There are some essential pieces that flow throughout every Spider-Man story. First, the motif of “with great power, comes great responsibility.” A superhero has these extraordinary abilities, but how and when they use them has to be at the right moments. There are the wisecracks and wit while trying to apprehend various criminals. Finally, the tug of living a double life will forever be present – you’ll never have your feet firmly planted in one facet. Thus, you’ll always feel as though a part of you is missing – whether it's not being able to save someone or being present for the personal moments that count. Peter Parker is Marvel’s resident sad boy in a way Bruce Wayne is for DC.
2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse featured a Brooklyn-born teenager in Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), whose very own rise into his own flew in the face of what was conventional in his universe. He watched Spider-Man die, got bit by a spider not meant for him, had a crisis of faith in himself, then dug deep and found it to save the world. But to hell with the conventional canon, right? After all, the deviation gave us Miles himself. However, being the only Spider-Man in the universe can get lonely. When we catch up with Miles in Across the Spider-Verse one year later, he feels stress in multiple parts of his life.
There’s trying to be a teenager, keeping his parents happy (and keeping his crime-fighting identity secret from them), and missing his friends – Gwen Stacey (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld). The concept of being the only one gets blown away when Miles has a run-in with novice bad guy, The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), a former scientist who can go through interdimensional portals due to an accident resulting in the first film. Some funny banter between Morales and The Spot happens when the hero dismisses him as the “villain of the week.”
However, in the spirit of showing consequences, The Spot becomes more formidable as he gets his bearings. The problem sequels run into is losing their center as they widen their scope going to different worlds and introducing more characters. Across the Spider-Verse’s directorial team of Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson, not only don’t forget the connective tissue that made the first film great, but expound upon it, tying together the entire Spider-Man storyline.
The Spot’s multiversal aspirations catch the attention of the Spider Society, headed by Miguel O’Hara / Spider-Man 2099 (voiced by Oscar Issac) and Jessica Drew (voiced by Issa Rae). This organization of more than 200+ Spider-people is a whos who of fun cameos implemented for humor or to move the story along. They don’t feel like they are shoehorned into the film. Come to find out, Gwen is a part of this group who moves throughout the universes and tries to seal up anything out of sorts. You could imagine their frustration seeing The Spot making a mess of everything. This brings Miles and Gwen together again; Stacey herself is exiled from her world because of a tragedy she was blamed for.
As we go to different Spider universes and the stunning animation styles are interwoven throughout this film, writers Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and David Callaham don’t lose that home is where the heart is. Some of the most touching moments within Across the Spider-Verse happen while Miles talks to his mother, Rio (Luna Lauren Vélez). She reminds Miles never to lose “home” or let the outside world make him feel unwanted. The film makes a good effort to expand upon showing his Afro-Latino heritage – where these words of advice can be a double entendre.
The voice acting from Moore brings the various competing emotions running through Miles to life – hell, pretty much all the voice acting from Rae, Issac, Steinfeld, Karan Soni, and Daniel Kaluuya bring a distinctness to all these characters. You’ll sit back and wonder how a tale of his magnitude could improve an already fantastic template.
This sequel’s animation excels in both the small and large moments – where Miles and Gwen can take in the city alone upside down on a skyscraper and many of the Across the Spider Verse’s tightly made action sequences. Daniel Pemberton’s score moves throughout many genres of music and ties things together with classical elements to invoke what can’t be said in plain sight. Why does everything have to have a pre-ordained way to go? Another significant question is why loss must always be an ingredient to make a do-gooder what they are.
Across the Spider-Verse pokes fun, looks at its ethos with a critical eye and elects to try to deviate from the script with the best character to do so.