Five years after the Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was released, its long awaited sequel took viewers by storm, receiving an overwhelmingly positive response. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” was one of the most popular movies to hit the theaters this summer, praised for its incredible visual effects and bittersweet coming of age story. The movie pairs the nostalgia of our beloved hero using his unique webbed powers to fight crime along with bigger issues of living up to expectations and identity struggles. An action-packed animation, “Across the Spider-Verse” is a film targeted for all ages, managing to tie both comedy and emotion into its complex array of characters and their universes.
The film follows protagonist Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a high school student who is secretly Brooklyn’s one and only Spider-Man. With sticky webs and invisibility, he protects the city from crime as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but no one knows his true identity. Miles is unable to reveal his secret to his parents, especially his father (Bryan Tyree Henry), a police officer who has a certain distaste for Spider-Man (because Spider-Man is far more effective at capturing villains than police!). Miles struggles to balance his schoolwork and family life with his secret life, torn between being Brooklyn’s hero and showing up for his parents. “Across the Spider-Verse” appeals to teenagers through these issues of identity, forcing us to look at how we gain independence and achieve our own goals, though they may be different from what our families want or expect of us. How do we prioritize the values of others with those of our own? Who do we trust with these secrets? Later, Miles faces the dilemma of choosing his own destiny, which might mean going against the advice of everyone who cares about him. The fate of his universe lies in his hands, and he must beat the impossible odds. Are these risks worth it? Would you fight?
In the first movie, Miles befriends Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), a Spider-Woman from a different universe. Several different universes are explored between the two films, and it’s amazing to see the different color schemes and themes of each one. Gwen’s universe has a watercolor scheme, while others include an India-themed universe and even a LEGO universe! The creativity and work that was put into every single frame is striking, and demonstrates the infinite possibilities of the multiverse.
Gwen visits Miles in “Across the Spider-Verse” and the two spend time swinging across the city and confiding their worries to each other. Gwen is Miles’ source of hope, his best friend, the one person who understands the difficulty of having a secret identity. Judging from flirty remarks and some awkward but cute interactions, it’s probable that they like each other a little more than friends, but are separated through time and space, literally. “Across the Spider-Verse” writes this trope in a way so the watcher can portray it however they like. I viewed it as two friends who hold a deep, platonic love for each other, a person you want around all the time, the first person you want to tell everything to. And it’s heartbreaking, because Miles is barely able to see her. Later, it’s revealed that Gwen might be keeping her distance and secrets from Miles. It makes you think about the person you would want around all the time. Would you keep a secret to save them? Would you stay away from them, no matter how much you want to be around them, if you were protecting them?
Miles also gets to meet a bunch of different Spider-people (and animals!) throughout the movie. Among these include Spider-Woman (Issa Rae), Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), and Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya). Some of my favorites included a Spider-cat, a Spider-dinosaur, and a Spider-Man on a cowboy horse. One of my favorite lines of the show was delivered by Ben Reilly (Andy Samberg), a Spider-Man variant, who announces that he has Miles “trapped in my well-defined musculature, so don’t even- auhh!” Seeing all of these different Spider-variants appear in the movie, even if they had one line or just a second of screentime, was one of my favorite aspects. The brilliant minds behind “Across the Spider-Verse” created these characters that we might even think twice about, but each has their own unique universe, stories, and struggles that we won’t ever know about. The creators leave a lot of imagining up to the audience. The multiverse is so incredibly complex and beautiful.
For New Yorkers, “Across the Spider-Verse” is an homage to everyday life. Being from Brooklyn myself, I was delighted to witness a scene at a bodega, much like one right on the street I grew up on. Watching Miles fight the villain using the snacks and ATM machine made me feel incredibly at home. During another scene, Miles attends a party on a rooftop. Everything from the flat rooftops to the climbing up and down fire escapes screamed Brooklyn. And then there’s the swinging between skyscrapers and next to taxis and on the trains, scenes that take only seconds but are visually metamorphic and eye-catching. In another scene, Miles and Gwen sit atop the Williamsburg Bank Building, which I actually recognized because I used to have track practice right near it. In this scene, “Across the Spider-Verse” depicts the quiet, still landscape of New York as Miles and Gwen gaze at a sunset of the skyline. Both the business and the calm are beautifully represented in this film. Throughout the film, Miles visits different versions of New York, including “Mumbattan,” the Indian-inspired version of Manhattan, and “Nueva York,” a super industrialized version of the city with massive skyscrapers. It was interesting to compare the New York I knew to these fictionalized versions, thinking about how outsiders might picture or imagine the city to be.
Watching “Across the Spider-Verse” in the theater for the first time was a stimulating, unforgettable experience. The flashes of light and the thrilling sound effects made me feel like the events were happening in real time, right in front of me. The unanimous laughter spreading throughout the theater every time a joke landed confirmed that everyone was enjoying it as much as I was. The plot twists, the fights, the new characters and the snappy one-liners made me feel electric. I watched it a second time as well and it was actually illuminating because I was able to understand some of the key points and issues raised in the beginning of the movie that I hadn’t picked up on before. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is enjoyable for all audiences and will make you smile, laugh, cry, and feel shocked to your core. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, where have you been this summer? Go explore the Spider-Verse!