Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023) poster

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)


USA. 2023.


Directors – Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers & Justin K. Thompson, Screenplay – Dave Callaham, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, Producers – Avi Arad, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Amy Pascal & Christina Steinberg, Music – Daniel Pemberton, Visual Effects Supervisor – Michael Lasker, Animation – Sony Pictures Imageworks, Senior Animation Supervisor – Humberto Rosa, Animation Supervisors – Chad Ellis, Emmanuel Gatera, Chelsea Gordon-Ratzlaff, Rohini Kumar, Nicholas Nostbakken, Jeff Panko, Daniel Pozo, Philip Rudolph, Adam Sarophim, Samuel Arturo Rico Vazquez & Kelsey Wagner, Production Design – Patrick O’Keefe. Production Company – Sony/Marvel/Sony Pictures Animation/Pascal Pictures/Lord Miller.


Shameik Moore (Miles Morales/Spider-Man), Hailee Steinfeld (Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman), Brian Tyree Henry (Jefferson Davis), Luna Lauren Velez (Rio Morales), Jason Schwartzman (Spot/Johnathon Ohnn), Oscar Isaac (Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099), Jake Johnson (Peter B. Parker/Spider-Man), Issa Rae (Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman), Daniel Kaluuya (Hobie Brown/Spider-Punk), Karan Soni (Pavitr Prabhakar/Spider-Man India), Shea Whigham (George Stacy), Greta Lee (LYLA), Mahershala Ali (Uncle Aaron), Peter Sohn (Ganke Lee), Amandla Steinberg (Margo Kress/SpiderByte), Andy Samberg (Ben Reilly)


On Earth-65, Gwen Stacy operates as Spider Woman. In a battle with a version of Vulture from another dimension, she receives aid from other multiverse incarnations of Spider-Man who form the Spider Society. Her father, a police captain, comes in to arrest her, believing her responsible for the death of Peter Parker of this timeline, and Gwen chooses to reveal her identity to him, but this does not go well. Meanwhile, on Earth-1610, Miles Morales tries to juggle his school day with the mantle of Spider-Man. He fights the villain Spot who can use the spots on his skin to form portals. Miles misses Gwen, whom he considers his only friend. She then reappears, come to track Spot who has gained an ability to use his spots to cross the multiverse. Miles follows Gwen through the inter-dimensional portal and becomes involved alongside assorted members of the Spider Society as they try to stop Spot. Miles ends up saving the father of Pavitr Prabhakar, the Indian Spider-Man of Mumbhattan, only to inadvertently cause the universe to collapse. He is taken to the Spider Society’s headquarters filled with hundreds of different versions of Spider-Man. There it is explained that in all incarnations of Spider-Man there are canonical events, which always include the death of a police official/father figure and that these cannot be altered without the timeline falling apart. When Miles realises that this means the death of his father and that he is not permitted to prevent it, he rebels against his fate.

Amid the explosion of comic-book properties on the big screen throughout the 2010s/20s that has been the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Sony Pictures has held onto the copyright of Spider-Man for dear life. In the midst of this, they have produced three different live-action series with the Tobey Maguire starring trilogy Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007); the Andrew Garfield starring The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014); and Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019) and Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) featuring Tom Holland. In addition, they have made efforts to integrate with the MCU with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man making appearances in Captain America: Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019) Besides that they have begun making spinoffs based on Spider-Man villains such as Venom (2018), Morbius (2022) and Kraven the Hunter (2024). Indeed, with the MCU looking a bit anaemic and fatigued since 2019, it is Sony’s Spider-Man franchise – in particular, No Way Home and Across the Spider-Verse – that are out there earning the big box-office returns that many of Marvel’s most recent films have failed to do.

One of these spinoffs was the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018). This introduced Miles Morales as Spider-Man and was based around the Spider-Verse comic book series that was spread across some thirty Spider-Man titles between 2014-5 in which every conceivable version of Spider-Man was brought together. The film received great acclaim, including winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Film. Across the Spider-Verse is a sequel, which comes in two parts with the follow-up Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse (2024) slated for release.

The creative driving force behind the Spider-Verse films is Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the directing duo that had a huge success with the animated Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) and then the live-action 21 Jump Street (2012), its sequel 22 Jump Street (2014) and the hit of The Lego Movie (2014), as well as producing the tv series The Last Man on Earth (2015-8), the animated Storks (2016) and The Mitchells vs the Machines (2021), and the live-action Cocaine Bear (2023). It is they more so than the credited directors who are behind the vision of the film. Indeed, the three credited director on Into the Spider-Verse have been cut loose and replaced by three new directors when it comes to Across the Spider-Verse.

