Spoilers for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse are ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
As I walked out of my screening of the exquisitely divine Across the Spider-Verse, the film's central theme rang in my head all the way home. Why has the Spider character been slapped with the label of being Marvel’s residence place for sadness? Is it indeed possible that you could be the web-slinger and have a semblance of a happy life? The film challenges this notion of consistent canon with this persistence of making your fate. Miles’ presence and bravery were enough to turn Peter B. Parker’s life around in Into the Spider-Verse, where he could return home to start a family. Toward the end of the film, Gwen Stacy reconciles with her father, where he leaves the force, and he can see who she truly is.
So, it isn’t all bad! (even though the cliffhanger leaves our main hero in peril). The live-action films paint a different picture. In the Tobey Maguire lead films, Peter loses Uncle Ben, his sense of being a hero wearing the symbiote suit, his best friend Harry Osbourne, his mentor in Dr. Otto Octavious, and his relationship with Mary Jane Watson is frayed (takes a deep breath). In the Amazing Spider-Man films, Andrew Garfield’s Peter loses his father, his girlfriend’s father, Harry Osborn (again!), and his heart with Gwen Stacy’s tragic death. With the MCU’s trilogy, Tom Holland’s Peter loses it all – his mentor, Aunt May, his friends, his love interest, the Avengers, and suitable housing. (not to mention, he gets snapped).
And that’s just the films – from the recent Playstation video game and throughout comic history, Spider characters have accepted that excessive amounts of loss come with the job. Not Miles Morales, however. When we catch up with him a year after Into the Spider-Verse, Miles is already challenging this notion of “one universe, one Spider-Man” among thinking about going to a school in New Jersey. He desires to be back with his friends, specifically Gwen. When they see each other again, Gwen makes an overture of her character perishing every time she falls for an instance of Spider-Man. That, along with Spider-Man 2099’s example of Miles letting his father die so other universes can survive – justifiably pushes him over the edge.
Why the hell is it that atrocities have to happen for heroes to overcome something? The essence of Miles Morales in this universe is perfect for challenging this question. He was bitten by a spider not meant for him and elects to zig where other Spider-people zag. An anomaly, if you will. It reminds me of The Matrix Reloaded, where Neo discusses past choices of those ordained to be the one with the Architect. Instead of taking the path of least resistance, rebooting the Matrix as five others have, Neo saves Trinity.
Throughout the walks of life, a specific wonderment is attached to choice. Maybe if you didn’t order coffee at one particular place, you wouldn’t have encountered the person who ends up being the love of your life. Or maybe fate doesn’t have to be set in stone – maybe with the tweak of decisions, we can make a stream of water move the way we want it to.
Across the Spider-Verse could have easily followed the stories set before it that ring as loud as a classic My Chemical Romance song. Nope. The film decided to pick apart these stories of parallel bouts of grief and give us a glimmer of hope that this character could be courageous enough to turn the page.