New Spider-Man ‘striking’

SONY Pictures Animation have just released the superhero blockbuster Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Our own Tom Parry went to check it out.

One year and four months into his tenure as Spider-Man, Miles Morales (voice of Shameik Moore) is feeling low. In between stopping petty criminals and dealing with a lowly supervillain known only as The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), the teenager is struggling to connect with his over-zealous parents, and still reeling from the death of his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali).

Miles’ spirits are lifted by the arrival of friend and fellow superhero Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), who has joined an elite team of Spider-People tasked with thwarting high-level threats. As it happens, such a threat has been located in Brooklyn – one which poses a danger not just to New York and its people, but to reality itself.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the follow-up to 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse, which upon release received widespread praise for its soundtrack, loveable ensemble of characters, quirky humour and, foremostly, its distinctive visuals. Those qualities have all carried over to the latest film, which retains the look and sound, yet is no mere facsimile of its predecessor.

The art and illustrations of Spider-Verse 2 are the most striking of any animated movie from a mainstream Hollywood studio. Each world inhabited by the characters has a unique palette and style to set them apart, all of which are abundant in creative imagery. This is especially the case for Gwen’s alternate universe, which features lush pastel colours and backgrounds which appear to be painted by brush – even though a majority of the sequences have been rendered with computers. (It’s important to note the “majority” part because the animation is not exclusively computer-generated – some scenes utilise live-action, stop-motion or hand-drawn techniques, to clever effect.)

A further distinction from the 2018 picture is the screenplay. Where before the script relied heavily on tropes and clichés to tell its tale, here it is more original, placing Miles in a conflict that no other Spider-Man has faced before, and in doing so showing facets of his character that have never before been seen. What’s more, the story is nuanced, thought-provoking and packs a surprisingly emotional wallop.

Though certainly an outstanding film, perfect Spider-Verse 2 is not. Viewers will be tested by the length, likewise the cliffhanger finale that very openly, arrogantly teases next year’s sequel, Beyond the Spider-Verse. Non-fans of Spidey, meanwhile, will struggle to identify or appreciate the multitude of references, in-jokes and links to other Spider-Man media; and if they didn’t enjoy Into the Spider-Verse, they’re certainly not going to be won over by Across.

Those who are fans of New York’s web-slinging, wall-crawling superhero, on the other hand, are in for a treat. Across the Spider-Verse is a masterpiece of animated cinema that begs to be seen again and again, outmatching its predecessor in the visual and story department, while carrying over all the other qualities that made it so enjoyable.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is rated PG for science-fiction themes, animated violence and coarse language, and is currently screening at Sale Cinema.