Spider-Man/Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) in "Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse."

Spider-Man/Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) in "Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse." Credit: Sony Pictures Animation

PLOT A teenage superhero faces a villain he may have created.

CAST Voices of Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Jason Schwartzman

RATED PG (action and mild language)


WHERE Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE An overly busy mid-trilogy chapter, elevated by dazzling animation.

Look out, here comes the middle movie!

Every franchise has one — the setup to the big finale — even if it doesn’t come precisely in the middle. They all hope to be “The Empire Strikes Back,” which introduced thrilling notes of drama and darkness into a story that began as breezy escapism. Sometimes they succeed (“The Avengers: Infinity War”), more often they don’t (“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”). So how does “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” stack up?

First, the good news: The Oscar-winning pop-art animation of the first movie (“Into the Spider-Verse”) is even more dazzling. There’s real soul in the eyes of our hero, teenage Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), and a compelling mix of bravery and vulnerability in his crush, Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld). Of the many new Spideys on display, the coolest is surely Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya), rendered as a Xeroxed cutout, while the most menacing is Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), who comes with arm-mounted blades and a grim sense of purpose. (“You’re the only Spider-Man who isn’t funny,” observes Jake Johnson as the easygoing Peter B. Parker.)

Now, the bad news. “Across the Spider-Verse” is overlong and overstuffed. There’s an underwhelming new villain, The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), who blames Miles for his current state as a faceless wraith pockmarked by gaping holes. The movie tells us he’s an existential threat, but his bumbling antics and snarky voice make him seem more of a nuisance. Meanwhile, Miles learns that O’Hara leads an entire Spider-Society, though it's far from the utopia it first appears. What’s more, this movie has not one major theme but two: The push-pull between children and their parents, and the grander notion of the “canon event” — the tragedy that shapes a superhero’s story and must not be undone.

Even for a movie that embraces comic-book excess — several characters are introduced when their debut issue plops onto a stack of other issues — this is a lot to pack in. With three writers (including Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, of “The Lego Movie”) and as many directors, “Across the Spider-Verse” barely holds itself together. But oh, that animation! A single sequence might encompass a dozen styles and mediums, from abstract sketches to radiant watercolor to Ben Day dots. (Yes, it’s all done by computer — but still.) The breathtaking visuals help alleviate the middle-movie doldrums and bode well for this franchise’s final act.

Here's what some other critics had to say about "Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse"

The heart and humor are still there, but a serious side also permeates the impressive follow-up. — USA Today

The movie may be a product and just another IP machine, but it feels human-made, and genuinely witty. — Chicago Tribune

 This feels like it could have been the first movie designed to earn a thumbs-up from Andy Warhol and Stephen Hawking.-- Variety

Across the Spider-Verse vibrates with the same energy as its predecessor even when it feels more leaden with back story. — The Hollywood Reporter

t gets drunk on itself — sometimes sad-drunk to the brink of a hangover, slurrily outstaying its welcome. — Daily Telegraph (UK)

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