After reuniting with Gwen Stacy, Brooklyn’s full-time, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is catapulted across the Multiverse, where he encounters the Spider Society, a team of Spider-People charged with protecting the Multiverse’s very existence. But when the heroes clash on how to handle a new threat, Miles finds himself pitted against the other Spiders and must set out on his own to save those he loves most.
The multiverse is a consistently exciting, yet perilous proving ground for Miles, and though it isn’t perfect, his next big leap as Spider-Man confirms his elevation to hero status was no fluke.
Parker’s (Jake Johnson) mentorship. Where Miles struggles most, though, is seeing himself in a larger context, and continuing to come to terms with what his great power means for his growingly complicated future. That plays out in the expected strife going on between the teen Miles and his parents Rio (Luna Lauren Velez) and Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry) as they clash over his attitude and desire to take early college courses a whole one state over.
Oscar Isaac’s Miguel O’Hara is a major antagonist in the new movie. The Spider-Man from the world of 2099, Miguel is responsible for bringing the heroes of the Spider-Verse together. He also has a major bone to pick with Miles, who refuses to accept that sometimes one life has to be sacrificed for the good of many.
Miles’ early and dismissive encounters with The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) and his many holes have surprising consequences and provide the catalyst needed to put him back in the path of his more experienced extradimensional counterparts. Across the Spider-Verse extrapolates the self-doubt Miles feels in preparing for the next chapter in both of his lives into a full-blown multiversal action epic, with countless Spider-beings swinging by to needle his fragile sense of belonging. Shameik Moore’s performance channels the subtlety of what one year can do to a teen boy’s demeanor and strikes a good balance between Miles’ more pronounced angst – exacerbated by doubters on all sides – with the sensitive tender heart of the gifted and good guy we know him to be. Across the Spider-Verse impressively does so without ever pushing hard enough in one direction to make any of his choices feel outlandish or out of step with his character.
Even in a reality where one could throw a bagel and hit a Spider-person, Miles is still singled out for his role in upsetting the Spider-Verse by Spider-Man 2099, Miguel O’Hara, portrayed by a hard-nosed Oscar Isaac. Miguel leads the multiverse-defending Spider Society, and his dogmatic attention to the personal cost all Spider-people historically have to pay to wield their great power with the greatest possible sense of responsibility forces an ideological split between him and Miles. Miguel’s warlike “anything to protect the multiverse” stance doesn’t demonstrate much empathy, a baseline for most heroes, and Isaac keeps his seething performance in line with a leader who, as written, seems closed off to any tactical possibilities that don’t involve sacrificing a piece of oneself for the greater good.
After the universal acclaim rightly heaped on Into the Spider-Verse’s singular animation, there was never any doubt that Across the Spider-Verse would aim to up the ante. On a technical level, Across the Spider-Verse is a wonder. Just like it’s taken years to come to a more full appreciation of Into the Spider-Verse’s densely textured vision of all things Spider-Man, it’s going to take time to unpack every little embellishment, every framerate change that slyly points to characters having high or low status in comparison to each other, but the sum of those parts is instantly readable as a refinement of the techniques deployed or pioneered by Into the Spider-Verse and for anyone who just needed to hear “ it’s better looking than Into the Spider-Verse,” well, you’ve got what you came for.
Caught in between these battling perspectives is Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), whose increased share of the narrative leaves her with as much (if not more) influence on the story’s direction as Miles. This investment in Gwen is clear from the jump: Across the Spider-Verse’s impactful opening sequence largely follows her struggle to find common ground with her dad, Captain Stacy, and sets her up with complicated and rich reasons for choosing when and how to help Miles on his own journey. Directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson use Miles to double down on Into the Spider-Verse’s themes of accepting one’s own potential, which leaves the Gwen material feeling a little fresher. It’s impressive that the sequel doesn’t just use the extended cast for pure novelty value, but takes care to flesh them out further. The character work’s especially important in the face of Across the Spider-Verse’s more complicated plot, which drops details and foreshadowing faster than Peter Parker could web them up and manfully scream as he tries to hold it all together.