The sequel to the brilliant Into the Spider-Verse ‘feels frantically busy and wheel-spinningly slow at the same time’, writes Nicholas Barber. But the ‘cleverness and craftsmanship’ are still staggering.
As before, the cleverness and craftsmanship are so staggering that they make the directors of every other animation seem as if they aren’t trying. But perhaps Across the Spider-Verse has too much of a good thing. Co-written by its producers, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie), the film opens with a prologue revolving around Gwen’s disagreements with her policeman father (Shea Whigham), and her battle with a Vulture (Jorma Taccone) who has flapped his way into her reality from an alternate 16th Century. This section goes on for too long. Then, over in Miles’s universe, there is a sequence revolving around his disagreements with his policeman father (Brian Tyree Henry), and his battle with The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), an initially bumbling supervillain who learns how to open portals into other dimensions. This section goes on for too long, as well. Both the hyperactive fights and the po-faced speeches keep going well after you’ve got the point.
That’s not to say that Across the Spider-Verse dawdles: it crams every frame with dazzling new sights and jokes. But it feels frantically busy and wheel-spinningly slow at the same time. It’s 50 minutes before Gwen reunites with Miles, and at least another half-hour before they get to the Spider-People HQ that features so prominently in the trailers. The Spot, despite being the principal villain, is absent for much of it. But the most flagrant example of the film’s excesses is that, even though it’s nearly two-and-a-half hours long, it only gets halfway through its story. It ends on a cliffhanger, and a caption announces that Miles will return in a further instalment, Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse. No wonder it feels more exhausting than exhilarating.
Spider-geeks may not mind this self-indulgence: they are sure to spend hours rewatching and pausing it to catalogue all of the many allusions to six decades’ worth of comics, cartoons, live-action films and video games. But non-geeks may be perplexed. While Into the Spider-Verse introduced some futuristic science-fiction conceits, it was firmly rooted in the life of a troubled Brooklyn teenager, whereas Across the Spider-Verse leans into the artificiality of its world: its central, postmodern concern is how the multiverse will be affected by the tangled web of various Spider-Man narratives. If you don’t happen to be a universe-hopping comic-book superhero, it’s hard to relate to any of it.
Maybe the slight disappointment was inevitable. How could any sequel be as groundbreaking as Into the Spider-Verse was? Besides, in the four and a half years since that film came out in 2018, the concept of super-powered action in alternate universes has been explored in Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans, and the Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All At Once, so what once seemed brain-bendingly original now seems over-familiar. But the main reason why Across the Spider-Verse doesn’t live up to its predecessor is a simple one: it doesn’t have Spider-Ham in it.
Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse is on general release from 2 June
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