Shucks, we're caught in the web again. Although to be fair, this time it's not all that terrible since it's the web of Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse, an action adventure spectacle based on Marvel Comics and a sequel to 2018's spectacular 'Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse'. Directed by the trio comprised of Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson, we're slinging our way back to Brooklyn where Miles Morales/Spider-Man (Shameik Moore), over a year later since we last saw him, gets a visit from a familiar face of Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld) who's on the run from her own universe after causing the death of her world's Peter Parker and having told her father George (Shea Whigham) about her identity, which is something that Miles is also thinking of doing to his parents Jeff (Brian Tyree Henry) and Rio (Luna Lauren Velez).
Whilst dealing with these personal struggles, Miles and Gwen also face the illusive new villain The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), leading them through the shifting multiverse filled with different Spider-People, including Miles' old pal and mentor Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) from the previous film.
Despite that a lot of the energy and madness carries over from ''Into'' to ''Across'', there's an interesting thread impacting the latter that you can see immediately in the film's stylish, explosive opening. That happens to be strong character arcs, which the first film explored thoroughly, notably when it came to Miles' challenges and personality. This time it's more of a mixed bag as Miles' character arc doesn't really hold the movie above water, all the while there's a resonant and sharp narrative about flourishing and fortitude when it comes to Gwen. Therefore, Across certainly struggles at times because the emotional connection isn't quite as palpable, perhaps leaving one or two too many doors open for the sequel to come salvage it all, though there is plenty of virtuosity covering for some of those flaws.
Screenwriters Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Dave Callaham undoubtedly trust the animators to bring anything and everything to life in remarkable fashion and you can really feel that passion and care when it comes to collaboration between the ambitious story and visual splendour. This is pushing boundaries, revelling in the experimentation and originality, in a way that is at the very least groundbreaking if not more. It's just exciting to see an art form such as film doing that when all of the creatives are up to the task. Hats off to the animation wizards; this is exemplary work from the lighting to movement, from colour to shading or from Patrick O' Keefe's production design to detailed locations.
Helping to hold all of those elements closely together and controlling the tonal shifts is an equally wonderful tag team of Michael Andrews' editing and Daniel Pemberton's musical score. Using traditional coverage of a handheld camera, action photography, comic book-esque layouts and great transitions, the editing rhythms manage to both highlight a specific emotion of a scene and keep the dizzying story moving swiftly. Meanwhile, the score blends orchestral trills with biting hip-hop beats, arpeggiated synths and alt-rock guitars, which is a blend that neatly reflects traditional art styles and archetypes entangling with new technology and our young, rebellious protagonists.
Pemberton's composing is actually in such a fluent conversation with the characters and themes that you really notice the lacklustre effort when it comes to the soundtrack (supervised by Kier Lehman). There are multiple moments in the movie where songs are grating distractions during scenes with dialogue or action because the transitions from the already fitting score are awkward and the samey, heavily mumbled and tuned songs have poor lyricism and little impact on a scene's sensibility—often their only purpose seems to be increasing the soundtrack album's sales. It's the one place where there might be too many cooks in the kitchen and that's impressive with this many writers and directors alone. You can just trust your essentials and use the leftover energy on what's special about these films, which is the animation. That's the thing that is taking us to places and we're willing to leap with it.
Smileys: Story, editing, score, originality
Frowneys: Some issues with characterisation and soundtrack
When Miles smokes for the first time, he'll join the Miles-high club.