Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse (2023)

Director: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson

Running Time: 140 Minutes

Certification: PG

Starring: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Vélez, Jake Johnson, Jason Schwartzman, Issa Rae, Karan Soni, Daniel Kaluuya, Oscar Isaac

Arriving in 2018, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse was a landmark moment for animated cinema which received much critical acclaim and awards recognition. Its influences can be felt in the stylized art, which has also been adopted for works such as Puss In Boots: The Last Wish and the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. Five-years after the original, the first sequel arrives with the multiverse having larger mainstream appeal courtesy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and even a Best Picture Oscar winner, while delivering one of the best uses of that concept.

Opening on an Earth-65 set prologue, Gwen Stacey (Hailee Steinfeld) grapples with fighting crime as Spider-Woman, past tragedy involving her world's version of Peter Parker, and her Police Captain father's determination to bring down her heroic persona. This astounding opening phenomenally sets up Gwen's emotional stakes within this interdimensional story, while setting the stage for what is to come.

Sixteen-months after the first film, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) fights crime as Brooklyn's own Spider-Man while worrying about whether to share his superhero identity with his parents. When he reconnects with Gwen, an adventure unfolds across the multiverse which connects Miles with the Spider Society, led by Miguel O'Hara (Oscar Isaac).

From the parchment look of a Renaissance-era figure, to the Sex Pistols style newspaper clippings of Spider-Punk, the visual style has stepped up its game from the aesthetically stunning predecessor. This stupendous mixture of different styles captures the visually fluid action as effortlessly as the character moments, with a highlight being the watercolour visuals that matches Gwen's emotional state. It's all part of a tapestry which allows these various worlds to coexist on-screen, while ensuring every scene is a work of art that could hang in a galley. It will be a surprise if 2023 has a more gorgeous looking film.

Among the new arrivals, Miguel is the self-serious leader of the Spider Society who's a master of brooding. The film's breakout star is easily Hobie Brown, an effortlessly cool anti-authoritarian punk rocker that's brought alive by Daniel Kaluuya. He's part of an onslaught of web-slingers from multiple dimensions, all of whom are part of this world-building which spills over into a tremendous chase sequence, while never forgetting about character moments. The new villainous figure is The Spot, who sees himself as Miles' nemesis and humourously reframes one of the previous film's best gags into part of his tragic origin. Despite being dismissed as "barely a villain of the week", his determination to prove himself makes for a formidable foe.

While building upon the smallest details from the first film, the screenplay from Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Dave Callaham captures the essence of what makes a superhero while also questioning the genre trappings. While elements reflect the most irritating gatekeepers fandoms have encountered, Miles counters that as he seeks to live his own life. He knows the journey he wants to take and, despite others instructing him on what must be done, he taps into his strength while refusing to roll over for others' expectations.

Taking over directorial duties are Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson, whom capture why these films and Everything Everywhere All At Once are the best on-screen depictions of the multiverse. Grounding the fantastical concept is character work, while utilized the different universes to highlight truths about the characters instead of establishing stakes or nostalgia-baiting references. Key to it is Miles' lovely relationship with his worrying parents, while Daniel Pemberton delivers another magnificent score to phenomenally bring it alive. While this is most certainly a Part One, it's an exceptional tale which feels self-contained in its own right while leaving a tantalizing hook for what's to come.

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse is available in cinemas now