Miles Morales, Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)
(l to r) Miles Morales, one of the regular Spider-Men and Spider-Gwen

In retrospect, Into the Spider-Verse was the film that premiered the Multiverse concept on film – the idea that in the superhero universe there exist a myriad of different versions of each superhero and/or their canon. The idea of different versions of Spider-Man teaming up was quickly taken on in live-action with Spider-Man: No Way Home, which ingeniously used it to mix old and new versions of Spider-Man and villains. This was quickly taken up by the rest of the MCU in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) and by the DCEU in The Flash (2023), although before all of these such ideas were regularly being played about with by the tv series The Flash (2014-2022).

Across the Spider-Verse takes the Spider-Verse concept of multiple variations on Spider-Man running around and ups it. The focus is still on Miles Morales, while Spider-Gwen becomes a much more central figure this time, along with a reappearance of Miguel O’Hara, the head of Spider Society from Earth 2099. The first film’s characters of Spider-Ham, Spider-Man Noir etc are less central to the plot, although can still be seen. In the new plot, we learn that the multiverse is patrolled by the Spider Society comprising of different versions of Spider-Man. Several of these join the team, including Pavitr Prabhakar, an Indian Spider-Man from an alternate timeline where New York has been colonised by India and become Mumbhattah; Hobie Brown aka Spider-Punk, a British version; and Spider-Woman, a pregnant Pam Grier-modelled African-American version.

Those are just the main variations and throughout we see purportedly some 240 other versions of Spider-Man, including ones from the various animated series, a wheelchair-ridden Spider-Man, a Spider therapist, the Spider-Man clone Scarlet Spider, a virtual avatar, even a cat, a dinosaur and cowboy and his horse versions, plus a Spider vehicle that would seem to come from some Cars (2006)-like universe. There is even one diversion off into a Lego universe from Lord and Miller’s The Lego Movie where we encounter a Lego Spider-Man. There is also a live-action appearance from Peggy Lu as the convenience store owner from Venom and sequel, plus clips from the live-action Spider-Man films. At another point, Gwen and others fight off a version of The Vulture that has been incarnated from a Leonardo Da Vinci-styled universe.

Mumbhattan in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)
Over the skis of Mumbhattan – n example of the extraordinary artwork in the film

Into the Spider-Verse came with a mad panoply of visuals. Here that has been pushed completely through the roof. This is apparent from the opening credits, which come in a kaleidoscopic blur of visual styles that pass by so quickly it is impossible to take in. Every frame of the film is alive with rainbow colours, abstract depictions, psychedelic blurs of light and colour, or is bursting into split frames, comic-book panels, speech balloons and onomatopoeia. The result becomes bewilderingly beautiful and far too much to take in – in the tour through the Spider Society hq, for instance, we encounter dozens of Spider-Man variants each of which gets a small pop-up in one corner of the screen introducing them but these appear so quickly that you never get time to read them (and I am a very quick reader when it comes to subtitles on films) where you get the impression that this was intended by the filmmakers.

The downside of this comes in the reports of the behind-the-scenes problems. The film boasted that it had hired 1000 animators and was the biggest budgeted animated film of all time. On the other hand, three weeks after the film’s release there was an article at Vulture detailing Phil Lord’s managerial style, overriding the directors and requesting numerous revisions to completed work. Moreover, that to fulfil such animators were being required to work eleven hour days, seven days a week and that over a hundred animators had quit unable to handle the workload.

The action proves exhilarating – be it Miles’s battle with Spot manifesting hands and legs out of holes in mid-air; the scenes with Miles and Gwen web-slinging through the streets; and the big dust up between Miles and literally hundreds of different variations on Spider-Man. And yet for all that, a substantial portion of the film storywise at least is predicated on more of the multiverse concept and seeing more variations on Spider-Man. The story hangs around the big character choice where Miles tries to defy the essential piece of canon that mandates that his father be killed, which becomes drawn out into nearly the last hour of action in the film.

For me, where the film worked with far more strength was when it paused the mad art visuals and allowed the characters and their essential dilemmas to shine through. Some of the best parts of the film are the friendship between Miles and Gwen, or Miles’s attempts to attend his father’s birthday party going wrong on him. The most emotive moments in fact come during the prologue where Stacy goes into action as Spider-Woman before her father comes in to arrest her and she makes the choice to take off her mask and reveal her identity to him. It is these scenes that form the film’s strengths.

Trailer here

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