Even those supine with super-hero fatigue (and exhausted by the multiverse rigmarole) must admit Sony’s cartoon, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, was special. It’s now got the follow-up it deserves. In the bold, hilarious and uber-agile sequel, the visuals swing to new heights. Basically, I won’t believe what I’ve seen until I’ve watched the whole thing again.
The prologue establishes that reliably iconoclastic duo, Phil Lord and Chris Miller (the film’s co-writers/producers) are in the mood to play, as they ignore 15 year old Brooklynite Miles Morales/Spider-Man (Shameik Moore) to focus on his emo-ish soul-mate, Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld).
In the first film, Gwen was a tad one-note. The intro here puts flesh on her sarky bones. It shows her joshing with the leaders of an elite society of alt-dimensional Spideys, led by Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), and sets the jazzily high-art tone (Leonardo da Vinci, Jeff Koons and Banksy all get name-checked; as it should be, the joke’s on Jeff).
Then Miles takes over and we meet villain Jonathan Ohnn/The Spot, a skinny fellow with a daffy voice (Jason Schwartzman), who seems too funny to be scary. In fact, as he accidentally becomes an “interdimensional being”, he gains a hefty hinterland and dominates the disturbing frames you’ll never want, or be able, to forget (when he wigs out, it’s like watching a Frank Auerbach drawing explode). You’d expect nothing less from co-director Kemp Powers, who wrote and co-directed the moody Pixar classic, Soul.
It’s because Gwen has been charged with containing The Spot that she re-enters Miles’ universe, paving the way for our hero to gatecrash the Spider-Society. This organisation is packed with Spider-y folk who’ve all featured in Marvel comics. Pregnant Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman (Issa Rae) and chirpily anti-British Pavitr Prabhakar/Spider-Man India (Karan Soni) are fabulous value. Yet the star of the show is flirty, contrary London punk, Hobie (Daniel Kaluuya), both because of what he says and the glee with which Kaluuya makes him say it. If you’ve ever heard the actor discussing his favourite football team (Arsenal) you’ll recognise that tone. He and the naughty character are a perfect fit.
Alas, the same can’t be said of Oscar Isaac and tediously glum antagonist, O’Hara (the latter looks fantastic, a seething mass of crazy colours, but the script can’t keep up, which leaves Isaac hanging). O’Hara is the spider in the ointment. Luckily, he’s shunted to one side for the delightfully sinister finale, which sets the stage for part two (released March 2024).
Stretching things out might sound like a money-spinning ploy. It is! But ever since The Empire Strikes Back, waiting has been baked into the blockbuster game. And now that we’ve been given even more reasons to care about Miles and his loved ones, there’s every reason to believe the threequel will be emotional as Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Across the Spider-Verse isn’t better or worse than Into the Spider-Verse. It’s just different (where the first movie was tighter, the second one takes more risks). And it needs to be seen on an IMAX screen. It’s a mind-breaking work of staggering genius. Go big or go home.
140mins, cert PG