It’s been five years since Into the Spider-Verse‘s release in theatres, which didn’t exactly do well at the box office, but ended up winning an Oscar and is still considered one of the most innovative animated features made by a big studio. Finally, Miles Morales is back in Sony Pictures Animation’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. It’s bigger, bolder and even better than its predecessor.

To change things up a bit, writers Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Dave Callaham decided to let Gwen (voiced by Hailee SteinfeldDickinson, Hawkeye), aka Spider-Woman, kick things off by giving us a bit of a recap on the events of the first film. She also goes over the details of the death of her best friend, Peter Parker, and how she’s been dealing with that loss and having to say goodbye to Miles. It quickly becomes clear grief is one of three important elements in this sequel’s story. But when one evening a fight with a feathered villain is interrupted by some Spider-people visiting Gwen’s Earth who are here to clean up the mess Kingpin’s collider-explosion caused, she suddenly finds herself in a situation that’s way above her pay grade.

Miles (voiced by Shameik MooreWu-Tang: An American Saga, Samaritan), back on Earth-1610, is being a real teenager. He fails to listen, is always late, and disappoints his parents. Here’s where the second important element of the film – parenthood – gets introduced. Miles’ parents are doing everything they can to be supportive of their son, making sure he gets what he needs and letting him know they’re always there for him. It’s heartbreaking to see his mom and dad have one-on-one’s with their son, for him then not open up and finally let them in. When a seemingly harmless and silly new villain pops up in his neighbourhood, Miles’ priorities get scrambled up once again. The Spot (voiced by Jason SchwartzmanAsteroid City, The French Dispatch), a Dalmatian-looking human who can use the spots on his body as portals, shares a past with our hero, and soon turns into the biggest threat of not just Miles and his family, but to the entire Multiverse.

It’s insane to think how in the world all these animators and directors have been able to deliver something as groundbreaking as Into the Spider-Verse, but to see them expand on all of that with Across the Spider-Verse blows my mind. The attention to detail is impossible to fathom without giving it multiple viewings, and pausing every single frame to see what has been hidden in plain sight. There’s so many layers, dimensions and different types of animation within each scene, and yet it succeeds in not overdoing it but pull you in even more. Sony Pictures Animation has another winner on their hands.

As mentioned before, three elements are strongly present in this action packed and emotionally driven story. Next to grief and parenthood, growth is also important. Miles is still a kid, who feels like he doesn’t just have to carry the entire world, but now also the weight of the entire universe on his back. He has upset his Spider-peers by interrupting a cataclysmic event, that could disrupt the very fibres of their existence. Leader of Spider-HQ, Miguel O’Hara, aka Spider-Man 2099 (voiced by Oscar IsaacMoon Knight, The Addams Family), has now sent out an arrest for Miles, causing every Spider-Man known to mankind – yes, even the ones you’re thinking of – to chase him and make sure he can’t interrupt another one of these events, whatever means necessary.

I personally hate that talented voice actors often get pushed to the back of the line to give well known Hollywood actors a free pass. But, I do have to admit the entire cast has done a remarkable job. The returning cast including Moore, Steinfeld & Jake Johnson, but also the new characters voiced by Oscar Isaac, Issa Rae (voice of Jessica Drew), Daniel Kaluuya (voice of Spider-Punk), Karan Soni (voice of Spider-Man India) and many others, do an incredible job and should be applauded for doing so. The score is once again composed by Daniel Pemberton, and even he has outdone himself. Combined with the explosive soundtrack, your ears will be just as pleased as your eyes.

It’s by far the longest animated film I’ve ever seen, and I just couldn’t get enough of it. The twists, unexpected cameos and reveals, and that insane cliffhanger-ending are going to make that nine month wait for Beyond the Spider-Verse (it’s currently expected to release March 29, 2024) a very long one. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a visually exhilarating work of art that not only expands on the already expansive Marvel multiverse, but also brilliantly surpasses its predecessor in each way imaginable. Every. Single. Frame. Belongs in a museum.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Reviewed at Kinepolis Antwerp, May 30, 2023. Running time: 140 min.

PRODUCTION: A Universal Pictures (UPI) release of a Sony Pictures Animation, Arad Productions, Lord Miller, Pascal Pictures & Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) production, in association with Marvel Entertainment. Producers: Avi Arad, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Amy Pascal & Christina Steinberg. Executive producers: Brian Michael Bendis, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, Aditya Sood & Rebecca Karch Tomlinson.

CREW: Directors: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers & Justin K. Thompson. Writers: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller & Dave Callaham (characters by Stan Lee). Editing: Mike Andrews. Music: Daniel Pemberton.

CAST: (voices) Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac, Jake Johnson, Issa Rae, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Rachel Dratch, Jason Schwartzman & Daniel Kaluuya.

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