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Film Review: “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” Is Only Half a Movie, and a Long One at That

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | May 31st, 2023

Film review: “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Joaquim Dos Santos/Kemp Powers/Justin K. Thompson, 2023) 2 out of 4 stars.

I absolutely adored the 2018 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, finding it a delightfully fresh take on a well-trod mythos. A funny thing happened on the way to its sequel, however: the filmmakers lost sight of the narrative. That’s not to say there isn’t anything worthwhile here. Quite the contrary: in visual terms, the new Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse proves wildly inventive and stunning in a variety of ways. It just can’t get out of its own way.

For those looking for fan service and a near-constant barrage of Easter eggs, the movie may land quite differently. For this viewer, however, it’s all a bit too clever by half, despite the often-strong dramatic spine. At least the beautiful and evocative animation, coupled with fine performances, carries us through most of it.

l-r: Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) in SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE ©Sony Pictures Animation/Marvel Entertainment

Our last-time hero, Miles Morales (once again voiced by Shameik Moore), is not our initial focus. Instead, we begin with Gwen Stacy (a returning Hailee Steinfeld), aka Spider-Gwen on her own version of Earth (there are many), narrating the opening scenes from her point of view. Wanted by the police (led by her father) for the ostensible murder of one Peter Parker (not a superhero where she’s from), she jumps at the opportunity to join an interdimensional “Spider-force” led by Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac, The Card Counter). Soon, she is off-world and free.

Not so for Miles on his Earth. 15 years old, he may be a brilliant student, but his duties as webslinger are starting to get in the way of school and family life. Both parents (Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez, reprising from the first film) worry about him, though in this universe, Miles’ father, also a cop, has a more benevolent relationship with Spider-Man (whom he does not suspect is his son). When Gwen Stacy shows up on assignment, Miles does not hesitate to follow her into the next universe, given how much he needs a friend.

l-r: Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), and Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) in SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE ©Sony Pictures Animation/Marvel Entertainment

That’s the basic setup, which includes the introduction of a new villain, “The Spot” (Jason Schwartzman, There There).  From there, we leap into the abyss of layer upon layer of multiverse madness, much of it engaging, but a lot of it a mess (if a striking mess). Always careful to offer aficionados juicy tidbits to whet their appetites, directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers (Soul), and Justin K. Thompson time and again threaten to overwhelm the story with details that no doubt serve their purpose for those inclined, but also distract. Given how long this film ends up being (at 140 minutes), perhaps a good number of such moments could have been cut.

Worse, this is only half a movie, ending with an inexcusable “to be continued” title card. For sure, plenty of other films have split their plots in two, but rarely do they so blatantly end on a mid-scene cliffhanger. It’s too bad, because otherwise the themes of the film—of identity, self-agency, and love—are all extremely powerful. As is the terrific diversity of the cast, led by the biracial Miles. I by no means hated it; I was just very disappointed.

l-r: Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Velez) in SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE ©Sony Pictures Animation/Marvel Entertainment

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

9 thoughts on “Film Review: “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” Is Only Half a Movie, and a Long One at That

  1. Too clever for you maybe. I find many of the films you like to be not clever enough. To each his own.

        1. I know what it’s like to have people dump on you for going against the grain with popular shows and movies. It’s not a crime to point out flaws in a movie, even one you love.

  2. I think the movie ended very well, not in mid-sequence, but right at the start of the showdown with all the pieces in place. It ended where many comics end, which is thematically sound.

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