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Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

The new Spider-Man multiverse movie is a riot of cartoonish color and adventure

The sequel to the 2018 animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse arrived in theaters last Friday and scored over 120 million dollars over its first weekend. Actor Tom Holland, who played the web-slinger in the latest live-action interpretation, called Into the Spider-Verse the best Spider-Man movie ever made in a recent interview. And that’s coming from Spider-Man himself!

I saw the movie over the weekend, and wow, I can say that it’s one of the most visually interesting movies I’ve yet to witness. Like its precursor, Across the Spider-Verse is like watching a live-action comic book; the animators never shied away from the overtly cartoonish. It’s a non-stop riot of color, action, and adolescent angst, and I’m totally here for it.

But what’s this? Yet another tale of the multiverse. The superhero genre can’t seem to quit it at the moment. We all knew this new movie was going to be about multiple universes, since it’s in the title, and Miles Morales, the film’s young Spider-Man and Peter Parker alternative, has relationships spread far and wide across the multiverse.

I loved this movie, but am getting a bit wearied by the multiverse stuff – it’s starting to feel overdone, and it’s questionable as a story device. If a character has multiple versions in various dimensions, their specificity gets muddled, and for me, can deaden my sense of what’s really at stake. Sometimes I just want a classic Spider-Man story set solely in New York City where Peter is a loser at life but a boss at being his alter-ego. Oh wait, I just explained Spider-Man 2 starring Tobey Maguire…sorry!

Free Will and Fate

Despite all the fuss about the multiverse, and how totally untenable the idea of it seems (although the theory of the multiverse is seen as a legitimate account of the origin of existence to some cosmologists) the movie does talk about the problem of having all these connecting dimensions; if you mess with one universe, you can disturb all of them. The tension between free choice and a harsh kind of fatalism ends up defining the film’s moral drama. Miles Morales is taken to a secret Spider-Man society, led by the mysterious mega-buff Spider-Man Miguel. Here, Miguel tells Miles that the radioactive spider that bit him wasn’t originally from his universe and that he should never have been Spider-Man in the first place. Furthermore, every Spider-Man in the multiverse is defined by loss, whether it’s Uncle Ben, a best friend, or the police captain. That means something to Miles, because his dad is about to get promoted to captain in the NYC police force, and it’s implied that his death is only a matter of time.

Of course, that sets Miles off on a quest to defy the deterministic fabric of the multiverse and save his father from his impending demise. We don’t get a culmination of that storyline, however; the movie ends after another plot twist and it’s revealed that Across the Spider-Verse is “to be continued.”

It’s well worth the watch for the visuals alone. The multiverse might be starting to be an old hat, but the writers are working creatively with it and we’ll see how the next film (due in March 2024) weaves all these diverse narrative threads (webs?).

Peter Biles

Writer and Editor, Center for Science & Culture
Peter Biles graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories and has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications. He was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma and is the Writer and Editor for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse