Gwen Stacy and Miles Morales bond over the spider-powers in "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse."

What a treat the Spider-Verse series is for the eyes. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse begins with an extended pre-credit sequence following Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) in her universe, and the backgrounds look like splotches of watercolor as opposed to the cleaner backdrops of Miles Morales’ world. When Gwen is attacked by the Vulture (voiced by Jorma Taccone), she can tell that he’s not the villain from her world because he’s in pencil lines filled out with sepia tones. The shifting drawing styles here more than compensate for the occasions when I wasn’t sure what was going on, or when the new film pelted me with Easter eggs linking this franchise with the Marvel universe, the Venom films, and the Lego movies. The animation allows for even crazier hijinks that gives these films an energy that their live-action counterparts don’t have, which is why this is my favorite corner of Spider-Man adventures.

That opening sequence is oddly subdued even though it takes in Gwen’s traumatic backstory, which includes her unmasking herself to her police-chief dad (voiced by Shea Whigham), who’s been hellbent on arresting Spider-Woman. Acutely missing Miles (voiced by Shameik Moore), she pays him an unsanctioned visit about a year after the events of Into the Spider-Verse. This starts a series of dominoes that leads fellow Spider-Man Miguel O’Hara (voiced by Oscar Isaac) to show Miles the canon, the web of life stories that connect all the spider-folk. This web is now in danger of collapsing unless Miles lets his dad (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry) die at the hands of The Spot (voiced by Jason Schwartzman). Understandably, Miles isn’t too keen.

This sequel adds on a ton of world-building as it gleefully drags Miles through universe after universe. The Spot is a funny enemy — his fights against Gwen and Miles wind up teleporting all of them through holes in The Spot’s body, and he declares himself Miles’ nemesis just before literally falling into his own ass. It’s a shame that the film largely loses track of him after the first hour. Our wall-crawling heroes gather up new allies in Spider-Man India (voiced by Karan Soni) and Spider-Punk (voiced by Daniel Kaluuya), and each one’s appearance results in a change of visual style courtesy of the three directors who are all new to this series. Holding over is co-writer Phil Lord, who brings aboard his habitual writing partner Christopher Miller. Their chaotic sense of humor shines through, never better than when Miles escapes Miguel’s custody and is chased down by hundreds of spider-folk of all different shapes, colors, species, and powers.


All this inventiveness could wear you out, but the movie stops every so often for emotional set pieces like Miles’ mom (voiced by Luna Lauren Velez) realizing that she has to let her boy grow up and Gwen confronting her dad. There’s a romance bubbling between Miles and Gwen, too, but Gwen herself points out how her alter egos have come to grief trying to find love. Miles himself gains in stature when he makes a discovery about his past that’s even more shattering than his dad’s fate.

I can’t discuss a great deal of this movie because it’s not the whole story. It ends on a cliffhanger that sets up a third film, as Miles is about to be killed by [name redacted]. That makes this a challenge to review, but it’s easy to be awed by the visuals and the writing in this series. Given that Across the Spider-Verse gives us a superhero fight where the combatants get into an argument about the art of Jeff Koons, I can’t wait to see what surprises the next film springs.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Voices by Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld. Directed by Joaquim dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson. Written by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Dave Callaham. Rated PG-13.