My roomie was in an atypically generous mood this weekend, and with good reason. Roomie-Son not only graduated from middle school, he did so with STRAIGHT As!!! So as any proud papa would, he rewarded his progeny with a matinee screening of SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE MULTIVERSE, and invited me to share his joy. Since I frequently had similar proxemic priority to the franchise when I worked for Sony, I’ve had a soft spot for these films, though I did not see this sub-franchise’s first installment, 2018’s SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE MULTIVERSE. Let’s just say at the time it was not a film my life partner had a shred of interest in, since it did not feature a hat designed by Gladys Tammez.
So I came into this as clueless about what was going on, or why it’s been so appealing, particularly the reception to this second installment. And Lord knows more than ever it’s making Sony Pictures Entertainment a viable entity in the multiverse of entertainment in spite of many other recent missteps and questionable announcements. The fact that the studio believes there is meaning to anyone not of AARP age for an animated reboot of BEWITCHED (described in a Hollywood Reporter puff piece as “Hannah Montana Meets Harry Potter”) or the PARTRIDGE FAMILY (which already WAS attempted as an animated reboot, set in 2200 A.D., nearly a half-century ago, and that lasted just one very mediocre season when the franchise actually did matter to a younger audience) should give you some pause as to exactly how desperate those that are trying to run the place these days are to emulate their competitors who have far more relevant IPs in their portfolio.
But one Lord does know his stuff, and that one just happens to be named Phil, who along with his partner Christopher Miller are the creative architects that have woven the rich parallel histories of various incarnations of SPIDER-MAN, including the Peter Parker iterations old farts like me grew up with, into this complex, visually compelling, and, at a whopping 140 minutes, record-breakingly long animated adventure. I’m not even going to try and explain all of what was going on, certainly not the framing that the first installment did. But fortunately we now live in a world where those answers are a few mouseclicks away. One particularly helpful narrative was crafted by GAME RANT’s Kai Adler, so with appropriate SPOILER ALERTS I can share said with you:
A lot happens in this Spider-Man film, which stars Miles Morales as its main protagonist. In the first movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales was bitten by a radioactive spider not from his universe but rather in a different universe where the spider was supposed to bite someone else destined to become Spider-Man. A long time has passed since the first movie, and fans will now find themselves with Miles Morales in Across the Spider-Verse after spending much time as Spider-Man in his version of New York City.
After Gwen Stacy comes across Spider-Man 2099 and Spider-Woman from another universe, she is recruited into a group of ‘Spider-People’ who work together to solve Spider-Man-related anomalies across the multiverse. After making the mistake of telling Miles, Miles finds out that this group of Spider-People also makes sure that all ‘canon’ events happen in every Spider-Man timeline. This included Miles Morales’ dad being killed in a showdown with Spot. Since finding that out, Miles ran away from the ‘Spider-Society’ to save his father. This led to a multiversal chase to capture Miles Morales, with almost all the Spider-Verse running after Miles.
What wasn’t completely lost on me was the emotion that both Morales and Stacy express as they navigate the even more complex multiverse of teenage angst. While they are grappling with the parallel challenges of saving several worlds in peril, as well as some obviously conflcting feelings that puberty seems to weighing in, they are both fiercely desiring to connect with their sometime distant parents and fight their most challenging foe–avoiding being grounded. Because even if you aren’t 15 today, or were so a long, long, LONG (well, maybe not THAT long) time ago, the battle for self-expression is as universally appealing and timeless as SPIDER-MAN itself. And, as Adler further explains, no matter where you are in your particular universe or generation, there’s a Spidey for you, and a subplot to be invested in.
After Miles Morales finds out that the Spider-Society also ensures that canonical events happen in every Spider-Person’s timeline, he escapes the Spider-People and rushed to save his father, who is ‘destined’ to be killed in an accident with the villain Spot. To get back to his universe, Miles has to use the Spider-Society’s machine, which sends anomalies back to their respective universes, but if fans remember, the spider that bit Miles was from Earth-42. That is important because that spider altered Miles’ DNA, meaning the machine read Miles’ DNA as Earth-42 and sent him to that universe. Earth-42 is left without a Spider-Man to protect New York City, littered with crime and thugs crowding the streets.
Rather the Uncle Aaron being killed off in this timeline, Miles’ father was killed, leaving Aaron alive and well. Upon finding his Uncle Aaron, Miles was kidnapped the moment the two were alone. Miles then wakes up in his Uncle Aaron’s apartment, where he is tied to a boxing bag, much like Miles did to Peter B. Parker in Into the Spider-Verse. At this point, Gwen realizes that Miles never made it back to his rightful universe, and she starts her own team to rescue Miles and hopefully help stop the Spider-Society from keeping specific icons like Uncle Ben from being saved. So far, it appears that Gwen has recruited the original Into the Spider-Verse team to help achieve her mission (Peter B. Parker, Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Ham, and Peni Parker). Along with them is the newly introduced Pavitr Prabhakar to help Gwen and Miles. Surely Pavitr agreed to join this team after Miles saved Meera Jaine’s (Pavitr’s love interest) father.
And as Adler further gushes, along with those multiple Spideys, there are multiple creative executions to become captivated by:
In the two hours that Across the Spider-Verse runs for, an incredible variety of animation styles are used, from the classic Spider-Verse style for Miles to the drastically changing abstract style of Spider-Punk. The point is that those who worked on Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse put a lot of effort into making such an amazing animated movie, which shows through to the end.
I found myself captivated by the rapidly changing visuals; a mushroom-like experiece. But I also know enough to know I’m not the target audience, and, since I’m not a parent myself, I don’t even have the crutch of relying upon an in-house focus group to help forge my opinions (I kinda wonder if the current Sony genuises had access to one when they pitched out PARTRIDGE FAMILY or the equally redundant kids’ version of WHEEL OF FORTUNE).
So I asked Roomie-Son what HE thought.
“I thought it was very cool”.
That’s more than enough research for me. And more than enough rationale for me to understand why the most emotional moments of ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE are the ones where Gwen hugs her dad or Miles hugs his uncle.
Maybe some parents–or aspirational ones–do understand. Or at least could.
Sony would be well served recruiting a few more.
Until next time…