‘Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse’ Is Simply Phenomenal

While watching Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse – which is very much on par with the first movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – that won an Oscar and, somehow, came out five years ago – I did wonder how fine the line is between this being the immersive, wonderful experience it is, as opposed to something that just gives one a headache. I suspect it’s closer than we realize. I think that’s why I’m so amazed by these movies. On paper, these really probably shouldn’t work. “An ambitious mess,” would be the most likely headline. Instead, it’s one of the most, if not the most, immersive superhero stories going, pushing far beyond the boundaries of what superhero stories should and could be.

In Across the Spider-Verse, directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson, our hero and pal Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is back. He’s now the only Spider-Man in town and he’s very much enjoying himself. He misses Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), but, unfortunately – with a story as old as time that we can all relate to – she lives in an alternate universe. Actually, let’s back up, because Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse doesn’t begin with Miles, it begins with Gwen in her universe. Responding to an emergency, Gwen swings right into a trap set by the police (and her father, not knowing she is Spider-Woman), which results in the death of one of Gwen’s best friends. The police blame Gwen. Gwen comes clean to her father who decides the proper thing to do in this situation is to arrest his daughter. It’s at this moment Jessica Drew (Issa Rae) and Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), both inter-dimensional Spider-People, show up to take care of some cross-dimensional housekeeping. They take pity on Gwen’s situation and invite her to join the Spider-Society.

The Spider-Society is made up of the best of the best Spider-People from every known alternate universe. (Good lord there are a lot of Spider-People in this movie. An uncountable amount.) Their mission is to make sure every Spider-Person’s “canon event” happens as planned. What’s a canon event? It’s the tragic event in each Spider-Person’s life that turns them into the Spider-Person they are destined to become. If Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben doesn’t die, Peter never becomes a hero. So that event has to happen and the Spider-Society makes sure it does. To the point, Miguel O’Hara, the leader, is very militant about all this and doesn’t suffer fools or even joke around. He’s a tough nut.

Okay, back to Miles. Miles is just trying to be a good student while also doing his Spider duties. His latest foe is Spot. I have a soft spot (no pun) for Spot. I was very into Spider-Man comics when he debuted in Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #98 and kind of can’t believe this nincompoop is now in a movie that millions of people will see. Miles comes across Spot trying to steal money from an ATM at a local bodega. This is clever. Spot starts as a pretty low-level villain and Jason Schwartzman voices him as a complete loser, to the point Spot is immediately on the list of “funniest movie supervillains.” Spot’s power is he is covered in spots and he can use these spots to create portals. When Miles first meets Spot, Spot is trying to use a portal to reach into the ATM and grab money. Why? As Spot says, who would hire a guy who looks like him for a job? This is what he has to resort to doing for money. But he can also do things like, say, when Miles tries to punch him, his hand goes through a portal, comes out near his own head, and he winds up punching himself. Or, use portals to travel between universes and really start messing things up. Hence, this is why the Spider-Society winds up getting involved and how Miles and Gwen are reunited. Spot jokes he doesn’t want to be just a “villain of the week” and winds up causing a multi-universe crisis.

(As an aside, I do wonder when the multiverse will start to get stale. To be fair, Into the Spider-Verse kind of kicked this whole thing off, with great success. They kind of own it right now. If I were them, I’d be a little annoyed both the MCU and the DC movies are in the middle of their own Multiverse. As it turns out, I saw Across the Spider-Verse and The Flash – a movie I also liked quite a bit; more on that another time – back to back and it’s kind of remarkable how similar the plots of these movies are, beats-wise. The good news for Across the Spider-Verse is it comes out first. My point is, what a weird trend. When I read Crises on Infinite Earths as a kid, I never imagined multiple versions of superheroes would ever become mainstream.)

The thing that keeps this movie (a movie, I should note, that is very much the first part of a two-part story that will be concluded in Beyond the Spider-Verse) grounded, as this story gets very weird and outlandish, is, at the end of the day, Miles just wants to be accepted for who he is. The whole concept Miguel O’Hara explains to Miles, that he must, too, go through a tragedy just like everyone else, does not sit well with Miles. Miles is very much his own person and can’t understand why he has to conform to these rules that the Spider-Society dictates – which puts him directly at odds with Miguel and the Spider-Society and tests the limits of his friendships with Gwen and the older Peter (Jake Johnson) – who, compared to who he was in the first movie, now kind of has things together as a new father.

At the end of the day, Miles isn’t trying to save the universe. In fact, he’s willing to possibly throw the universe into chaos, just to save someone he loves. Saving the universe is not a relatable action. Trying to save someone we care about certainly is. (Yes, as I hinted before, The Flash has a similar concept.) For the life of me, I don’t understand why more superhero movies don’t do this. Even going way back to Richard Donner’s Superman … at the end, it was about Superman’s love for Lois. And he was willing to break every rule to save her. And this is the position Miles is in and we want him to succeed. Because, like Miles, we all know what it’s like to lose someone we love and, like Miles, we all know what’s it’s like to want to be accepted.

‘Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse’ opens in theaters June 2nd. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.