Along the Threads of the Web
Spider-man: Across the Spider-Verse Spoiler Discussion
Sony's Spider-man: Across the Spider-Verse cemented the fact that given the right story, with the right creatives, and the studio actually granting the freedom for their team to do their thing, the company can actually make a good SpidermanSure, DC Comics has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but among the most popular superheroes stands a guy from Marvel Comics, a younger hero dressed in red and blue who shoots webs and sticks to walls. Introduced in the 1960s, Spider-Man has been a constant presence in comics and more, featured in movies regularly since his big screen debut in 2002. film. Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse showed it was possible, but it's sequel proved this wasn't just a one-time thing.
The movie was great, but there was a lot of stuff within it that I couldn't discuss in the main review for fear of spoilers. But here, in this "spoiler space" area, we can get into all the plot points that need to be discussed. If you're in here, this is your last warning that we're about to spoil everything. If you want to watch the movie without anything being ruined, get out now and come back later. For everyone else...
Gwen Stacy, Spider-Woman
As I noted in the main review, this sequel is just as much about Miles Morales, the Spider-man of Earth-1610 (which, it should be mentioned, is the official Marvel designation for the Ultimate Comics universe) as it is Gwen Stacy, the Spider-Woman of Earth-65 (and, yes, that's the official designation for her Earth in the comics as well). The first part of the movie is actually dedicated entirely to telling Gwen's story -- how she became Spider-Woman, what happened to the Peter Parker of her world, and where she's been with her life before, during, and after the events of Into the Spider-Verse.
I appreciate that the film takes the time to flesh out her character further. While we caught a brief glimpse of her past in the previous film, her story is just different enough from Spider-man's (that of basically every version of Peter Parker where he becomes the spider-hero) that taking the time to go back and detail her life further shows not only her similarities to the Spider-mythos (the radioactive spider bite, the rise as a hero, the tragedies that befall every Spider-person) but also where things diverge significantly for her.
One specific plot point, which will have resonance later in the film, is that with Gwen becoming the hero, Peter then turns to other means to become "special". This leads to him becoming the villain, The Lizard, which then eventually leads to his death. Gwen gets blamed for it, with her father only seeing Spider-Woman standing over the body of Peter Parker and jumping to conclusions, which then in turn leads to her being Public Enemy #1 in NYC. This, too, is an interesting turn.
We know, from the main continuity, that Spider-man always has at least one person that doubts him as a hero and spreads rumors that he's actually a villain. That person is J. Jonah Jameson (voiced, in all forms, by J.K. Simmons because, fuck, who else would you get for the role at this point?), but in Gwen's world it's not that newspaper magnate leading the charge against her but her own father. He thinks Spider-Woman is evil, and that in turn puts up a barrier between him and his daughter, a barrier he can't fully understand. This gives the dynamic are far more personal, and more meaningful, connection than you ever get between Spider-man and J. Jonah Jameson.
Really, I'm just so impressed by the way the film handle's Gwen's story. I get that some of this fleshing out is likely done so that when Gwen gets her own film (the proposed Spider-Women, which will also feature Jessica Drew / Spider-Woman and Cindy Moon / Silk) her necessary backstory is already established. Still, the film handles it with grace and depth, making it more than just a cursory set up for a spin-off. It makes her a co-lead, like she deserves.
The Spider Society and Continuity
The Spider Society exists in the film for two reasons: one, as the source of much of the film's humor, and two, to develop the film's primary antagonist. Firstly, the film has a lot of fun dropping in just about every Spider-person it can. If it's a hero that exists in comics, in a show, in a movie, a video game, or anywhere else, the film will drop them in somewhere, at least in the background, in one of the Spider Society scenes. People have already pointed out the Spider-man of the old 1960s cartoon; the one from Insomniac Games' Spider-man; the 2008 animated series Spectacular Spider-man; Peter Parkedcar, the Spider-mobile, who originated in a cross promotion with Corona Cars in 1973; and even "Bombastic Bag-Man", a joke costume from one issue of Amazing Spider-man back in 1984. The movie is absolutely littered with Easter Eggs for any spider-fan.
