Some guy called Isaac once said that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newton’s Law persists throughout Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s marvellously mad but incomplete sequel to 2018’s Into The Spider-Verse directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson.
Drawing inspiration from famous ante-upping follow-ups like The Empire Strikes Back and Back to the Future Part II, Lord and Miller draft in David Callaham to assist writing (Wonder Woman 1984, Shang-Chi, and 2005’s Doom adaptation of all films), blowing open the multiverse in an attempt to top the incredibly high bar they so brilliantly THWIP’d into place the first time around.
It’s a middle chapter big on fun but isn’t afraid to drag us to dark places to tantalisingly set up an even bigger future.
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore on reliably rootable form) returns, soaring high above the concrete jungle of his native New York City, having graduated from the school of friendly neighbourhood sorts.
The young web-slinger has familiar problems, struggling to find balance between his studies, protecting a community he loves, and perhaps most challenging of all, keeping his caring but concerned parents (Brian Tyree Henry and a welcomely more present Luna Lauren Vélez) at bay.
It’s not long before a glitchy smatter of colour heralds the return of Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) – presumably a recontextualization of the first film’s final moments – a welcome sight for Miles who clearly harbours feelings for a companion he never thought he’d see again.
Inevitably, Gwen’s unexpected return thrusts our heroes back into the multiverse, but a difficult lesson awaits as they discover that even the smallest of actions, something as innocuous as a bagel to the head, can have devastating, reality-crumbling consequences.
As all good sequels should do, Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse ramps up everything that made the first so deliriously enjoyable. More eye-popping visuals, positively bursting with pure, unrestrained creativity from its outstanding thousand-strong team of animators. More multiverse, now an enormous and sprawling playground where anything is seemingly possible. And more Spider-Man. A lot more.
The same loving reverence for the source material is also carried over, once again serving as a source for the film’s funnier and more self-deprecating moments, of which there are many. Andy Samberg’s comedic skills are put to good use in an amusing small role that I won’t spoil here. At the same time, Oscar Isaac’s shoulders strain with the burden of multi-dimensional order in a very different turn from his hilariously pointy cameo at the end of the first film.
As the story progresses, there’s a heightened feeling of meta, an intelligent spin on the core concept of not only Spider-Man but comic book heroes in general. This forms the backbone of a surprisingly complex narrative that allows plenty of grey-area characters and existential rumination.
It’s a lot of movie, potentially overwhelming for those looking for a more conventional and singular experience, but it’s surprisingly welcoming and breezy despite its initially startling 140-minute runtime.
Much like the aforementioned Back to the Future sequel, and also similar to Denis Villeneuve’s equally ambitious Dune adaptation from last year, this is merely the beginning, the first of a two-part saga that won’t be complete until early 2024.
As such, it’s difficult to gauge Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse’s true greatness. It’s a middle chapter that, for all its qualities, leaves us hanging and doesn’t quite won’t work as an isolated experience.
But if next year’s follow-up is anywhere near as good, Lord and Miller’s wildly inventive take on one of the world’s most enduringly popular superheroes will surely go down as one of the all-time great film trilogies.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is available to watch exclusively in cinemas from 1st June.
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