relationship with her father, Captain George Stacey (Shea Whigham), who is hellbent on bringing down Spider-Woman (not knowing his own daughter is in fact his target). Meanwhile over in his universe, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is juggling his responsibilities as the new Spider-Man, with his responsibilities to his family and studies. As to be expected, this is not easy for anyone bearing the Spider-Man mantle, and Miles is no exception. However, this takes a turn for the bizarre when an unexpected new foe breaks the multiverse open once again, bringing Miles back into contact with Gwen, as well as Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Issac), the leader of a society of multiverse hopping Spider-men/women who aim to keep the various timelines in check. Miles wants to join the group, but the mysterious O’Hara is plotting to keep Miles out for mysterious reasons.
The tricky part with a film like Across the Spider-Verse is keeping the overall experience as fresh as the original. Into the Spider-Verse was lightning in a bottle, so any attempt to replicate its exact ingredients will likely appear as exactly that: a replication. This is most evident with something like Sin City (2005), which was so wrapped up in its heightened, neo-noir visual style, that the sequel just felt stale for doing the exact same thing. The likes of Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022), Entergalactic (2022), The Mitchells vs. The Machines (2021), The Bad Guys (2022) Arcane (2021), Klaus (2019) and many more have all copied Into the Spider-Verse’s visual style to some degree. Additionally, Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) and every Marvel Studios and Warner Brothers DC films have borrowed the story concept. to that end, what could Across the Spider-Verse possibly have to offer when every aspect of its predecessor has been picked clean? Simply put, Across the Spider-Verse has come out and yelled loudly “we invented this stuff, and only we can reinvent it”.
Right off the bat, Across the Spider-Verse steps up the original film’s already monumentally beautiful visuals in practically every aspect. The unique, hand drawn inspired, 3D animation is even more jaw-dropping this time around, as both the characters and the worlds they inhabit are all given their own specific designs, colours and styles. These are more than just aesthetic in nature, as every frame is telling us motivations and emotions. The imagery never remains static, with the colours and arrangements constantly shifting and changing as the stakes of the scenes change. This display is so carefully constructed and wonderfully realised, that it’s hard to imagine anyone saying these animators are anything less than true artists. Just like with the original film, watch and see how the entire industry will once again reshape itself to be more like Across the Spider-Verse.
Into the Spider-Verse was more than just a pretty picture, as the character work and narrative thematics were uncommonly rich for animated films, let alone Hollywood blockbusters in general. Across the Spider-Verse hasn’t lost any of that intelligence, building on the foundations set by the original to create an equally heartfelt and engaging story. Where the first film examined the weight of expectations, Across the Spider-Verse delves heavily into ideas around personal tragedies, and whether or not they should define your identity. This is especially noteworthy given the amount of films and TV shows that fetishise the bad things that happen to their characters, using their horrible pasts as reasons for why the characters themselves are ‘cool’. Across the Spider-Verse addresses this theme directly, building a strong case that bad things in your life aren’t what makes you who you are. This is an important message, as viewers have been (wrongly) trained to think that tragic moments are what makes their favourite characters compelling.
On an even broader level, Across the Spider-Verse doesn’t rest on its predecessors laurels in regards to the multiverse concept. In the years since Into the Spider-Verse’s release, we’ve seen how the multiverse has been used across cinematic media, so Across the Spider-Verse needed to find a new angle. Happily, that new angle came in the form of an incredibly layered commentary on Spider-Man, superhero stories, and blockbuster filmmaking in general. Namely, the idea of the multiverse is something that the culture at large has embraced due to the endless possibilities, as well as providing a feeling of rebirth in a very uncertain time. Given the state of things, who doesn’t love the thought that there’s unlimited options out there? The only thing is that most of the films we’ve received so far about the multiverse haven’t felt endless, with every alternate reality feeling not very far off our own. Across the Spider-Verse’s contention is that we need to truly break away from what we know to freely discover what’s new. Not only does Across the Spider-Verse preach this idea, but also delivers it with its zany mix of action, science-fiction, irreverent humour, animation and (occasionally) live-action.
With that in mind, Into the Spider-Verse achieved it’s now legendary status because it wasn’t afraid to break the rules, boldly toy with genre, structure and pacing. Even with all of Across the Spider-Verse’s merits, it was never going to match up to the original if it didn’t exhibit the same bravery. Thankfully, it not only follows through on Into the Spider-Verse’s fresh choices, but also displays its own boldness by breaking even more cinematic rules. Story points are set up, yet are paid off at unexpected points. Entire narrative threads play out long before their utility becomes clear, with all threads coming together in spectacular fashion. Typical character types are established, only for them to become something you couldn’t predict, yet somehow still feeling appropriate. Across the Spider-Verse manages to break every rule audiences expect right up to the final minute, and it still comes out a winner.
All that being said, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is widely considered to be a near-perfect film, and it has earned its place as one of the best films ever made, animated or otherwise. There are very few instances where a near-perfect film was matched by a near-perfect sequel. Some examples include The Godfather Part II (1974), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Aliens (1986). Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse has entered that very exclusive club.
Best way to watch it: All the time.