There’s a simple reason that “Sunflower,” a single from the soundtrack to 2018’s Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, became an Earth-conquering smash hit: It works outside of the context of the movie. In that film’s opening scene, our protagonist Miles Morales sings the song very off-key before he’s interrupted by his parents. It’s a nifty start to the coming-of-age story that endears him to the audience in a matter of seconds. Other songs tackled the movie’s themes of identity and adolescence in ways subtle and blatant, but without references to swinging, masks, or arachnids of any kind, Post Malone and Swae Lee’s “Sunflower,” a track about two strung-out dudes leading a girl on, took on a life of its own. (It wasn’t even originally supposed to be in the movie: the team initially wanted Miles to sing Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” but after Jordan Peele’s 2017 breakout Get Out used the song in a similar way a year prior, they picked “Sunflower” at the last minute from a batch of already completed songs sent by Republic Records.)

Into The Spider-Verse became an adored modern classic of the superhero genre and its soundtrack, a cohesive if overbearing album in its own right, went on to chart at the top of the Billboard 200, thanks in no small part to the runaway success of “Sunflower.” That left its sequel, this year’s Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse, with some humongous Jordan 1s to fill. The film itself comes with more ambitious animation, a more mature plot that deconstructs the Spider-Man character’s archetypal DNA, and a boatload of comic book Easter eggs. For the soundtrack, they’ve come with something equally inspired, at least on paper: Atlanta superproducer Metro Boomin is its executive producer, doing for the Spider-Verse what Kendrick Lamar did for Black Panther and Wakanda back in 2018 (complete with his own in-movie cameo). Fresh off the success of his recently platinum-certified 2022 comeback album Heroes & Villains, Metro takes a serviceable stab at crafting music to swing to.

Metro’s music has always had a cinematic flair to it. Whatever sound he’s toying with, there’s a grand spectacle to his beats that can power a party anthem or bolster a bars-first exhibition. On opener “Annihilate,” co-producer Mike Dean’s synths flood Metro’s canvas of drums and samples like food coloring in a glass of water, creating a foreboding and jumpy digital atmosphere. They bring the same pomp to “Am I Dreaming,” their synthetics meshing well with orchestral string section flourishes—it sounds like an end credits song (which it is) in the best possible way.

For all the excitement, some of the beats skew extra generic, even by soundtrack standards. Synths and drums have been Metro’s bread and butter for years, but even he gets stuck in a rhythmic tar pit every once in a while. The hi-hats and plodding groove of “All The Way Live” sound as catatonic as the Future hook warbling through it, not to mention how the minimalism of “Self-Love” would tip over into sleepy territory without Coi Leray’s chirpy vocals keeping things lively. Metro and his band of co-producers get their best work off when they broaden their horizons with some experiments. They warp guitar strings (“Home”), bounce colorful synths off Afrobeats drum programming (“Link Up”), and punch holes through the middle of beefed-up samples (“Nas Morales”) to dazzling effect. Metro’s eye for direction gives the better songs here a big boost.

Things really begin to wobble when it comes to the features and their many references to crawling walls and slinging webs. Some find a good balance, like A$AP Rocky putting himself in Miles’ shoes on “Am I Dreaming?” (“Count up my ones, lacin’ up my favorite 1s…Kiss my momma on the forehead ‘fore I get the Code Red/And swing by 410, beef patty, cornbread”) or Lil Uzi Vert digging at Spider-Man’s outcast nature on “Home.” Some, like Lil Wayne’s marathon verse on “Annihilate,” pack as many references to spiders and Spider-Man characters into 13 bars as possible (“I give an opp arachnophobia,” “She’ll turn to Spider-Woman if I bite her”) like he’s being watched by a radioactive Sony A&R. Others just barely register—it’s remarkable how bored Metro regulars Offset and 21 Savage sound on their combined five verses across the album.

But the one song where theme and music blend together perfectly is James Blake’s “Hummingbird.” Over a pitched-up sample of Patience and Prudence’s “Tonight You Belong To Me” that eventually pitches down and melts into a gooey drum pattern, Blake coos a story of unrequited love that, while easily applicable to Miles and Gwen Stacy, hits at universal truths about love and acceptance with those ghostly wails of his (“Pen pal on a night shift/She’s who I get away with/Realizing she might/Be all I need in this life”). It’s no “Sunflower,” but it matches the dim intimacy of the scene it underscores while also sounding just as eerily beautiful on its own.

Across The Spider-Verse is a sequel to an IP-driven box-office hit that doubles as an arm of the Sony/Disney/Marvel industrial complex, but it’s also about defying the status quo. It deconstructs the superhero’s relationship to tragedy and features a web-slinging T-Rex. There’s drama and humor in this multiverse of madness, and Metro Boomin’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse soundtrack captures those qualities in fleeting doses. Nothing here feels as unorganized as the last Black Panther soundtrack or the shill-tastic hollowness of the Space Jam: A New Legacy companion album. However, only a few songs will live outside their cinematic context, and some land like unfinished leftovers from previous Metro projects. Some strands in the web are stronger than others.