How do you follow-up one of the greatest animated films of all time? You go even harder.
The last time we saw Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), he had just donned the mantle of Marvel's favorite web-slinger after a harrowing fight with the Kingpin over the fate of Earth-1610. Along the way, he gets mentored by Peter B. Parker and becomes friends with similar Spider-Heroes such as Spider-Gwen, Peni Parker, Spider-Noir and Spider-Ham, who all traveled to his pocket of the Spider-Verse via supercollider. That film ended with a promise: Miles chilling until gravity takes a break and familiar day-glo colors signal the arrival of fellow Spider-hero Gwen Stacy.
That’s the Cliff’s Notes version of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” the 2018 animated film that ended up winning an Oscar, an Annie and other accolades. Worth noting is that movie’s unique visual style – 2D animation on top of CGI, halftones and misaligned colors, Ben-Day Dots and Kirby Krackle, speed lines and word balloons – all blending together for a bold new look.
That uniqueness spawned worthwhile imitators such as “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” while its introduction of various Spider-Man variants jumpstarted the live action “Spider-Man: No Way Home” movie just three years later.
Interesting note: Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland almost had cameos in the first Spider-Verse movie except Sony had deemed the idea as too soon. With “No Way Home” earning $2 billion, it’s hard to argue with that call.
So what does one do for a sequel?
Try this on for size: a more grown-up Miles Morales still doing his Spider-Man thing; one eye out for a possible reunion with Gwen even as his school and home life slowly disintegrate. We’d call it Parker luck except Miles doesn’t have that, it’s just the impossible balancing act of saving the world from the villain of the week without failing his classes.
A visit from the aforementioned Gwen brings an interesting wrinkle to the story, with Gwen pointing out what happened to other Gwens who get tangled up with Spider-Men. And then another adventure into the Spider-Verse with new recruits Spider-Man India and Spider-Punk, which leads to chaos and consequences, and the introduction to the Spider-Society – a universe full of heroes who share similar traits with Spider-Man.
Giving anymore away would be a disservice to anyone who would want to experience it in theaters because here’s the thing: “Spider-Man Across The Spider-Verse” may well be the best Spider-Man movie ever made. Full stop.
It is freakishly inventive – the animation styles varying from washed out watercolors that bleed onscreen to scrapbook-style 2D to parchment art. My nerd brain exploded after seeing Spider-Man 2099/Miguel O Hara in Spider-Man artist Rick Leonardi's angular style while chortling over Ben freaking Reilly in full on Mark Bagley mode.
“Across The Spider-Verse” is also freakishly funny. The best thing about the first Spider-Verse is that it hilariously rewatchable, with some of the gags only becoming apparent after several viewings. Here, the jokes also come in fast: Miguel O Hara/Spider-Man 2099 being referred to as “Dark Garfield” and “Macho Libre” had me in stitches as well as an ad with the tagline “With great powder comes great responsibility.”
Even better is the story: “Across The Spider-Verse” doesn’t quite follow the rules when it comes to sequels. Gwen’s story gets more focus – the start of the movie tells her unique origin story for a full 20 minutes even before we get to the opening credits. Miles’ story with his parents also get fleshed out: if the first movie laid out the groundwork on Miles’ struggle with prep school while gaining superpowers, this one is about the crushing weight of that dual role of being both Spider-Man and a student.
In lesser hands, this portion would be a drag but Miles’ conflict with his parents is never boring, is the lynchpin for the challenge ahead. In the first movie, you root for Miles because his parents and even his uncle, the Prowler, all root for him even before he is ready to take on the Spider-mantle.
Here, it is his mother who reminds Miles that even when he goes off on his adventures: “They won’t look out for you like us. They won’t root for you like us.” Another scene between Gwen and her dad carries similar weight: these characters aren’t just swinging to plot points A to B but living out lives that experience hurt, anger, pain and love. No other animated movie, or even live action movie except perhaps “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once,” has mined such emotional depths while swinging from universe to universe.
We haven’t even got to the movie’s villain, The Spot, who starts out as a hilariously unconvincing bad guy to what maybe the scariest nemesis for Miles and the rest of the Spider-Society. “Across The Spider-Verse” is just that good: even when you don’t spend that much time with the villain, the story still holds up.
SLAVES TO CANON
What really lights up this movie is its total fearlessness. After the first movies gave us five different versions of Spider-Man plus Miles, here we have the Spider-Society – an explosion of Spider-Man variants for every universe. This is where you go – I think we’ll be pausing these parts a lot because of all the Easter eggs and cameos.
“Across The Spider-Verse” goes one better, though, because it continues that embrace of Spider-lore while also upending the rules. There’s a reason why the trailers show all the Spider-Society people trying to stop Miles but that would be telling.
“Across The Spider-Verse” wades in dangerous waters – it dares to question Miles’ origin and his place in the Spider-Verse. At a meta level, you could see it as commentary on several things – the suffocating rigidity of canon, on a legacy character being given a place in the spotlight when the original version is still alive and kicking, or even what a Spider-Man movie “should be.”
Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and David Callaham, the three writers of this sequel, may have created the greatest “what if” story for this Spider-Man; their own little homage to Star Trek’s “City on The Edge of Forever” – on inevitability that cannot be defied.
“Spider-Verse” dares to defy that sci-fi trope but does it out of love – love for the character and canon be damned. It’s a middle finger to the guidance counselor in the movie who says “you have a great story” and then proceeds to go into hackneyed clichés about the Morales family.
For Lord, Miller and Callaham, cliché is death - for creativity, for idea, for story. “Spider-Verse” achieves that rare feat of capturing lightning twice simply bucking convention, no matter how many slaves to canon say “you can’t do that.” When the movie ends, on an "Empire Strikes Back" cliffhanger, you could feel the collective groans across the cinema.
Yes. we're right here at your door, Spider-Verse, and we want more.
"Beyond the Spider-Verse" cannot come soon enough.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is now showing in Philippine cinemas.