1 of 5 | Miles Morales swings through the air in "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse'. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation
LOS ANGELES, May 31 (UPI) -- Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, in theaters Friday, furthers both the multiverse concept of 2018's Into the Spider-Verse and the characters it introduced. The sequel also explores vivid animation style and has many relevant themes.
Gwen Stacey (voice of Hailee Steinfeld) is recruited from her universe to join Miguel O'Hara (Oscar Isaac) and Spider-Woman Jessica Drew (Issa Rae) in returning people stranded in the wrong universe after the events of the first movie.
In Miles Morales' (Shameik Moore) universe, a new villain called The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) also sprang from the aftermath of the first movie. When The Spot figures out how to traverse the multiverse, Miles reconnects with Gwen and learns how vast the multiverse truly is.
Across the Spider-Verse introduces the idea of newcomers disrupting a universe. The very arrival of someone who wasn't supposed to exist in a given universe is a disruption, let alone if they change something that was supposed to happen.
If it were simply a matter of altering a timeline, perhaps disruption could be forgiven, but apparently disruption eventually causes the entire universe to unravel. This theory also gives every iteration of Spider-Man significance in the grand scheme.
It suggests that every version of Spider-Man needs to be told, from all the comics to even the movie that rebooted only 10 years after the first one. Take that theme a step further, and it means every story needs to be told, whether it's in our universe or another one.
But also, life doesn't always follow the plan in one universe so an anomaly in the multiverse should be inevitable and part of the ever-expanding web, as it were, of stories. Fear of the unknown may prove to be as deadly as a collapsing universe.
As in-depth as the science-fiction multiverse plot is, Across the Spider-Verse displays more recognizable human interactions than most live-action movies. That includes many live-action Spider-Man movies.
When Gwen first tries to deflect Miles' interest in the gang of Spidey multiverse police, it seems like she just doesn't want another guy intruding on something that's hers. Her reasons are actually more complex, though she would be justified in simply keeping something for herself.
Both Miles and Gwen have superhero identities they are keeping secret from their parents. Their struggles to open up, as well as their parents mistakes in shutting their kids' down, are universal to kids and parents.
Most kids don't have something quite as major as a double life to confess, but everyone has trouble opening up to their parents. Parents also struggle with making things harder when they're trying to open that communication.
Neither set of parents are ready to question their ingrained beliefs. That makes it hard for kids to trust them, but it's the new generation's place to open hearts and minds, which is nevertheless a lot to ask of teenagers.
Spider-Verse can pack a lot into the dense, intense animation style. The speedy narrative includes clever non sequiturs because it can afford to devote an extra second to a joke when it's packing so much in.
The film is well-paced and gives the audience breathers after especially intense sequences. Sometimes you may miss some dialogue as the sound mix tries to keep up with the visuals.
The visuals are less concerned with depicting reality than with conveying emotion. Gwen's universe has a watercolor background that sometimes bleeds when characters make contact.
It can be abstract and still convey the story. Text in a comic book paneling format sometimes helps the viewer follow along.
When digital visual effects can make anything look real in a live-action movie, Spider-Verse devises villains unique to the animated milieu. The Spot's powers are so bizarre, they could probably do it in live-action but it would just look weird. In animation it's funny.
The Spot can place portals anywhere, including on his own body. Physical bodies move through those portals, which gets even weirder when Spot is reaching through himself, and he can't exactly control them accurately either.
With Beyond the Spider-Verse coming next year, Across the Spider-Verse leaves the story in a satisfying place, suggesting even more possibilities. Based on the first two, there is every reason to have faith this creative team has a worthy conclusion in store.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.