Across the Spider-Verse Uses Spider-Man’s Best Trait Against Him
We are who we choose to be.
Warning! Spoilers ahead for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse brings Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) face-to-face with Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), the leader of the multiverse’s Spider Society. Unfortunately for Miles, their meeting doesn’t go particularly well. Indeed, not only does Miguel tell Miles that he was never meant to become Spider-Man, he also demands that Miles stand back and let his father, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry), be murdered by The Spot (Jason Schwartzman).
If Miles doesn’t, Miguel insists that “The Canon,” which is a collection of events that hold the Spider-Verse together, will be disrupted. The fate of the entire multiverse could essentially rest on Miles’ father’s demise. Miles, nonetheless, escapes Miguel’s home universe and sets out on a quest to save his dad’s life. In the minutes that follow, Across the Spider-Verse sees all of Miles’ various web-slinging friends and enemies rally together to either help him or stop him.
While it’s undeniably fun to see a bunch of different Spider-Men fight each on-screen, too, the rift between Miguel and Miles is compelling largely because it stems from the one thing that should, on paper, bind them and every other version of Spider-Man together: Responsibility.
Most of the Spider-Man variants that have been introduced over the years have essentially been guided by the same beliefs as Marvel’s original wall-crawler, Peter Parker. Indeed, even if they’ve never actually heard the words “with great power, comes great responsibility,” most of the Spider-Men and Spider-Women throughout history have acted as if they have. No superhero, after all, is quite as obsessed with the notion of personal responsibility as Spider-Man, which is what makes Miguel’s ultimatum to Miles in Across the Spider-Verse so interesting.
The film forces Miles to choose between the fate of the multiverse itself and his father’s life. In doing so, Across the Spider-Verse pits the responsibility Miles feels to the multiverse at large against the responsibility he feels as a son to protect his father’s life. Miles, being a young man who is driven by own his empathy and compassion, decides to try to find a way to both save his father’s life and stop the multiverse from falling apart.
In case that wasn’t engaging enough, Across the Spider-Verse also introduces one of the more compelling on-screen villains that has ever been featured in a Spider-Man movie in Miguel O’Hara. Haunted by his own past mistakes and losses, Miguel is presented as a man who has used his greater responsibility to the multiverse as an excuse to cut himself off from the responsibility he might also feel to those whose lives are lost as a result of his grand, multiversal crusade. He’s a version of Spider-Man who lacks any apparent form of empathy, which is what makes him such a powerful counter to Shameik Moore’s impulsive, emotionally-driven Miles.
At its core, Across the Spider-Verse is essentially a film that forces both its heroes and its viewers to consider what might happen when one’s sense of personal responsibility conflicts with their own humanity. That’s a surprisingly complex idea for the film to ground its central conflict with, but Across the Spider-Verse commits fully to it. It doesn’t just force Miguel O’Hara and Miles Morales to grapple with the ramifications of their actions, either.
In its second half, the film’s emotional weight grows as it further investigates the responsibility that not only Miles feels toward his father, but that his two closest friends, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), feel toward him. Across the Spider-Verse, in other words, forces all of its many, many heroes to choose between the two traits that have come to define them. As a result, the film has already earned its place for many viewers among the greatest Spider-Man movies that have ever been made, and it’s not hard to see why.