Out of all the superheroes in existence, Spider-Man is supposed to be the most relatable of them all. Simply put, he is designed that way. He represents everyone who is struggling to make ends meet while trying to balance their personal and professional lives. And although he is inundated with hurdles—which can be financial, romantic, or supernatural in nature—the fact that he refuses to buckle under pressure gives a superheroic shade to our motivation to keep fighting our wars. Into the Spider-Verse maintained these characteristics of the wallcrawler despite opening up the doors to his kooky and zany versions. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse deepens the well-established themes and swings for the fences with its visuals. But, to my surprise, it asks some existential questions about the kind of responsibility one should shoulder after knowing that they are an error in the system.
Across the Spider-Verse opens with Gwen as she is implicated by her own father in Peter Parker’s death. Impressed by her skills, Miguel O’Hara and Jessica Drew give her the choice to stay in her universe and face her father’s ire or join the Spider Society to erase anomalies and protect the Spider-Verse. Obviously, it’s not a choice, and Gwen punches her one-way ticket into this permanent job as a multiverse-traveling vigilante. The narrative then shifts to Miles, who, like every other Spider-Man in existence, is having a hard time being Spider-Man, living up to his parent’s expectations, grappling with the existence of a multiverse, missing Gwen, and striving to be a regular teenager. To make things worse, the film’s central villain, Spot, shows up (don’t call him the villain-of-the-week) and begins his journey of revenge against Miles because he blames Miles for his creation. Since this leads to multiversal shenanigans, Miguel steps in to serve as the film’s antagonist.
Now, let’s make a few things clear. Across the Spider-Verse is a hugely entertaining film. If you want to get your mind blown by visuals, you are going to get it. If you want to watch every iteration of Spider-Man that has been imagined in comic-book history on the big screen, you are going to get it. If you want cameos, references, and easter eggs, they have plenty of those. But beyond all the bells and whistles, directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson, along with writers Dave Callaham, Christopher Miller, and Phil Lord, seem to have zeroed in on a sentiment that’s gaining popularity in this age of perfection and overachievement. It’s called apathy. They use Miguel’s dogged determination to keep the Spider-Verse intact to talk about how the common folk are being trained to be indifferent toward death, violence, and injustice. Why? Because it’s all for the greater good. If something is meant to happen, it should be allowed to happen, as it’ll keep the system running. And if anyone dares to question this obtuse mentality or doesn’t tick all the boxes that the system demands, they are marked as an aberration.
You can say that I’m projecting, but if you look at it closely, the villain of Across the Spider-Verse is a walking blot, while Miles is labeled as a blot on the Spider-Verse. The iconic half-face imagery isn’t used for Miles with and without his mask. It’s reserved for a frame where half of Miles’ face has melded with that of Spot’s. The movie can’t be more obvious than that. Hence, Miles’ whole arc becomes so profound and complex because he has to grapple with the notion that even though he has lived a life with his parents and friends and has managed to make a name for himself on his own, it means nothing because he’s a “mistake.” So, he is faced with the choice to let the inevitable happen and carry on being Spider-Man, or try to stop it all and risk multiversal imprisonment (or something of that sort). Again, that’s not really a choice. But more importantly, the thing that makes the act of choosing between these two options so icky is that every single Spider-Man, with the exception of Miles, has already taken the inhumane decision, thereby putting Miles in this hellish and uncomfortable situation.
At the cost of getting a little too personal, I’ve started to recognize this dilemma. Life has become this constant struggle to swim upstream just so that you can do something that you are passionate about. And the corrosive nature of this process, which is enabled by those who are happy to “get with the system,” takes up so much of your time that you can’t seem to find the opportunity to see if your parents, friends, or loved ones are doing alright. You can only watch them hurtle towards the inevitable while wondering if you have already failed them before getting to stand on your own two feet. Of course, this burden isn’t put on you by them because they’ll love you no matter what. It probably comes from one’s innate sense of responsibility, ambition, or the inability to accept the permanent nature of death; I don’t exactly know. What I do know, and it has been strengthened by Miles’ determination to forge his own story, is that no one gets to write you off because you can’t be apathetic. Yes, people will leave us forever, sometimes when we are prepared and sometimes when we aren’t. We’ll feel like we are living the worst version of our lives. However, we should always lead with empathy. If we aren’t capable of even that, then we can’t call ourselves “the good guys.”
Alright, enough about the things that keep me up at night, and more about Across the Spider-Verse, I think it goes without saying that the movie looks and sounds (Daniel Pemberton FTW) amazing. Karan Soni’s Pavitr Prabhakar and Mumbattan was a huge hit in the theater I was in. The cow joke, the unplanned cables and wires hindering the web swinging, the never-ending traffic, and the use of his amulet like a yo-yo to spin webs—all of it was brilliant. Daniel Kaluuya’s Spider-Punk was a show-stopper. Oscar Isaac’s Miguel O’Hara was so intimidating, and he really lived up to the hype. Jason Schwartzman, as The Spot, effortlessly switched between his character’s pathetic and demonic sides. Andy Samberg’s Scarlet Spider was hilarious. I don’t think it’ll be wrong to say that Issa Rae’s Spider-Woman had such an infectious and cool motherly vibe. And while every voice actor deserves a huge round of applause for their work (even Jack Quaid, who plays Peter Parker for a few seconds), it’s the core five who bring the film together. I can’t listen to Bryan Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Vélez talk without getting a little emotional. Shea Whigham’s George Stacy also had a similar effect. As you grow up and watch your parents get older, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Jake Johnson’s expression of Peter B. Parker’s newfound parental skills after being so dejected in the last film is pleasing. Hailee Steinfeld aptly capitalizes on the gravitas that has been given to Gwen Stacy. As for Shameik Moore, what can I say that hasn’t been said already? The dude is Miles Morales.
In conclusion, Across the Spider-Verse is obviously one of the best animated films yet. My jaw was on the floor during all the action scenes. But the quieter scenes, which felt organic and spontaneous, really caught me off guard, kicked me in the feels, and made me cry a lot. And I can only thank the film and all the artists who have tirelessly worked on it for that. Every second of this film looks like a masterful painting that you can frame and put up in your home. Given the cliffhanger ending, I am excited as well as nervous regarding the conclusion of Miles’ arc, because, the way I see it, something very painful is waiting for him. Yes, we know he is Spider-Man, and no matter what happens, he will get back up. However, by the end, I hope we all learn along with Miles that not fitting into a socially acceptable box (and not in that aesthetically pleasing way) doesn’t diminish us as people. Even if we are fated to exist beyond the borders of the system, we must try our best to do what’s right, as that’ll likely allow us to sleep at night with a somewhat clean conscience. Also, let this review be a petition to keep Spider-Man in the animated medium because this is where he shines the best. If you don’t believe me, watch Across the Spider-Verse on the big screen right now and share your opinions with us.