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Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse (2023)

When a film is as beloved as Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse a sequel can be approached with a certain amount of trepidation. When the original has overcome the odds to become something truly special it's natural to wonder if they can pull it off twice. Could the sequel ever live up to the high standards of the first movie? In the case of Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse the answer is an emphatic "yes". And then some.

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse is produced by Sony Pictures Animation in association with Marvel. The film is directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson, and written by Phil Lord, Chris Miller and Dave Callaham.

The sequel picks up some time after the original, where Miles Morales struggles to balance his everyday teen life with that of being Brooklyn's one-and-only Local Friendly Spider-Man. An unexpected visit to his dimension from Gwen Stacy sets off a series of events that will catapult Miles across the multiverse and puts him on collision course with Miguel O'Hara aka Spider-Man 2099, who has taken it on himself to police the Spider-Verse,

Across The Spider-Verse distinguishes itself from the original immediately by opening in Gwen's Universe. Gwen's world is distinguished by watercolour backgrounds and pastel colours- pinks, purples and whites in a colour palette borrowed from the original Spider-Gwen comics. It sets up Gwen having a much bigger role this time- arguably she's close to stepping up to co-lead.

This is very much still Mile's story, however. Following the Gwen-based prologue, we head to catch up with him in Brooklyn. We get a taste of his troubles as we see him juggling a school meeting with his parents and trying to take down a dastardly villain called The Spot.

The New York sequences ground the film. They're well observed and big-hearted, with the characters coming off as very relatable to anybody who has ever been a teenager or a parent. It all builds a strong foundation from which the multiverse madness can launch off later in the film.

The film takes its time to get to the pan-dimensional antics promised by the title. It doesn't fling dozens of spider-people at you from the off and shows considerable restraint in its first act. Its lengthy runtime (a record for studio animation) allows its characters to breathe and the story to unfold in its own time.

Once we do get to do some universe-hopping however, Across The Spider-Verse really takes off. Miles leaves his home dimension for the first time and we get to experience other universes such as Mumbattan, where New York is crossed with Mumbai. Just as each alternate spider-person was distinguished by a different animation style in the first film, the same is true for each different universe.

The sequel looks to one-up the original in every way. It certainly does that by considerably increasing the number of spider-men/women/cats/horses/T-Rexs. There are reportedly 280 variations featured in the movie, 95 of which are unique and named characters, which makes Avengers Endgame look positively, pedestrian.

The biggest danger the sequel faced was that it could have become overstuffed. But although there are hundreds of spideys in the movie, only a handful of the new characters really get much in the way of screen time.

The main ones are Spider-Man 2099 (introduced in the post-credit sting in the first movie) heavily pregnant Spider-Woman Jessica Drew, Spider-Punk aka Hobie Brown and Pavitr Prabhakar aka Spider-Man India. Peter B Parker also makes a return, this time with baby Mayday in tow.

The rest are mainly featured in blink-and-you-'ll-miss-it cameos or background appearances, or showing up for one line or two. Most of them feature in The Spider Society, the meeting place for spider-folk from all dimensions.

Each Spider-person (or most of them at least) is rendered in a subtly different animation style- some more distinctive than others. The most memorable is probably that of Spider-Punk, whose aesthetic is lifted out of 1970's Sex Pistols style punk artwork. The film's sheer visual audacity is showcased best in an exhilarating, dazzling chase sequence that makes up part of the climax of the film.

Into The Spider-Verse was (rightly) described as a game changer. Against the odds, Across The Spider-Verse is a sequel that changes the game again. The film is positively overflowing with visual inventiveness and has a quality story to back it up. The playfulness starts from the first frame and never lets up. It moves at quite a clip, propelled along by Daniel Pemberton's exhilarating score.

The voice cast are universally excellent, led by Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld as Miles and Gwen. Other standouts are Jake Johnson, Oscar Isaac, Brian Tyree Henry, Issa Rae, Daniel Kaluuya and Karan Soni.

The film is positively full of references and Easter Eggs. It's impossible to take it all in on one sitting, meaning that repeat viewings are not just recommended but a virtual necessity.

It's hard to imagine anyone who loved the first film won't fall for this, but anyone who wasn't a fan is unlikely to be won over. Across The Spiderverse is a thrilling, often hilarious and emotionally affecting experience. The cliffhanger of an ending will have you itching to find out what happens next, but luckily we've only go to wait until next March when Spider-Man: Beyond The Spider-Verse arrives.


IN A NUTSHELL:  Stunningly animated and always captivating, Beyond The Spiderverse is a new benchmark for studio animation