The Plot: Miles (Shameik Moore) is gradually getting used to his superpowers as his universe’s Spider-Man. This brings him into conflict with his supposed arch-nemesis The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) who is intent on destroying him. In her universe, Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) is suspected of the murder of Peter Parker and comes into contact with a group of elite Spider-People fronted by the brooding Miguel (Oscar Isaac). As their two Spider-Verses come crashing into each other, Miles must make difficult choices about what it means to be a superhero on his own terms when there are so many others who want him to be something else…
The Verdict: In the autumn of 2018, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse crept up quietly on the back of Venom. An animated Spider-Man movie that seemingly didn’t have much going for it other than its brand name association, it became something else entirely. A dazzling, highly-original animation that redefined what exactly animation is and can be when carefully thought out, it went on to wow audiences and scooped up an Oscar for its considerable efforts. Now those Spidey senses are tingling again with the long-awaited sequel Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse. It continues the story of young Miles Morales as he takes on the mantle of Spider-Man for his world but with the realisation that his existence concerns the many other Spider-People in the multi-dimensional Spider-Verse. His decisions will have a ripple effect as he develops deeper feelings for Gwen, while there are also consequences for his family.
It would be easy for the creators of this Spider-Verse series to rest on their laurels and just churn out a cookie cutter sequel, a cash-in riding on the coat-tails of the original’s roaring success. If there was any temptation there, it’s not evident in the end result. They pushed themselves before to mix a variety of international animation styles to thrilling effect – so influential that it was copied by another animation involving a certain cat earlier this year. To really make a proper sequel, filmmakers have to push themselves – and the audience – further than before. That appears to be the motto of Across The Spider-Verse. It’s not just more. It’s more than can be expected from a sequel, being quite daring and taking bigger risks than before in the way it approaches storytelling and visual impact. There’s more than one villain in this story, a potential pitfall given a previous live action Spider-Man film that foundered on this same issue. Co-directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson breeze past that without so much as breaking a sweat.
It’s evident that there’s a growing sense of confidence among the creative team. Animation boundaries aren’t just meant to be pushed but broken and then reverse-engineered back into something dynamic and unlike anything else seen before. Take one emotionally charged scene involving Gwen and her father, who faces an uncertain future himself. The watercolour animation in the background literally starts bleeding, as if affected by the human emotions rumbling in the CG foreground. That’s just one animation style among many on display here, along with several sight gags and franchise Easter eggs for the observant fanbase. It’s like watching an eye-popping comic book come to vivid life, then blended together with a wild but imaginative creative force behind it that doesn’t lose focus. It’s spectacular to engage with on the big screen as a sensory overload, but it will eventually benefit from home viewing too when the pause button will come in handy. Freeze any frame and it looks like a work of pop art with a style all of its own. Maybe it should be an art gallery installation too.
It’s not just about the look of the animation. There’s a consistently engaging story about Miles and his interactions with family and friends which provides a solid foundation to build the rest of the film on. He grows as a character here, becoming tougher and more resilient as he faces an identity crisis. Gwen too has a finely-rounded character arc which makes her more than just a potential love interest, while the ambitious Miguel comes to represent what happens when one Spider-Man becomes jaded and burnt out. Set among six universes and featuring some 240 characters, Across The Spider-Verse could very well have got tangled in its own spider web. It’s to the filmmakers’ credit then that they’ve kept track of all these characters and knitted them into an overarching story that makes sense and has plenty of legs to go further. As a film about the multiverse too, it’s wonderfully unpredictable in what it will throw next at the screen. As a super sequel that will reward repeat viewings, this could be the one to beat at the box office this summer. The filmmakers have done it again.
Rating: 4.5 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse
Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse (USA / PG / 140 mins)
In short: Super sequel
Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson.
Starring Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac, Jason Schwartzman, Jake Johnson, Issa Rae.