Call it Amazing, call it Spectacular — what sets Spider-Verse sequel apart is the storytelling

No buildings to swing from here. Miles Morales tumbles into the multiverse in a scene from Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.  (Sony Pictures  - image credit)
No buildings to swing from here. Miles Morales tumbles into the multiverse in a scene from Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. (Sony Pictures - image credit)

Spider-Man, Spider-Man. Does whatever a spider can.

Exploding onto screens in a meta marvel of comic-book inspired animation, 2018's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse redefined what and who Spider-Man could be.

Five years later Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse builds on the groundbreaking film, suggesting it's what you do with your power that truly defines a hero.

Thanks to the infinite play chest of content that is the multiverse, the sequel is positively plagued with Spider-Men, Spider-Women, Spider-Gals and Spider-Cats — even an anthropomorphized Spider-Car. There's seemingly no concept or creature that hyphen can't connect.

WATCH | The official Across the Spider-Verse trailer:

But whether he's a man or a red and blue dune buggy, under the mask and the constant stream of quips is one of Marvel Comics' most malleable and moral heroes.

What bonds Peter Parker, Gwen Stacy and Miles Morales is the burden they carry: To be the best. To do the most with the ability they've been gifted and honour the lives they've failed to save.

As the new Spider-Verse film opens, Miles Morales, the young Spider-Man of Brooklyn (Earth 1610) is not so much angst-ridden as he is over-extended.

The 15-year-old is getting better at the super hero thing, but the pressure of leading two lives has driven a wedge between him and his parents. Under his hype new costume is a lonely, overachieving kid, and the only person who truly gets him is another multiverse away.

Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

Meet the spider-team 

The object of Miles' obsession is Gwendolyn Stacy, a.k.a. Spider-Gwen. Voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, Gwen seethes with frustration, constantly bashing heads with her police captain father who blames Spider-Gwen for her best friend's death. Soon, ripples from the last film, including the arrival of a new dalmatian-styled villain named The Spot, conspire to bring Gwen and Miles together.

While the first Spider-Verse introduced a handful of parallel Earth heroes such as Spider-Ham and Spider-Man Noir, Across the Spider-Verse treats us to an army of arachnid-influenced heroes all swinging their way through the multiverse, attempting to keep the various timelines intact.

Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

Whether you're a merry Marvel zombie or Spider-Man superfan, there will be many yelps of recognition as Across the Spider-Verse serves up enough cartoon cameos to fill a Saturday morning watch party.

Except for one gloriously slapstick chase sequence, Spider-Verse mostly focuses on the main team tasked with containing the multiversal chaos.

Oscar Isaac voices Miguel O'Hara, the world-weary leader of the future, Spider-Man 2099. Issa Rae plays the no-nonsense motorbike racing Spider-Woman. There's also the blessed return of Jake Johnson as Peter B. Parker, a.k.a. the one in the Snuggie, now with his own Spider-Toddler.

Andy Samberg has a small but hilariously effective role as the self-narrating oh-so-serious Scarlet Spider. (He was cloned. It's a whole thing.) Karan Soni, who played the cab driver in Deadpool, appears here as Pavitr Prabhakar, the positively ebullient Spider-Man of Mumbattan, India.

And if you're looking for more edge, Daniel Kayluuya provides the voice of Spider-Punk, an antiestablishment Spider-Man with a cockney twang and penchant for power chords.

Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

Daring art meets strength of story  

As characters come and go, the film shifts colour pallets and esthetics with ease. While Gwen and her father argue as the screen swims with plush pastels, a full-frame shot of Gwen's furrowed brow is complimented by abstract designs — Kandinsky meets Miami Vice. Spider-Punk himself appears like a faded concert flyer, the colour bleached away, his edges ragged and torn.

What keeps the film from drowning in a sea of hyper-niche comic book references is the firm grasp on the story at the centre. Indeed it's the strength of that story and clarity of the characters that gives the movie the freedom to experiment.

Across the Spider-Verse has evolved beyond the first film's constantly self-referential comic art. The sequel does occasionally use comic panels to split our attention, but the colouring is bold and daring, like a LeRoy Neiman painting sprung to life.

WATCH | Enjoy a cup of chai with India's Spider-Man, Pavitr Prabhakar:

The pulsing heart at the centre of the movie is Shameik Moore as Miles Morales, a young man trapped between worlds. Not the multiverse, but his loyalty to family versus his burgeoning heroic career.

Animated or not, few films capture the playfulness and emotional accuracy of the tenuous teenager/parent relationship.

In one scene after Miles' parents meet Gwen, his mom Rio (Luna Lauren Velez) hangs back, watching her son pine. With his back still turned, Miles says, "I can hear you being quiet, Mom." "I hope I didn't ice your game man," is her hilarious and awkward response. To which he replies, "No one my age, says those words in that order."  The love and connection they share, even in the midst of an argument, is tangible.

Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

A sequel better and richer than the original

Rio may not know what her son is hiding, but she gives him the strength to push on. She and Brian Tyree Henry, as Miles' exasperated father, are bottomless reservoirs he pulls from. It's the film's central preoccupation with family and the impossibility of finding yourself while still living under your parents' care that makes Across the Spider-Verse better and richer than the 2018 film.

The sequel is mind-numbing in its imagination and also deeply personal. If there's a downside here, it's that while Miles is still working out what kind of hero he wants to be, the one thing the film lacks is closure.

Across the Spider-Verse takes its time introducing new characters and calamities, but it all ends on a cliffhanger, forcing us to wait until March 2024 for Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse.

Turns out the true villain is time.