“Everyone keeps telling me how my story supposed to go.”Miles Morales
Across the Spider-verse embraces its multiverse glitching conceit from its opening logos which flash between styles, displaying a time-consuming attention to detail that is the hallmark of this bigger and bolder sequel that once again outdoes the majority of its live-action counterparts. Whilst Miles Morales originally took us Into the Spider-verse and remains front and centre in the marketing, Across the Spider-verse feels as much Gwen Stacy’s story. She embodies the themes of isolation (“This line of work, you always end up a solo act,” she explains after quitting her band) and Hailee Steinfeld’s voice acting captures a yearning for the understanding and acceptance she found in Miles. In a more overt way than the Loki TV series, we are presented with an interesting view of “the canon” as either inescapable destiny or a restrictive refusal to try to change things — it reflects the artistic conundrum of entertaining audiences with nostalgic familiarity retold in a new guise or seeking growth with something new that could result in disaster. Lesser-known, bumbling villain Spot provides the story’s catalyst, but it is Miguel — the severe leader of a Spider-Society working to protect the canon — who acts as Miles’ chief antagonist. Unfortunately, Miguel remains largely unknown even as the credits roll and this feeds into the film’s structural weakness as an incomplete story: by not marketing itself as a two-part story, Across the Spider-verse is likely to leave many unsatisfied by a truncated ending to be concluded in next year’s Beyond the Spider-verse. Everything else is an elevation of its predecessor’s artistic flair, irreverent comedy, and earnest narrative. The anarchic Spider-Punk is a perfect example, initially feeling about four decades out of date with his newsprint styling, but becoming both characterful and plot-relevant in his anti-authoritarianism. Deeper and perhaps less joyful than its predecessor, Across the Spider-verse is another high water mark that highlights the staleness of the live action superhero genre.