The boldest blockbuster since Mad Max: Fury Road, this Spidey adventure takes the ‘anything goes’ ethos of 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse and somehow finds more boundaries to push, more visual extra-ness to tap into, more roller coasters to ride. It’s such a torrent of universes, ideas and styles that it should collapse under the weight of its own creative payload. But it all works – brilliantly.
Typically, co-writers Phil Lord and Chris Miller – Hollywood alchemists who turn seemingly crazy ideas like The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street into gold – make a possible weakness a plot that revolves around the now-ubiquitous multiverse) into a major strength. Across the Spider-Verse’s central idea is what happens when you ‘break the canon’ and deviate from what’s expected. It’s a maverick antidote to the army of identikit superhero movies out there.
Here, it’s Into the Spider-Verse’s Spidey, smart, sensitive mixed-race New York teen Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), who is left facing the death of a loved one while stuck in another universe. But is that fate preordained and necessary or can comic-book narratives be defied? Like a multiversal lore enforcer, Oscar Isaac’s Miguel O’Hara – aka Spider-Man 2099 – emerges as the killjoy secondary villain, determined to keep the impetuous Miles in check. Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) is torn between duty and love for her old love interest.
Even better is the movie’s main villain, the Spot. A portal-deploying superbad voiced by Jason Schwartzman and disconcertingly saggy in all the wrong places, like an unholy cross between Pan’s Labyrinth’s Pale Man and a Friesian cow, he evolves from a kind of dorky villain-of-the-week and into a huge existential threat, cranking up the stakes.
Joining the fray are about 200 brilliantly out-there variants on Spider-Man, including Daniel Kaluuya’s Hobie Brown, who brings Sid Vicious energy as Spider-Punk, a heartthrob Indian Spider-Man (Deadpool’s Karan Soni), and Issa Rae’s pregnant but pugnacious Spider-Woman.
It finds more boundaries to push and more roller coasters to ride
With its mix of 3D and 2D animation, split screens, comic-book panels, meme homages, Jeff Koons cameos, and even a detour into Lego (really), Across the Spider-Verse is also the best-looking film of the year. When that old Spidey nemesis, Vulture, turns up for an early showdown in the New York Guggenheim, it’s as a Renaissance figure rendered in Da Vinci-style paper outlines. Akira, Blade Runner and the work of futurist artist Syd Mead all get more than a nod here, too. New co-directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Soul’s Kemp Powers and Justin K Thompson have conjured up a whirligig of styles that cohere perfectly into one eye-popping whole.
If there’s a minor grumble it’s with a cliffhanger ending that leaves us hanging for next year’s Beyond the Spider-Verse. Still, another Spider-Verse movie is really no hardship. This one is a classic.
In cinemas worldwide now.