Warning: this article contains spoilers for Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse. If you haven’t seen it yet, you might want to leave this page…
It may have ended on a cliffhanger, but I breathed a sigh of relief after seeing Across The Spider-Verse – it’s the rare superhero sequel to live up to its predecessor.
Even though the multiverse travelling villain The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) initially appeared to be Miles’ main nemesis this time around, the film’s central antagonist eventually proved to be Spider-Man comics canon itself. Told that every Spidey must face a devastating, character-building event, and that his would happen in just two days in the shape of his father’s death, Miles went across the Spider-Verse and back again to stop fate.
Unfortunately, he ended the film very far from home indeed. With no post-credits sequences to speak of, aside from a mid-credits notice that he will return in next year’s Beyond The Spider-Verse, we’ve taken a closer look at the third act to establish how it sets up the trilogy finale.
One Step Beyond
Suddenly, the title of next year’s three-quel – which arrives in UK cinemas on Friday, 29th March 2024 – has a whole new meaning. Before we get there though, let’s re-establish the scene.
The sequel reveals that Miles was never meant to be bitten by a radioactive spider; the one that did crawled through the multiverse portal built for Kingpin in the first film, biting the teenager instead.
Miles is from Earth-1610, whereas the spider is from Earth-42, a universe which is now without any Spidey, as its Peter Parker has gone about life unbitten. Meanwhile, the destruction of Kingpin’s portal led Dr. Jonathan Ohnn to become The Spot, another multiverse-wrecking incident Miles is responsible for.
This is why Miles is viewed with scorn by the Spider Society and its leader Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), and why they plan to keep him imprisoned for two more days to stop him wrecking any further timelines. Every Spidey timeline, we are told, must contain a loved one who dies and a police chief who sacrifices themselves during the hero’s big battle – and with that cop being Miles’ dad (played by Brian Tyree Henry), naturally Miles wants to stop it.
Using his new powers to escape from prison, he rushes to one of their teleporters, which scans each user’s DNA to send them back to their home. This was a rookie error on Miles’ behalf, considering that his DNA was altered by a spider from a different timeline – and that is where he’s whisked away instead.
Miles, Meet Miles
The good news about Earth-42 is that Miles’ uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) is still alive. The bad news is… well, literally everything else.
With no Spider-Man in this world to save the day – meaning we are, you guessed it, Beyond the Spider-Verse – the Sinister Six have taken over New York, and Uncle Aaron isn’t even the biggest supervillain in the Morales family. That title instead goes to this universe’s Miles, who has become the Prowler instead of his uncle, who is content with being his nephew’s sidekick.
We end with Miles tied to a punching bag by his alternate reality self, but luckily, help is on the way. Newly kicked out of the Spider Society, Gwen Stacy has been gifted her own Multiverse teleport by Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya), and takes it upon herself to reunite the team from the first movie; fans of Spider-Man Noir and Peter Porker, rejoice, as they will be back in the fold next time around.
This mission has a more emotional motivation for Gwen beyond simply saving her friend though. The opening 20 minutes dive further into her backstory, and her responsibility for the death of her universe’s Peter Parker, who transformed into the Lizard.
Saving another person she has come to love from the fate that awaits them is something she is likely to view as her redemption story – but it’s not going to be easy to do when it involves travelling to a world overrun by villains.
Kicking the Canon
One of the film’s more intriguing storytelling decisions is to make the very idea of “canon” a nemesis for our hero. Screenwriters Phil Lord and Chris Miller, here teaming up with David Callaham, have a fondness for bending franchises to their own will; they’re responsible for The LEGO Movie and both Jump Street comedies, films that were also concerned with highlighting the storytelling formulas they took glee in breaking.
Lord and Miller clearly have a fondness for Spider-Man, but this sequel in part seems to be about their frustrations at how adhering to comic book lore limits their creativity as storytellers. While it offers Miles a tough hero decision on face value – conform and save the universe, or break free and save your family – as a metaphor for making franchise movies, it’s equally as powerful.
There are certain things audiences expect from a Spider-Man movie, and the driving tension of Across The Spider-Verse‘s third act is the battle against convention. When the alternate universes are so radically different from each other, why does the story have to be the same every time?
It’s an interesting theme for any blockbuster to dive into, and one that will certainly bubble further up to the surface as Miles takes on the canon in Beyond The Spider-Verse next year.
Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse is in UK cinemas now.