Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, review: too many multiverses by half

Since 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse, and some way earlier in the comics, there’s been a new Spidey on the block: Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), the black-hispanic teenager with his own troubles in another dimension. “I was bitten by a radioactive spider,” he tells us again and again, stuck with the same backstory as that other guy, Peter Parker, whom he knows as a fatigued older webslinger.

“Let’s do things differently this time,” we hear promisingly at the start of Miles’s second big-screen escapade, Across the Spider-Verse. The words emanate not from him, but from on/off girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), aka Spider-Gwen, who in this alternate reality has all the same skills as Miles or Peter, and gets the first 20 minutes unto herself.

Differently? Not that differently. Across the Spider-Verse has a panoply of parts spinning around – scurrying chases after “villain of the week” Spot (Jason Schwartzman), as well a new range of alterna-Spideys to introduce, including a black sex-pistol wannabe named Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya), and an Indian counterpart (Karan Soni) who lives in a fusion of cities called “Mumbattan”.

These guys are reliably funny diversions, in that Lego-Movie-esque mode we now expect from co-writers Phil Lord and Chris Miller. What else? Oscar Isaac is the more humour-averse Miguel O’Hara, an Irish-Mexican ninja who takes charge to protect the Multiverse from anomalies that might cause “canon disruption events”.

Ah, Multiverses. The film dangles a morsel of bait for anyone who feels they’ve been delighted long enough by these, via Everything Everywhere All At Once, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. It might be more novel at this point for superheroes to stick a pin in one reality and rip up their passports.

Miles is whisked around on this carnival ride and, wouldn’t you know, gets frustrated – tired of being beholden to a canon that means nothing to him. He wants to break free and decide on his own story: a sympathetic goal, but one the Marvel machinery simply can’t allow him to pursue without punishment. Going rogue, alas, isn’t even an option.

We dance around this flummoxing paradox and come back to square one. The story might drive a wedge between Gwen and Miles, but it’s also just so much running on the spot, wrapped around by 360º visual showmanship that’s giddier than ever.

This is the allure. As a vehicle for state-of-the-art animation techniques that streaks past its predecessor, the film is obviously quite intoxicating, beefed up with a ceaseless soundtrack of angsty, of-the-moment beats.

And lo, it gets drunk on itself – sometimes sad-drunk to the brink of a hangover, slurrily outstaying its welcome. There’s hardly a frame that isn’t witty in some way. But I was reminded of Emperor Joseph II’s “too many notes” to Mozart. Being overdazzled by too many frames can only leave you wanting fewer.

PG cert, 140 min. In cinemas from Thursday June 1