The Movie Guru: ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ a masterpiece of a film

Grade: Five stars (out of four)

'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse' is now playing in theaters.
Sony/Courtesy photo

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is “The Empire Strikes Back” of the Spider-Verse movies.

For the movie nerds out there, I mean that on nearly every level. “Across the Spider-Verse” is significantly weightier and more serious than its fun, adventure-filled predecessor. It tackles those heavier themes in such an incredible, meaningful way that it elevates the trilogy it’s part of to the level of masterpiece. It’s a crucible for the young hero at the heart of it, confronting him with choices that will make him truly earn the title. It’s also got such a cliffhanger ending that you’ll scream, throw something, and beg the studio to come out with the sequel as soon as humanly possible.

(Seriously. I have never in my life felt such sympathy for the original “Star Wars” fans.)

I feel like I can barely tell you anything about the plot, because watching the movie unfold is part of the thrill. I will say that you’ll want to make sure you watch “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” before sitting down to this one, and anything that’s not explained by the previous film will definitely be explained here. If you’ve seen the trailers, you already know you’ll see some familiar faces. You’ll break your heart a little. Maybe more than a little.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Spider-Man movie without at least some humor. There’s a convenience store fight that’s absolutely hilarious, and the eternal superhero struggle of trying to both fight crime and transport baked goods across any real distance. Some of the Spider-Men, Spider-Women and Spider-Creatures are a delight (and probably have more comic book precedence than you ever imagined). There’s also a very fun guest appearance for those familiar with the Sony Marvel-Verse.

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Though comic and Sony movie knowledge will help you get a bunch of references, simply being a Spider-Man fan is what unlocks some of the vital themes at the heart of the film. “Across the Spider-Verse” delves into what it means to be Spider-Man, and what it has meant across years and years of formats, variants and reboots. We won’t know how this will all play out until the sequel, but it has the potential to both deeply honor the character and blow a lot of the established formulas wide open.

And even if you didn’t understand any of that, you should still watch this movie. The animation is incredible, with different styles for each of the different universes that somehow still look good together onscreen. If you doubted animation as a viable art form, this will restore your faith in it.

And if you take away the costumes, it’s about things we all understand. Love. Family. What it means to be a friend, and what it takes to do the right thing. What it means to be a good guy, and how we find meaning in who we are.

It’s about blame and consequences. It’s about bravery and hope. What could be more universal than that?

(I’m serious about that cliffhanger ending, though. Prepare yourself.)

Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at

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