“Let’s do this one last time” – the now iconic opening lines from 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse echoed the intimate familiarity film audiences have built with the Spider-Man lore. The original Spider-verse runs through Peter Parker’s origin story with world-record timing, because who needs to be reminded of the radioactive spider, the creation of the red and blue suit, and the loss of Uncle Ben?
For the now blossoming adults of Gen Z, Spider-Man’s story has been put to screen for as long as they have existed. The way they see it, the tale of Peter Parker is literally a tale as old as time. The genius of the first film is its communication that the heroic values held by the web-head are not unique to a white guy from Queens. Anybody can wear the mask, and Miles Morales stepped up in front of the camera and literally made it his own.
As it turns out, Into the Spider-verse was a mere first act in a trippy, multiversal trilogy. A year after discovering himself as a web-slinger, Miles Morales is plunged into a society of Spider-people in Sony Pictures’ latest release, Across the Spider-Verse. Coming face-to-face with Spider-Men universes apart means that Miles ((Shameik Moore) comes to blows with what they see as immovable truths about Spider-Man, meaning the film completely deconstructs the very idea of what it means to be a hero. The story established in Across the Spider-Verse is so meta, thoughtful, and high-stakes, that it may as well be the last Spider-Man story to ever need telling.
Screengrab from ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.’
Creating the ultimate Spider-Man experience
Across the Spider-Verse takes the trauma suffered by past Spider-Men and weaponizes it against this new society of spiders led by Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), AKA Spider-Man 2099. Each of them have suffered immense loss, their minds littered with the gravestones of Uncle Bens, Gwen Stacys, and Captain Stacys. O’Hara, along with returning familiar faces such as Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) and Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), claim that these deaths are “canon,” immovable pillars keeping the multiverse afloat. Miles, an outsider to this society in age and background, stands on the other side of this argument, questioning why trauma is necessary for one to be heroic.
When stories exist for decades and reach a point where new creators start to question why they need to be told in a certain way, or even at all, a certain cycle is complete. This cycle is tread by every myth, legend and fairy tale humanity has been able to conjure. Greek myths, Shakespearean works, and even classic Disney stories have been transported into other worlds, flipped upside down, and crammed inside one another in order to concoct some new iteration of an old thing. From here, a breaking point is reached where the snake has eaten its own tail three times over and the story dies from exhaustion. Across the Spider-Verse is a sign that Spider-Man stories are nearing the end of this cycle, exhausting the bag of tricks a franchise can use to stay fresh.
Still, corporations will do their thing and rehash recognizable brands for the sake of it, but the Spider-Verse trilogy can offer something to disrupt that – the ultimate Spider-Man experience (not to be confused with Spider-Man from the Ultimate universe, of course). As well as absorbing and inverting lore from past Spider-Man films, comics, and animated shows, both Into and Across the Spider-Verse include references to memes, commentary, and sentimentality expressed by Spider-Man fans over the years, cramming it all into a finely crafted story that never feels like its pandering to its audience while showing that they deeply understand it.
To put it simply, it doesn’t get more Spider-Man-y than Across the Spider-verse, it is a pure distillation of fandom. The reverence for arachnid-based history is evident in the work of Peter Ramsey, Kemp Powers, Phil Lord, Chris Miller, and the thousands of other artists working on these animated masterpieces.
Animation with no boundaries
Another key to the Spider-Verse trilogy being so definitive is animation. Not that it’s depicted in a particularly unique style of animation, but that it embraces every style of animation. Before your eyes, these movies redefine what mainstream animation can do, reaching heights of experimentalism unsought by major studios in decades. Across the Spider-Verse builds upon the first film’s daring attempt to incorporate 2D drawings and comic book-styled imagery into a 3D CG environment. The sequel surfs through the varying terrains of watercolor imagery, paper mache chaos, and thick-outlined cartoon exaggeration.
The aim of the Spider-Verse trilogy is to show that animation has no boundaries, while simultaneously finding the limits of what a Spider-Man story can do. Can another iteration of these characters match this level of storytelling complexity? This strong, endearing ensemble cast full of every Spider-thing conceivable? This scope of visual invention? By the end of the Spider-Verse trilogy, we may hail it as the greatest superhero story, let alone Spider-Man tale. This mythology is close to completion, with Across the Spider-Verse, it brushes shoulders with perfection too.
Ryan Gaur is a film, music, and football writer based in Birmingham, England.
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