Why is the sequel never the equal? Well, this time it is.
"Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse," now zipping into the theater-verse, is the long-awaited follow-up to 2018's "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," a revelatory thrill ride that deservedly won the Oscar for animation.
You watch this jaw-dropping encore in awe at what animation can do when it's blasting past formula to open new frontiers as a visual and emotional powerhouse. Too much? Sometimes. But "Across the Spider-Verse," the first in a two-part sequel (we'll have to wait till March to complete the tale with "Beyond the Spider-Verse") is out to make history. Consider it done.
No knock on Tom Holland, the most recent and best live-action Spider-Man, but this riveting re-imagining creates a multitude of web slingers to tickle our comic-book fancy and deepen it. To stick with traditional Peter Parker and his heroic alter-ego is to be stuck in a creative rut.
None of that here. "Across the Spider-Verse" picks up with Miles Morales (again voiced by the terrific Shameik Moore), Brooklyn's half-Black, half-Puerto Rican Spider-Man, now joining Spider-Woman Gwen Stacy (a quipy, playful Hailee Steinfeld) on a trip to realms where Spideys are as plentiful as Swifties.
Miles and Gwen accept a mission impossible from the Spider Society, led by Oscar Isaac's gloomy Miguel O'Hara, aka Spider-Man 2099, and Issa Rae's pregnant, hog-riding Jessica Drew. From their home base in futuristic Nueva York, both exercise their power with responsibility.
The do-badder is The Spot (Jason Schwartzman deliciously stealing scenes just as he does in the upcoming "Asteroid City") who amps up his role as villain of the week by taking vengeance on Miles for turning his body into ink-blot spots that serve as portals into other worlds.
It's Miles and Gwen who chase The Spot down to the Mumbai-inspired, mega-city of Mumbattan with the help of Spider-Man India Pavitr Prabhakar (Karan Soni) and Spider-Punk Hobie Brown (a simply fantastic turn by Oscar winner Daniel Kaluuya).
You'll stare in wonder at the wild visionary miracles that keep spilling out on screen with their own animation styles and color tones. You've never seen anything like it in your life. Really.
But for all its eye-popping dazzle, "Across the Spider-Verse" finds it heart in its young heroes. Even as Miles tags the city walls with his art like a web slinging Banksy, this 15-year-old is torn up about having to keep his identity hidden from his lawman dad (Brian Tyree Henry) and nurse mom (Luna Lauren), who worry about his safety in a racially charged society.
As for Gwen, the secrets she keeps leave her charged with the murder of her friend Peter Parker by, of all people, her police-captain father George (Shea Whigham).
It all comes to a head in the film's stupendous final section when Miles and Gwen are propelled into a multiverse that's raining Spider-Men, women, children, animals, you name it. The animation, both hand-sketched and computer-created, is explosive pop art. In a word, wow!
That's because the filmmakers never forget to make us care about Miles and his growing pains, or what we would do if we were in his onesie.
It's everything, everywhere, all at once to cite another Oscar-winning trip into the multiverse. But you hang on with breathless excitement because this Spidey sequel knows how to turn your head around six ways from Sunday without losing its grip on the tale's soulful humanity. My mind is blown. Just wait to see what this volcano of creative ideas in full eruption does to yours.