It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say that 2018’s Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse redefined the meaning of animation forever. Five years ago Columbias Pictures teamed up with Sony Animation to bring us a fresh take on the Superhero formula through the lens of a comic-book-brought-to-life style, woven together by stellar writing and a pitch-perfect voice cast. One of those rare moments in cinema where the final product transcended the sum of its parts. And the numbers spoke for themselves, with a worldwide box office just shy of $400 Million. Such was the impact of Miles Morales’ (voiced by Shameik Moore) origin story that the figures this time round are even greater and so, it seems, is every aspect of this blisteringly-paced follow-up.
The sequel opens in an unfamiliar dimension, shifting watercolours occupy the majority of the frame, characters standing bold and stark against it. A familiar but slightly grown-up Gwen (Hailee Steinfiled) guides us through the opening 10 minutes, colouring in the edges of her backstory. Taking its time to lay the foundations of the tender-yet-strained relationship with her father and culminating in a lively action scene featuring multiple new Spider-People and a vulture lost in time. Cue: Titles.
The remainder of the run-time features Miles more heavily as he grapples with the notion of filling the sizable boots of Peter Parker. RIP. But as the title implies, we venture far outside of the graffiti-riddled streets of urban brooklyn and swap out the hiphop soundtrack for some epic scores and punk rock. You see, riding through dimensions is all well and good but as previous universe-hopping attempts have frustratingly shown, simply giving your protagonist a questionable hair do *coughdoctorstrangecough* is not enough to warrant the multiverse genre badge. Here however, every new world Miles encounters feels distinct. Unique. Special. Each Spider-Person moves in a way that only they can. The way certain characters are animated reflects and respects the artist of the comics books in which they were conceived. The diversity in the characters and cast is natural and fun and doesn’t at all feel tokenistic (a criticism easily and often leveled at Marvel Studios). Down to the pixel, every corner of the screen is nothing short of beautiful and, more importantly, specific to that world.
To delve too deeply in to the plot would run the risk of spoiling things so we’ll keep it light. The bones of the story reunite Miles with Gwen and the wider Spider-World, led by one of the new introductions to the franchise, Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac) who, with the help of his elite Spider-Force, is spending his time hopping around the multi-verse fixing the damage Miles’ ‘heroics’ caused at the end of the first film. The exposition around this and other plot elements is well handled and some of the new multi-verse mechanics are inventive if a little fuzzy. What isn’t fuzzy however, is the connective tissue between these two films. There are reveals and twists in the third act that could not have been done let alone been so wonderfully successful had the seeds not been planted in Into The Spider-Verse. It’s a testament to the power of careful and cohesive planning and having faith in one’s story. An approach that other comic-book adaptations could and probably should adopt considering the quality of superhero output over recent years.
Ruling: Across The Spider-Verse takes what was so impressive about the first film and does the near-impossible task of elevating it even further. It is, simply put, the most beautifully animated piece of cinema to date. But what really makes it shine, is that none of that spectacle detracts from the character-led story at its heart, a story that will make the most stony-faced of viewers reach for the tissues more than once.