That Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse would be the first of a two-part story wasn’t exactly a secret, but its cliffhanger ending was blindsiding nonetheless. The Spidey sequel ends with its hero, Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), stranded in a universe that’s not his own — and despite the bloated exposition and sprawling meta commentary that preclude it, it doesn’t feel like much has been said by the time the credits finally roll.
For the record, Across the Spider-Verse is by no means a bad film. It’s just as stunning as its predecessor, if only because it cranks its multiverse concept to a dizzying, maximalist degree. Across drags various Spider-Men/Women/Cats/Dinos from every corner of the Spider-Verse: not just characters from the comics, but beloved games, defunct animated shows, and live-action films too. It also elevates Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) to a co-protagonist to Miles, which definitely feels warranted after watching her steal the show in the first film.
But even with all the new worlds, characters, and complications that the sequel introduces, Across still feels stretched too thin. The filmmakers do well to remember that Miles is the heart of this series, and his story anchors so much of what might have been an unfocused, zig-zagging plot. Everything always comes back to Miles: his place in the Spider-Verse, the fate he narrowly avoided on Earth-42, and his quest to defy the canon and save his father (Brian Tyree Henry) are the very things that keep this story moving. But it’s also a story that could have been told with a touch more urgency — or, better yet, in one standalone sequel.
Hollywood has been splitting one film into two installments for decades, and it’s a trend that’s enjoying a resurgence now. After Avengers: Infinity War and its follow-up, Endgame, brought about the end of a decade-long era, countless franchises have been following suit. The Fast & Furious saga will be wrapping things up with a two-parter, and the Mission: Impossible franchise could be doing the same with Dead Reckoning Part One and Part Two. Across is just the latest in a long line of franchises employing the trend — but does that choice actually work for the story at hand?
Across the Spider-Verse has already earned comparisons to other trilogies. The Empire Strikes Back has been the go-to analogy of late, despite the fact that the Star Wars sequel was more than able to stand on its own. Sure, it ended on a cliffhanger, but it also told a full, succinct story. There’s a beginning, middle and end to Empire; the same cannot be said for Across. The Sony sequel weaves a complicated web, and none of the questions it raises are answered by the end of the film. Given its role in a larger trilogy, that’s not a requirement — but it still leaves the third Spider-Verse film, which drops in 2024, to pick up a lot of the slack.
Two-part finales have worked in the past: the latest Avengers films have already proven it. But both films can’t just be two halves of a whole — they must also be able to stand on their own. Across the Spider-Verse is far too focused on its role as part one of a larger story, it forgets its responsibility to offer a coherent story on its own. Sony has taken a frustrating risk with its most promising franchise, one that Beyond the Spider-Verse will have a tough time paying off next year.