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Review - Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

[The following review contains MAJOR SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]

Five year ago, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse argued that anybody is capable of (figuratively) being Spider-Man—a seemingly simple thesis that nevertheless resonated with audiences due to the implicit call to action that accompanied it: “Everybody should aspire to be as heroic as Spider-Man.” Now, the film’s sequel—Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse—elaborates on that theme, exploring what it actually means to “be Spider-Man.”

For Miguel O’Hara (alias Spider-Man 2099), who commands an alliance of Spider-People recruited from across the Spider-Verse (hence the movie's title), heroism is defined entirely by suffering. Indeed, he does not merely believe that trauma “builds character”; his own experiences have convinced him that certain tragedies (the death of the father figure, the failure to save the mentor, the loss of the first true love) are not only inevitable, but essential—and as the interconnected web of the multiverse becomes increasingly convoluted, he fears that interfering with such formative events could have disastrous consequences. Thus, in order to prevent the fabric of reality itself from unraveling, The Canon must be upheld—and if accomplishing this goal costs a handful of innocent lives… well, don't the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

While Miguel’s fatalistic philosophy is obviously flawed (several alternate earths remain totally intact despite deviating from the established formula, contradicting the theory that "Anomalies" are inherently catastrophic), it’s just persuasive enough to be embraced by his more vulnerable counterparts. Gwen Stacy, for example, joins the the cause after her secret identity is exposed in her native dimension, leaving her effectively homeless; hunted as a fugitive and disowned by her police captain father, she tolerates her superiors' dogmatic zealotry only because she has literally no other option. Her newfound teammates are equally disillusioned with the vigilante lifestyle; the patented “Parker Luck” has diminished their fortitude to such an extent that the idea of their shared misfortune being preordained and immutable—the promise that it serves some concrete (albeit grim) purpose—provides a measure of comfort.

Miles Morales, on the other hand, refuses to resign himself to “destiny,” rejecting Miguel’s ruthlessly pragmatic methods outright; from his point-of-view, a leader with a vast network of allies and resources at his disposal shouldn’t demand such steep personal sacrifices from his subordinates—especially when the evidence supporting the necessity of this self-imposed martyrdom is flimsy at best. This conflict gradually evolves into a compellingly nuanced meditation on the nature of power and responsibility. The crux of Across the Spider-Verse’s central premise is that inaction, even for the sake of the so-called “greater good,” is utterly antithetical to the values that Spider-Man represents—a blatant betrayal of the vow that he made on the night of Uncle Ben’s murder.

It is, of course, impossible to save everybody (to paraphrase Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham), but a true hero never stops trying anyway. And that, ultimately, is what it means to be Spider-Man.

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