2018’s Into the Spider-Verse introduced not only a feature animation version of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) as Spider-Man, but the multiverse concept bringing together alternate versions and variants of Spider-man (or other “Spider-People”) from different parallel realities.
In the first film, the multiversal anomalies were caused by The Kingpin trying to tinker with alternate realities to change his past, and converged on Miles’s universe. The film’s bold visuals became a trend-setter for animation, pushing boundaries and emphasizing stylization over realism.
The crazier sequel once again finds Miles and his friends – alternate universe variants of Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) – on a new adventure, but this time he’s lunging headlong into the Multiverse as they pursue “the Spot”, a seemingly low-level baddie who becomes a much bigger threat when he stumbles into the power to creates holes in reality, which become doors into the multiverse.
The animation is unsurprisingly stellar, and continues to experiment with different stylizations to establish characters and settings. Gwen’s universe, for example, has a painterly feel with huge swashes of murky textures.
Exploring Multiversal storytelling is an opportunity for wacky hijinks and mashing up alternate versions of Spidey and his friends and rogues (something which was also handled splendidly in the live action Spider-Man: No Way Home), and Across the Spider-Verse certainly has its share of fun with that, with a ton of references and cameos that will absolutely have audiences laughing and cheering. It’s a buffet of fan service, done in the best possible way. Miles comes into contact with a legion of Spider-Men (and women) who police the multiverse, under the leadership of Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), from Marvel’s popular 90s run of future-set “2099” titles.
These sequences prompted several loud gasps and cheers from my audience, and some of the more prominent (and non-spoilery) characters introduced include a Spider-Man from an Indian-themed universe (Karan Soni), a Jessica Drew Spider-Woman (Issa Rae), and Spider-Punk (Daniel Kayuula), a cool-as-hell British subversive who feels poised to be the huge breakout character for this film. (I’m even pretty sure I heard J. K. Simmons pop in briefly as J. Jonah Jameson, though i haven’t seen him listed among the cast).
But going beyond the fun aspects of the multiverse, the film more importantly grasps the opportunity to explore bigger questions of fate (“canon”), freedom of choice, and the alternate realities of what could have been, ending on a cliffhanger that’s as existential as it is perilous. I certainly didn’t expect an exploration in the vein of It’s a Wonderful Life, but here we are.
That cliffhanger ending will be difficult for viewers – my audience was pretty generous and let out a roar of approval and anticipation as the film closed with a hint of the next leg of the journey, but I felt a little deflated that it was over. Despite being 2 hours and 20 minutes long (notably record-breaking as the longest major American animated feature), I just didn’t want it to end.