My Spidey Senses are Tingling: this franchise explodes.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was one of the best animated films I’ve ever seen. It was one that combined all animation techniques into one delicious pot, and knew how to satirize the “Spider-Man” worlds with Spider-People I never knew existed.
This is your reaction: “You’ve never heard of those Spider-People before?”
Me: “I’m not as big of a comic book expert as you are.”
Now, we have “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” which wants to follow an “Empire Strikes Back” tradition (with more humanity and style than “Fast X” did) by making the film longer and continuing the story into the next film, which will be subtitled: “Beyond the Spider-Verse.” This sequel has stepped up its game in more ways than you know, and that’s what makes it as phenomenal as the first.
To recap: we met Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), who was bitten by a radioactive spider, became Spider-Man, and met many other Spider-People from other dimensions, including Peter B. Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson) and Gwen Stacy A.K.A Spider/Woman (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld).
Now, we find Miles inside the Spider-Verse where he most stop the interdimensional villain-the Spot (voiced by Jason Schwartzmann)-from destroying his world, and meets more Spider-People, including the punk rocker Spider-Punk (voiced by Daniel Kaluuya), the pregnant Spider-Woman (voiced by Issa Rae), the Indian version Spider-Man India (voiced by Karan Soni), and their futuristic and no-nonsense leader Miguel O’Hara A.K.A. Spider-Man 2099 (voiced by Oscar Isaac).
Each dimension is like one animation wonder after the next. The way Gwen’s hair changes color before she travels in the dimension, the way Spider-Punk looks like paper figures, and the way hand-drawn animation combines with CGI-all of this is like one colorful and vibrant upgrade after another.
The jokes are lively and hilarious-the kind that are never predictable or cliched, but jokes that fans can relate to. I like how Spot starts off as a goofy and awkward wannabe villain, who is very bad at robbing ATMs, and then transcends into a Thanos wannabe.
The emotions are very real and complicated, as demonstrated in the last film. But this time, they include Gwen Stacy back in her watercolor universe, where her police captain father (voiced by Shea Whigham) thinks her Spider-Woman identity is a murderer. How can she really tell her father the truth? How could any Spider-Person? Miles also contemplates telling his parents (voiced by Bryan Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Vélez) the truth, while they both question his future. And the tension thickens as Miguel tries to tell Miles how his story is supposed to go, but this teenager thinks otherwise.
And the voice work is uniformly excellent, especially by Moore, Steinfeld, Whigham, Schwartzmann, Kaluuya, Rae, Johnson, Henry, Vélez, and Isaac. They win you over as they transcend through one genre after the next in one dimension after the next.
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are both back as writers and producers, and are joined by co-writer David Callaham (“The Expendables”), while the new directors are Joaquim Dos Santos (“Avatar: The Last Airbender”), Kemp Powers (“Soul”), and Justin K. Thompson (“The Angry Birds Movie”). They all take risks, assemble the right animation professionals, and push the boundaries of what the Spider-Verse has to offer.
Out of all the animated sequels to try to be as fresh as their predecessor (“Incredibles 2,” “Shrek 2,” “Frozen 2,” etc.), “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is the “Empire Strikes Back” of animated sequels. It knows how to stay as visually stunning, emotionally complex, and funny as the original. At this moment, it joins the “Toy Story” crowd of animated franchises to live up to their expectations. Let’s see where “Beyond the Spider-Verse” will go.
To Be Continued.