Across the Spider-Verse’s Ending Repeats the Biggest Risk in Marvel Movie History

The bravado of the Spider-Verse will collide with superhero fatigue as its ending poses its own question: Will audiences actually return?

'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse'
Sony Pictures

The multiverse just isn’t big enough for the Spider-Verse. Five years after Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse shook up superhero movies, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse lives up to most expectations set by the original, sophomore slump be damned.

But that’s only if no one takes umbrage with the ending. While most plugged-in fans already know that Across the Spider-Verse was originally “Part One” of a two-part sequel (Part Two has since been renamed Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse), casual moviegoers may not know this fact, which is why it will be jarring for them as they reach the end of Across the Spider-Verse.

Across the Spider-Verse’s ending comes swiftly and abruptly, all after two hours of growing emotional tension that won’t resolve for at least another year (there’s still no release date for Beyond the Spider-Verse). That’s a risky approach to take that will have unknown consequences, even for a safe franchise bet like Spider-Man. How audiences take to the end of Across the Spider-Verse could potentially alienate them in irreversible ways.

To go any further will involve massive spoilers for Across the Spider-Verse. So you’ve been warned, spoilers for Across the Spider-Verse are ahead.

Across the Spider-Verse ends on a cliffhanger that leaves audiences, ahem, dangling, until Beyond the Spider-Verse next year.

Sony Pictures

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse ending, explained

At the end of Across the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) learns that the radioactive spider that bit him wasn’t native to his universe (Earth-1610). Instead, it originated from Earth-42. As a result, the New York of Earth-42 is a crime-ridden hellscape without a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to protect it.

It’s a plot twist that arrives in the movie’s final minutes. After Miles escapes from Spider-Verse headquarters, he thinks he’s headed back home. But the high-tech machine he hitches a ride on scans his spider DNA (not his) and sends him to Earth-42 instead. Miles discovers a universe where his father is dead and his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) still lives. Worse, Aaron now mentors an evil version of Miles who’s taken on the mantle of the Prowler.

With Miles held captive on Earth-42, time is running out for Miles to save his father back at home. So in a last-ditch effort, Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) recruits all of their allies from Into the Spider-Verse (Spider-Ham! Spider-Man Noir!) and Across the Spider-Verse (Spider-Punk! Spider-Man India!) to rescue Peter. That is if they can find him in time.

Across the Spider-Verse has one of Marvel’s riskiest endings since Infinity War. Not because of its story contents, but because of the simple expectation that audiences will return. As superhero fatigue settles in, will they?

Sony Pictures

What does the ending mean for Beyond the Spider-Verse?

At this stage, we know the story of Beyond the Spider-Verse more or less. We can expect the movie to follow Gwen leading a rescue mission to save Miles. They’ll also have to contend with Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), who sees Miles as a non-canonical abnormality. And then there’s Spot (Jason Schwartzman), whose portal abilities have evolved to the point that he threatens the entire multiverse.

But the ending of Across the Spider-Verse is more complex in the bigger picture of superhero movies. To be clear, the film is superb, but it isn’t perfect. Its overstuffed plot still feels cut it in half by a cliffhanger, effectively leaving the movie with one of Marvel’s most controversial endings since Avengers: Infinity War.

While audiences knew during Infinity War that a sequel was confirmed, it didn’t lessen the impact of sitting in the theater and watching our favorite heroes (including Spider-Man) turn to literal dust in the wind. Certainly, Across the Spider-Verse is a different film than Infinity War, and most audiences will probably not be traumatized by its ending of Miles being duct taped to a boxing bag and staring into the eyes of his doppelgänger. Still, like Infinity War, Across the Spider-Verse presumptuously expects audiences to reinvest in the next movie. That’s becoming a taller order each year as more superhero films bombard our attention, and stories with finality become a more precious attraction than everlasting ones. (There’s a reason everyone loved Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and its satisfying closure.)

Most people seeing Across the Spider-Verse were going to see Beyond anyway, and engaging with superhero media in today’s era will always mean some permanence is expected. But even if you knew that the Spider-Verse has more gas in the tank, it doesn’t change how frustrating it can be to find out just how much the movie leaves things dangling for the next one to pick up a year from now. One year isn’t a long time. But when you’re hanging on the cliff of an unresolved story, it can feel like forever.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is now playing in theaters.

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