Beyond that, though, we have the development of Miguel O'Hara, Spider-man 2099, as the main antagonist of the film (and, presumably, the third film in the series as well). I say antagonist and not "villain" because, despite his actions in this film, Spider-man 2099 isn't a villain. His motives and actions are based around protecting the Spider-Verse, not destroying it or ruling it (in that regard, The Spot is the villain of the piece, even if he's not the main antagonist). The reasoning for his actions is kept murky because it leads to a big series of reveals near the end of the film, but regardless, O'Hara's primary motivation is to keep Miles away from the Spider Society, primarily because he's a force of chaos (unintentionally) that could rip apart the Spider-Verse.
We see this early in the film in the Mumbhattan section, when Miles meats Spider-Man India of Earth-50101 (note that the costume for Spider-man India, Pavitr Prabhakar, is very different here in the film than in the original comics, but they're changes that actually suit the character and setting, which I can appreciate). Here, Miles helps Pavitr after The Spot arrives on Earth-50101 and causes a massive explosion at the Alchemax particle accelerator. This explosion is supposed to lead to a "canon event", a moment where Pavitr would be tested: save his universe's version of Mary Jane, Meera Jain, who is about to fall off a bridge, or save her father, Captain Jain. Instead, however, Miles intercedes and save the Captain, preempting the canon event. This causes a rift to open in Earth-50101, a destructive hole that the Spider Society has to try and repair.
This sequence actually drops a lot on us, but I think the most amusing is the idea of a "canon event". This plays with the nerdy need for continuity, that there is a "Spider Canon" that all characters eventually have to fit. Spider-man will always lose Gwen Stacy (or, if Gwen is the heroine, she'll lose Peter), a police Captain close to the hero will die, and the grief and sacrifice will come to define them. Without that, the web of the Spider-Verse will collapse, taking every universe with it. From that perspective, you can understand what Miguel is fighting to protect. It makes him more than a villain, it creates a fleshed out and real antagonist fighting for the right reasons even if his methods aren't always correct.
This, of course, then leads us to...
Miles Morales: Anomaly
This is the big twist late in the film, although when you stop and think about it the whole development makes perfect sense. Miles wasn't meant to be Spider-man; the spider that bit him and gave him his powers was from Earth-42. If he were meant to be Spider-man, his radioactive spider should have come from his own world, Earth-1610. But because it came from a different erth, it set the whole timeline of Earth-1610 into a new direction. Miles got bit, and then he stumbled across Spider-man (Peter Parker) while that hero was in the middle of a fight with Kingpin. Miles being there led to Peter's death (or, at least, that's what Miguel believes), and if Miles had never been bit, Peter would still be alive. Everything would continue following the set "canon" for that world. Miles is, in short, a continuity anomaly.
This does explain a few things. The biggest thing it illustrates is why there is only one Miles Morales as Spider-man. When we see the Spider Society we learn that, invariably, every Spider-person is a Peter Parker, or has a connection to Peter Parker, in some form or another. Very rarely is there someone that isn't, in some way, tied to Peter Parker, and those few exceptions have their own very different way that they became a Spider-person. Miguel is the Spider-man of the future (2099). Spider-byte stays in her own reality and digitally projects herself. Jessica Drew was a sick woman who was injected with spider-serum to heal her. They have their own ways into the Spider-Verse that doesn't follow the set origin... but then they have to fit the expected canon because that's the demands of the story.
Some of this, though, does get called into question by the last twists of the film. Prt of while Miguel doesn't want Miles around is because Miles doesn't perfectly fit the canon. His actions, as we see in Mumbhattan, can break the canon and cause repurcussions the Spider Society can't predict. If Miles is allowed to roam the Multiverse, who knows what kind of damage he could do. Now, it's not entirely fair to blame him for the actions on his own Earth since it's not like he could control what spider bit him or what Kingpin was up to in creating the initial particle accelerator event. Holding him accountable for what happens in Mumbhattan makes some sense, even if explaining the canon to him first would have been smart. Plus, the kid's a hero, so you can't blame him for being heroic.
