After the much-loved Into the Spider-Verse introduced Miles Morales and a cadre of alternate Spider-people, the sequel, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was highly anticipated. In fact, it was one of Corner of Film’s most anticipated movies of 2023. With the original’s success, Across the Spider-Verse already had all the potential to be even better than its predecessor.

Where the first film saw Miles learning to be a hero, the second sees him torn between his identities. Struggling to balance his alter-ego with his more mundane responsibilities, Miles begins to question his place in the world, and pines for the friends he knows are scattered throughout the multiverse. However, he soon finds himself drawn in to a web (pun intended) of universe-crossing hijinks, one which concerns him far more deeply than he could have ever realized.

Across The Spider-Verse Takes Spider-Man On An Adventure That’s Both Familiar And Unprecedented

Miles Morales as Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)

By and large, the main conflict in the film is Miles’ internal struggle with his identity. This is excellent; it’s classic Spider-Man fare, but done in a way that no other Spidey movie ever has. It also manages to recapture the same comic-book style as the original, tapping once more into the multiverse angle to deliver another visual love letter to the character of Spider-Man.

Across The Spider-Verse manages to deal with both the personal and the universal. Its story is one of identity – parents, children, superheroes, and human beings all considering their places in their own respective worlds and with their chosen families. It’s touching on multiple levels, and in this, it finds something for just about all ages to relate to. It’s masterful storytelling, achieved in a medium that elevates the narrative almost exponentially.

Across The Spider-Verse Is Somehow Too Much & Not Enough

Gwen Stacey and Miles Morales as Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)

Unfortunately, by upping the stakes to unprecedented levels, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse encounters some problems. First and foremost, expanding the scale of the Spider-Verse descends quickly into simple fan service, with multiple references to the MCU and shoehorned moments that lean heavily on other versions of the hero. Ultimately, this only detracts from Miles’ own story, which really deserves to be the focus.

Expanding upon Gwen as a character was a welcome choice, and she was finally given the attention she deserved. However, she also is too often overshadowed by needless cameos and heavy fourth-wall-breaking winks at the audience. It’s a frustrating black mark upon what should otherwise be considered a near-perfect example of visual storytelling.

Across The Spider-Verse’s Ending Leaves Much To Be Desired – But Maybe That’s The Point

Miles Morales as Spider-Man fighting the Spot in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)

Let’s address the elephant-sized spider in the room: that ending. Just as Across the Spider-Verse builds to an incredible crescendo, it stalls with a “TO BE CONTINUED”. It’s disappointing, because it seemed as though the film was about to deliver an epic conclusion.

Let’s be reasonable, though. To wrap things up properly, it would have needed another 30 minutes (even then, it would have felt abrupt). A third film should mean a satisfying conclusion, so we shouldn’t feel too hard done by. Even so, it feels almost cruel to end things on such a tantalizing cliff-hanger. Still, comics have done just that for years, so maybe it’s just another nod to the original medium.

In all, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is truly outstanding. It’s an exercise in visual splendor with plenty of touching narrative potential. However, at times, it struggles to balance the two. In relation to its predecessor, it proves that bigger isn’t always better: it lacks the same emotional punch, because it’s too busily packed with Easter eggs and fan service. Though some may love that particular touch, it’s certainly not to our tastes. By linking to other established universes, it effectively weakens the Spider-Verse movies’ best quality. They were a welcome reprieve from the ceaseless interconnectivity, but apparently, they are no longer.

Rating: 85%

Summary: A visual treat with some solid narrative ideas, Across the Spider-Verse fumbles its story a little in pursuit of fan service. Heartwarming and beautifully crafted though it may be, it doesn’t quite match up to the quality of its predecessor.

Highlight: The multiple twists of Across the Spider-Verse‘s final scenes set up a brilliant (if frustrating) cliffhanger that will no doubt torture us until the release of the third film.