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How Sony’s Across the Spider-Verse Re-Imagines the Spider-Man Canon & Legacy



Warning: spoilers ahead

“People keep telling me how my story is supposed to go. Nah, imma do my own thing.”

It’s an exciting time to be a Spider-Man fan. Ever since Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) burst through the multiverse in the award-winning animated film Into the Spider-Verse, it was an energising spark to the Spider-Man mythology, a proclamation that anyone can wear the mask. In taking the franchise to new, elevated heights, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse carries an incredible meta subtext for its sequel.

A key element of Spider-Man’s history is judged and measured through loss. Traditionally, it’s the death of Uncle Ben. For Spider-Man: No Way Home, it was Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May. The Insomniac video games gave shocking, tear-jerking exits for Aunt May and Jefferson Davis. Into the Spider-Verse takes a page out of the comics to include Uncle Aaron’s death. Having already lost her “Peter”, not even Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) is immune, subtly confessing to Miles on Earth-1610 that it “doesn’t end well for her” for her multiverse variants. 

Make no mistake, wearing the Spider-Man crown is a lonely experience. Throughout its 60-year history, Spider-Man’s coming-of-age story about teenage anxieties and working-class struggles remains prevalent today. The Spider-Verse saga takes it a step further: young teens trying to reveal who they are to their respective loved ones without the fear of being rejected. Therefore, by canon logic, their entire superhero persona suppresses who they are, and Miles and Gwen’s reconnection in the film acknowledges they’re part of an exclusive club carrying a heavy burden.

The new film cleverly explores the weight of history upon its characters. These catalyst moments – “canon events” – are a fated rite of passage which ultimately defines who they’ll become. No Way Home made this a central arc to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, where suffering and consequence are the only way for Peter to experience his own “with great power, comes great responsibility”. Spider-Verse sees Miles disrupting Spider-Man India’s fate, and by further altering reality in his clash with The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) who was born out of the Alchemax collider destruction from the first film, he discovers a horrible truth. His father, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry), is Miles’ “canon event”, and his “Spider-Man” shouldn’t have existed. Failure to accept this narrative would result in a cataclysmic multiversal collapse.

Across the Spider-Verse brilliantly challenges the fabric of the canon through Miles by daring to imagine something different: does Spider-Man’s story always have to be beset by tragedy?

As protector of the multiverse, Miguel O’Hara’s preservation of the Spider-Man mythology stems from his own tribulations of losing his daughter. It continues in the same vein as Into the Spider-Verse’s Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), complex antagonists not driven by world domination but by personal emotional repercussions that have tormented their very existence. Their obsession with the multiverse is in itself a punishment for breaking the rules for their desperate wants.

Being Spider-Man is a “sacrifice” – a point which Miguel cites to Miles. However, his non-humorous actions are very reminiscent of how most modern fandoms have operated in recent years. Whether it is John Boyega, Moses Ingram, Halle Bailey or the entire diverse cast of The Lord of the Rings TV series, they’ve been on the receiving end of fan backlash. Miles Morales has faced that same hostility, stretching back to his comic book debut in Ultimate Fallout #4 in 2011. In the same way Miguel talks to Miles about not belonging – an “anomaly” to the narrative – is a meta-commentary on the toxified gatekeeping of canons, dismissing change for excuses rooted in sexism, misogyny and racism.

It’s no surprise writers Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Dave Callaham’s script analyse these structures, discussing who has ownership and authority over these stories. A lot of fandom commentary (as channelled through Miguel) is ruled by fear to protect what has gone before. They assume they know what’s best, their vocal outcries forcing studios to cave to this way of thinking with mixed results (e.g. Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker or Disney’s live-action remakes of their animated classics). This lack of imagination – that pain, grief and suffering are the only mechanisms to storytelling – traps characters (and their respective fandoms) in a never-ending cycle of their doomed fates and limits the possibilities to go beyond conventions.

The celebrated fact of the Spider-Verse, with its tongue-in-cheek humour and homages, is that Miles is not like his predecessors – and that’s a good thing. The enjoyment or entire point of the franchise has been to prove the canon doesn’t have to be so restrictive. Like its work of art animation, it can unshackle itself from the past to imagine something better. 

When Gwen is kicked out of the Spider-Society, she reunites with her father, George Stacy, altering her destiny. She rejects Miguel’s Spider community and forms her own band with Spider-Punk, Spider-Man India and a host of other Spider-cameos joining her. 

Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) represents the biggest evolution across both movies. He goes from a Spider-Man willing to sacrifice himself for the multiverse (a response to his fears about children with Mary Jane Watson which led to the break up of his marriage) before returning back to his universe a changed man. Peter’s story ends up as a happy one, becoming a parent to his baby daughter Mayday who’s hilariously ready to follow in her father’s footsteps. That change wouldn’t be possible without Miles.

In taking that “leap of faith”, Miles’ very existence is a powerful recontextualization of a modern-day superhero, an evolving character who’s not beholden to the past but forges his own path, for himself and for and those around him. His Afro-Latino roots and emotional anchor to his parents provide the cultural identity and distinction that has resonated with so many POC fans (including myself). Spider-Man is for everyone, and no matter what, he belongs in that world.

Despite the jaw-dropping cliffhanger, Miles’ rebellious fight within Across the Spider-Verse remains a hopeful one. It’s the spirited defiance of our expectations that keeps him unapologetically endearing. If Beyond the Spider-Verse has something to say about how Miles’ journey will end, then it will be this: time to rip up the rulebook and smash the canon wide open.

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