But Miguel also knows that a canon event is coming for Miles, and that has to be preserved. With Miles being the Spider-man of Earth-1610, the canon is coming for him, working to reassert itself over his own life. His father was just made a captain on the police force, and we all know what happens to police captains in the continuity. Miguael wants to preserve the continuity to protect the Spider-Verse and he knows that if Miguel knew about the canon event he'd work to prevent it. He'd, understandably, want to save his father from an event that will likely kill him. Who wouldn't, right? Of course, this means that Miguel is both being punished for being an anomaly and also for not wanting to stick to the canon of the 'verse. It's a bit of a double-standard the film never quite justifies. I can explain it away as "canon coming for the hero", but it does seem a little odd when you stop and think about it.
Also strange, but kind of cool at the same time, is what happens on Earth-42. That spider was meant for someone and the implication, at least in the movie, is that it was meant for Miles of Earth-42. But because it crossed over to Earth-1610, Miles-42 went in a different direction. Instead of becoming the hero Spider-man he, instead, became the villain The Prowler. Recall that on Earth-1610, Prowler was Miles's uncle, Aaron. Instead of Aaron dying on Earth-42 (as he did on 1610), instead is Miles's father who dies. But without powers to try and save him, Miles turns to darkness, becomes a villain, and terrorizes the city. And, as the movie notes, there is no Spider-man to fight him. Earth-42 has no costumed heroes at all.
I like the implications of this how series of events. Like with Peter Parker of Earth-65, who became the villain The Lizard when Gwen Stacy became Spider-Woman, Miles on Earth-42 becomes a villain when his moment to become Spider-man is snatched away. That illustrates a very thin line between hero and villain, that small changes can shove a heroic person down a darker path. It also raises the question about what would have happened to our own Miles (of Earth-1610) if he hadn't been bitten. Would he have followed in Aaron's footsteps and become the next Prowler instead? Food for thought there.
But this does also raise some questions the film doesn't answer. If Miles of our world is an anomaly, because a Miles as Spider-man isn't supposed to happen, wouldn't that mean that Miles of Earth-42 would also be an anomaly if he were to become Spider-man? Would any Miles actually be fated to take on the heroic role were it not for some weird, meta-versal intervention? Would Miguel have just as much of an issue with Miles-42 being Spider-man if that were to have happened? He's not Peter Parker, and he's not connected to Peter Parker, so his story doesn't easily fit.
At the same time, where is that Earth's Peter Parker? Does it even have a Peter at all, and if so, what happened to him with a radioactive spider failed to materialize and bite him on the hand? One would presume that he would have gone off to become a villain as well, maybe because there was now a Prowler wandering around, inspiring fear in the citizens of NYC. Perhaps we'll see that Peter on Earth-42 in the third film, but I think it does call into question if this Miles was ever fated to become Spider-man at all.
Certainly the canon seems to think so. Even when Miles-42 fails to become Spider-man his father, the police captain, still dies because that's what was fated to occur. One would think that if Miles didn't become Spider-man his father didn't have to die... but then, wouldn't that also mean that this whole Earth should have been swallowed up in a dimensional event? Having no Spider-man at all on this world would seem like a pretty massive deviation from canon. Did the Spider Society have to show up here and repair the world as well? And, one would wonder, couldn't they just import a spider over here and let it bite Miles and/or Peter so the world could have its hero? Hmmm.
Of course, these are all minor little thoughts I had, none of which came up while watching the film and only occured to me after the fact. And, again, these could all be answered in the third film when we get more time to explore Earth-42 and all the twists and turns that have befallen that world. I am very interested in seeing where the film series takes its story from here, and the fact that I'm thinking on it so much does show just how many cool ideas the film is able to convey. This is a densely packed film with a lot of great content, and you absolutely need to see it. It's worth the price of admission.