Spider-Mania is set to continue in one of the year’s most anticipated movies. However, we’ve come a long way to get to this point. It was back in 2015 when Sony originally made the announcement that an animated movie centered on Spider-Man, was in the works. I personally was very excited about the news; the animation was already doing great things in the West and abroad, and deviating from a live-action approach would give the filmmakers more room to stretch their creative limbs. Combined with the involvement of lauded animation veterans Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, I believe that the project had a lot of potential.
Yet, not everyone shared that optimism. This news came fresh off the Amazing Spider-Man duology, which disappointed critics and audiences alike. Sony’s reputation was also still suffering from the meddling they were accused of in the production of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 (2007). In addition, we were only a few months removed from the infamous Sony Pictures hacking fiasco, so this was very much a movie studio that appeared to be in disarray, a disorganized mess without a clear vision. Even the good news surrounding the studio – that they were partnering with Disney & Marvel Studios to bring the web-slinger into the Marvel Cinematic Universe – was commonly framed as Kevin Feige stepping in to be the savior of a character that had been mishandled by its parent studio.
But then, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse arrived, powered by a unique visual approach, a strong soundtrack, empathetic storytelling, and a multitude of variations for the titular hero. The duality between a young Miles Morales and an older, regretful Peter Parker provided a balance of comedy and melodrama while creating a bridge between multiple generations. The film was, at times, a combo of slapstick, coming of age, and nostalgic longing. Add in the likes of Spider-Gwen, Spider-Ham, and Spider-Man Noir, and the movie hit on all the right buttons that its multidimensional premise had promised. In many ways, the acclaim levied at Into the Spider-Verse was the leading trailblazer for the multiverse shenanigans that the live-action versions of DC & Marvel currently find themselves in.
The success the film experienced showed that any iconic character, no matter how institutionalized, can experience a fresh update. As a result, Miles Morales became a worthy upholder of the Spider-Man mantle, leaping from the pages of comic books and into bonafide movie stardom. This series is his journey, and that story will see its climax transpire over the course of two planned sequels. The first of which, of course, is the mammoth Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. At the end of the original, Miles said goodbye to his multidimensional counterparts as he embarked on life in his universe. Still, the door remained cracked for a reunion down the line. Now, that opportunity will come to fruition, as evidenced by the movie’s official synopsis:
When Miles Morales is unexpectedly approached by his best friend and love interest, Gwen Stacy, to complete a mission to save every universe of Spider-People from a mysterious new villain, The Spot, who could cause a catastrophic disaster, Miles is up for the challenge. He and Gwen journey through the Multiverse together and meet its protectors, a group of Spider-People known as the Spider-Society, led by Miguel O’Hara. However, Miles finds himself at odds with Miguel and the Spider-Society on how to handle the threat.
Miguel O’Hara, better known as Spider-Man 2099, was teased in the stinger for the original film. A brilliant geneticist, this version of Spider-Man used his intellect to gain his super-abilities. That makes his powers an earned attribute rather than the pure luck experienced by Miles Morales and Peter Parker. Their differences are further expressed in the fact that Spider-Man 2099 does not have all of the same powers as the original recipe Spider-Man. Instead, it’s a mix and match: Spider-Man 2099 can do things his predecessors can not, but he also lacks some abilities that the previous heroes possess. This will make for interesting encounters, as Miles will get to compare his abilities with the older superhero. For example, we’ll see if Miles’ spider-sense is superior to Miguel’s genetically coded sensory upgrades.
Then there’s The Spot, who is an interesting choice for a villain. He’s been mostly a C-list baddie in the comics since the ’80s but did leave a memorable impression in a brief appearance in the 1990s animated series Spider-Man. In that series, his primary attribute was that of annoying the hell out of Spider-Man. Still, the character’s ability to use portals to jump from place to place (and even universe to universe) could potentially make him an even bigger threat. The trick with the character is that he seems relatively small scale at first, with Spider-Man often not taking him seriously, but his powers can enact dire consequences on Spidey’s life. What that dilemma may entail in this movie, we’ve yet to find out. However, the latest trailer does give us a glimpse at how sprawling and all-encompassing this middle trilogy chapter promises to be:
Mayday, Mayday, Mayday…
This movie feels even more comfortable in its visual style than the original. It’s truly trying to emphasize the translation from comic splash pages to 2D and 3D animation. I don’t even know if I’m prepared for how immersive that scene at 01:30 is going to be, as Miles looks to be running in a rainstorm. Even though The Spot is positioned as the inciting incident of this conflict, all of our eyes are on Spider-Man 2099 and the likely falling out between him, Miles, and Gwen. Which, of course, means we’re going to be subject to Spider-Man on Spider-Man violence that we’ve yet to see on the big screen. But, balancing that drama is the delightful return of Peter Parker and the cinematic debut of Mayday Parker. Please cover both of them in bubble wrap; absolutely nothing bad needs to happen to them!
What these movies are building, in terms of storytelling, is unique for the often dogged superhero genre. Miles is our main character and hero, but the ensemble nature of the trilogy allows the filmmakers to tackle the Spider-Man myth from multiple perspectives. Is the role a good thing, or is it a curse? How can it ruin your life? How can you use those abilities to help pick up the pieces in your life? Sony’s approach to these movies fundamentally changed with 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse. You see that influence all over Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), a film that also questioned what it means to be Spider-Man, and how can we answer that question through the lens and perspective of multiple heroes? These movies are Sony’s way of getting back to the heart of the character after so many missteps, and what makes the mantle so appealing. Being Spider-Man is like a life experience at this point, a journey guaranteed to send you through the wringer of physical metamorphosis, love, and a great deal of loss. Spider-Man 2099 may be positioned as a big bad, but I’m certain we’ll find he’s gone through great pain in his backstory, pain that his omnipotent powers could not save him from. Miles will continue to learn those same lessons. Being Spider-Man means things are never too great, but they’re also never too bad.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse unwebs a fury of comic book madness in theaters June 2nd, 2023.