Tom's Guide Verdict
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a triumph of animation, daring audiences to follow as it explores visual styles that superhero movies hadn't dared to dwell in. In small moments, it may feel like too much or too little, but it's still emotionally powerful and an amazing setup for what should be an epic end to the Spider-Verse trilogy.
Powerful voice work
Doesn't stand alone
Nearly too many variants
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
Watching Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse made me feel like a kid again, in the best ways possible. Not only did it remind me of comics lore I thought I left in my pre-teen years, but it kept me glued to the screen for its two fantastic storylines.
Oh, and I should note: I saw the movie in a Dolby Cinema theater, thanks to an invitation from the Dolby team. While Dolby Atmos audio promises immersive, directional audio, I didn't quite hear much of a difference there. That said, I'm still saying "see this in Dolby Cinema," because of those theaters use the Dolby Vision standard for more vibrant colors, truer blacks and excellent contrast.
That means I'm sure I saw the blacks and reds of Miles' suit in sharp contrast, and all of the movie's bold and beautiful colors pop. Dolby Vision is the same standard I look for when watching some of the best streaming services, such as Netflix and Max.
Seeing Across the Spider-Verse as perfectly as possible is a must because this film is a visual triumph, and at a level I didn't truly expect. So, unless you have an IMAX option, I seriously say "find it in Dolby Cinema."
And with those technical notes out of the way, let's get on with this Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse review.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is almost too much
The whole big issue with making shows or movies about the multiverse is that you run a risk of adding so many variants that they all matter less. Too many Spider-Men possibly diminishes each one's importance.
The movie even kind of acknowledges this issue, in its own way, when Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) says "when you say 'fate of the universe,' my brain dies." Some audiences may feel the same way, especially when a horde of Spider-Men chase Miles Morales.
Fortunately, Across the Spider-Verse stops this from becoming a significant problem by focusing on its two main heroes.
At the core of Across the Spider-Verse, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) get very traditional Spider-Man stories that feel alive thanks to very novel twists. And that's all without anyone mentioning great power and its accompanying responsibility.
Steinfeld and Moore, along with the rest of the voice actor cast, do a superb job bringing weight and emotion to their characters. This chapter also does a better job with giving more moments to Miles' parents: Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) and Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Vélez). Through those characters, plus Gwen's father George (Shea Whigham), Spider-Verse still feels grounded in emotions as it soars through interdimensional portals.
Across The Spider-Verse is a visually brilliant work of art
While Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness employed moments to show off the visual differences of its multiversal worlds, Across the Spider-Verse is far more daring.
That's arguably due to the fact that anything is possible in animation, as we see in Gwen's Rothko-esque abstract universe, where the colors shift based on the emotions at hand, and objects almost get lost in large swaths of purple and blue. With each beat of the heart and twist of their story, walls change hues, and you might get choked up a bit along the way.
Then, we switch over to Miles' world, which is filled with dots in all its details — right before we meet a man made of dots: erstwhile villain The Spot (Jason Schwartzmann), whose origin story ties back to the first Spider-Verse movie. Fortunately, it's done in a less ham-fisted way than Fast X retconned Jason Momoa into Fast Five's story.
Later, we dive into a Mumbai/Manhattan hybrid to meet Pavitr Prabhakar aka Spider-Man India (Karan Soni), a likeable dude with excellent hair. Then, the chaos turns up to 11 with Nueva York, a wild matrix of platforms and roads that's ruled by the Spider-Society, helmed by the brooding Miguel O'Hara / Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac).
Across the Spider-Verse is building its own Endgame-grade cast
Oh, and just know that the above list of names is barely grazing the iceberg. Issa Rae's Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman proves that pregnant superheroes are still intimidating as well.
Daniel Kaluuya (NOPE) is Hobart "Hobie" Brown aka Spider-Punk, whose character lives in its own style that doesn't match anything around it. Andy Samberg (SNL) is here as Ben Reilly, the super-brooding Scarlet Spider. The list goes on and on.
And it all works well, even if you've never heard of these characters. Each is fun and interesting, and not overused or clouding the narrative. Comedic punchlines are hit just as often and accurately as Gwen and Miles shoot webs.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse risks an MCU-esque mistake
On top of that, Across the Spider-Verse is merely the first-half of a story, as it ends on a cliffhanger with a hero in peril. This was more obvious back when the movie was called Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Part One) and its sequel 'Beyond the Spider-Verse' was still referred to as the film's second half.
So much of this movie is spent world-building, and I found myself thinking I was watching a setup for a sequel, rather than its own story. This isn't a terrible problem, but I simply wish there was something close to an "ending" in this chapter, instead of just a new segue.
You don't want to feel like you're just here for a setup, as that's the problem that plagued the MCU's weaker early movies, such as Age of Ultron.
Outlook: Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse is the most ambitious comic book adaptation I've seen in ages
When I began reading comic books as a kid, I'd notice that different books had different visual styles. As my Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse review explains, this film thrives by bringing back those feelings into one movie, which seems like you're watching a whole year of storytelling fly by as you jump from one visual style to the next.
All, of course, while you're nearly yelping at each progression of Miles and Gwen's stories. I'll admit that weeks prior to this movie coming out, I wasn't sure how much I was going to dig it, as I just kept seeing too much about the Spider-Verse and not about our heroes' stuff. Now, I've got to give credit to the creative team of Lord & Miller for setting the bar high for the upcoming Marvel movies. This is how you go into the multiverse.
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Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.