Reviewed by: Blake Wilson
Shameik Moore … Miles Morales (voice)
Hailee Steinfeld … Gwen Stacy (voice)
Oscar Isaac … Miguel O’Hara (voice)
Jake Johnson … Peter B. Parker (voice)
Issa Rae … Jessica Drew (voice)
Brian Tyree Henry … Jefferson Davis (voice)
Andy Samberg … Ben Reilly / Scarlet Spide (voice)
Jason Schwartzman … Jonathan Ohnn / The Spot (voice)
Daniel Kaluuya … Hobart ‘Hobie’ Brown / Spider-Punk (voice)
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Joaquim Dos Santos
Justin K. Thompson
Sony Pictures Animation
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|Distributor||Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures|
Prequel: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018)
Review updated July 2, 2023
It’s been a couple of years since Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) was bitten by a radioactive spider and became the new Spider-Man in his universe. What’s happened since then? Puberty, high school, and also keeping his identity as Spider-Man a secret…even from his parents. And, now, there’s a new supervillain terrorizing the streets of New York. A faceless humanoid named “The Spot” (Jason Schwartzman), who apparently has a grudge against Spider-Man and yearns to be his nemesis.
Meanwhile, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) is having troubles of her own in her universe. Not only is she blamed for the death of someone close to her, she is strained in her relationships with others. One day, Gwen’s universe is invaded by a villain from a distant universe. In the middle of the battle, her universe is invaded again…this time by a couple of other Spider-people. Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac) and Jessica Drew (Issa Rae), who come to take care of the anomaly. In response to all of this, Gwen goes back with Miguel and Jessica to join the Spider Society.
One day, Gwen makes her way back to Miles’ universe to investigate The Spot’s multiversal mischief, as well as possibly invite Miles to the Spider Society. Would that be a good idea? Or could it potentially lead to disaster?
“Across the Spider-Verse” is an impressive film in many respects. The main thing here is, of course, the stunning animation. Each universe depicted here is given its own art style and distinct touch—as does each Spider-Man. Meanwhile, the 2D/3D mix has improved some from the more “experimental” usage in the first one. There are a handful of visually-striking touches I will not spoil here.
The characters are given stronger development here, too. Miles and Gwen are given equally-compelling character stories, and the family dynamics are terrifically-written. The new characters are likable as well. My personal favorite would probably have to be Spider-Punk, a British rocker version of Spider-Man voiced well by Daniel Kaluuya. While I didn’t understand some of what he said, he exuded personality and his Spider-Man had the most unique and fascinating design.
For such an involved story with so much going on, I have to hand it to the writing team. They did a great job keeping the focus on the characters, and don’t quite make it feel overstuffed. Yes, there’s a lot of Spider characters here. However, they manage to give enough time for each new character to shine (a lot of the minor ones are used as pure comic relief). A handful of surprises are well-executed and unpredictable as well. There’s also not too many villains either. The film’s primary villain is an escalating threat that may be just getting started.
On the downside, like the last film, “Across the Spider-Verse” does get a little carried away with its hip-hop/electro pop music in the score. I would have liked to have seen a little more traditional music from returning composer Daniel Pemberton. Also, the film’s 20-minute prologue centered around Gwen didn’t need to be as long as it is. It could have been shortened or switched back and forth between her’s and Miles’ story. That being said, Gwen is given a strong character arc here. Finally, while I loved seeing Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) again, I felt like he was shortchanged a bit in terms of screentime. And, Peni Parker, Spider-Man Noir and Spider-Ham (great characters from the first film) are nearly completely absent here—but, that being said, there’s a hint they may return.
There’s a strong positive theme about the importance of positive, sacrificial and loving parents. Gwen and her Dad and Miles and his parents all struggle with trying to meet each other halfway. And it’s made abundantly clear that all of them have room to grow and things they can learn from each other. (There is a spoiler alert in the next paragraph.)
Gwen’s Dad (Captain George Stacy) does find out about her secret identity. Later on in the film, it is revealed that Gwen’s dad quit the police force as a choice to help protect his daughter. I thought this was a moving example of a father’s sacrificial love.
Meanwhile, Miles’ parents struggle with how to best handle their son’s budding independence. Not long after an intense conflict, Miles’ mom (Rio) attempts to meet her son halfway and does her best to try and understand what her son is going through (although he falls short of telling her who he is). Of course, with Miles hiding his secret, his parents absolutely and appropriately hold him accountable and guide him.
The film sends home the message that relationships (especially familial, though can absolutely be applied in romantic relationships and friendships as well) can be challenging and difficult at times. It takes grace, sacrifice, selflessness, perseverance, and unconditional love to make it work and grow. In our relationships, we can model sacrificial love in the way Christ did. Paul summarizes this thought in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
SEXUAL CONTENT: Very tame. A couple of characters are shown wearing tank tops or something that might reveal cleavage. Gwen accidentally leaves her sweater in Miles’ room, which gives his parents the false impression that something else could be going on. Another misunderstanding involves talking about Spider-Punk and implied feelings between him and Gwen, which is also proven untrue.
LANGUAGE: There’s a little more foul language here than in the first film. We hear two uses each of “a**” and “h***”, one “d***”, and two misuses of God’s name. There’s also a couple of uses of “cr*p”, and several uses of the word “shoot” in one scene, including a couple with loud music in the background that may give the impression they said the s-word instead.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL: Wine is seen at a party. Gwen is mistakenly suspected to have a Dad that “deals drugs”.
VIOLENCE: This is definitely the main concern here. Several scenes of peril and action violence involving villains using multiple weapons to smash, hit, and pummel Spider-Man. The Spot causes a lot of mayhem with a collider and causes buildings to crumble as well. An earthquake nearly causes the death of one character. A vision prophesies the death of another. In worst case scenarios, entire universes of characters are seen pixelating out of existence. One action scene features an intense brawl with loud sound effects between two Spider-Men. One is shown to have a vampire-like appearance with claws and fangs (in shadow form). Characters are held at gunpoint. Glass windows and various debris collapse. Spiders bite people. The death of Uncle Ben is seen replicated in many universes. That being said, this is all handled with pretty much no bloodshed.
SPIRITUALITY: None. However, there are discussions about fate and how breaking it can cause tragic consequences.
OTHER: Lying and deceit play a big part in any superhero story, especially in these Spider-Man stories involving teenagers telling lies. Miles and Gwen lie repeatedly, though for mostly heroic reasons and to protect their loved ones. Meanwhile, one scene involves a couple of dirty diaper jokes courtesy of Peter B. Parker and his toddler-aged daughter.
“Into the Spider-Verse” was a groundbreaking animated film in many respects. Not only did it experiment with bringing different animation styles together, but it genuinely revolutionized animated filmmaking (along with the tired, yet reliable superhero genre). It was well-received and went on to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar. You have to wonder, how can you top that?
From here, like the storytelling team behind the first film decided to take a page from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and try to top it with not one, but TWO animated films (Part 2, “Beyond the Spider-Verse,’ is scheduled for next March). For those who have followed along with the film’s progress, no, this is not a spoiler. (That being said, I will add that my friend who came with me didn’t know this, and the look on his face and reaction was absolutely priceless.)
Based on the effort here, I think I can say “Across the Spider-Verse” may have topped the original. The animation is absolutely spectacular. The character dynamics are deeper and more involved. The action sequences are stunning. And the story developments and surprises are unexpected and pulled off in unexpectedly genius fashion.
For Christian families looking for something to see, “Across the Spider-Verse” stays within PG boundaries overall, though I will say it is too intense and mature for very young viewers (I would say ages 7 and under). There is some unnecessary mild language and some lying/deceit. However, on the very positive side of things, I did not sense any agenda-driven or obvious political messaging here, no real inappropriate sexual content or humor, and no dark spirituality here to report either (all superpowers are the result of science experiments gone awry). I would say if you’re not sure if your child can handle the content, I would say “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is a safer choice for more sensitive youngsters.
For older superhero fans and movie fans, however, “Across the Spider-Verse” is stellar entertainment. Pure escapism at just about its finest.
POSTSCRIPT: A couple of weeks after seeing “Across the Spider-Verse,’ the following was brought to my attention… in one scene, a small blue and pink poster is briefly shown in the background of Gwen Stacy’s room saying, “Protect Trans Kids’. In another scene, a badge with the colors of the pride flag is briefly shown on Gwen’s dad’s police uniform. These details will very likely be missed by most viewers (as was the case with me). That being said, in contrast to what was originally stated in my conclusion, it does seem that the filmmakers were trying to make a (very subtle) statement in agreement with a leftist, woke agenda.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.