Many legacy publications ban their journalists from using Wikipedia, and rightly so; while Wiki IS a useful resource, any journalist worth their salt will cross-check facts from several reputable sources, and Wiki isn’t one of them. But as I try to get a grip on what’s right and what’s wrong with Spider-Man: Across the Spider Verse, the follow up to Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse and the precursor to the unmade Spider-Man: Across the Spider Verse Part Two aka Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider Verse, roughly six minutes of the film had unspooled before I had to pause and do some research to find out exactly WTFF I was looking at, and Wikipedia’s plot summary is Exhibit A. Here’s the attention-grabbing opening of the third most popular film of the year so far…
‘On Earth-65, police captain George Stacy is unaware that his daughter Gwen Stacy is Spider-Woman. Years prior, Gwen accidentally caused the death of her best friend Peter Parker while he was rampaging as the Lizard, and police have been hunting her ever since. One night, Gwen encounters a version of the Vulture from an Italian Renaissance-themed alternate universe. Miguel O’Hara and Jess Drew arrive using portal-generating watches and help Gwen neutralize the Vulture. George corners Gwen, who then reveals her identity to him; distraught, he attempts to arrest her. Miguel reluctantly grants Gwen membership into the Spider-Society, allowing her to escape with him and Jess. In Brooklyn on Earth-1610, sixteen months after the Alchemax collider’s destruction,[a] Miles Morales encounters…’
Nope, nope, nope, sorry, with the best will in the world, I’m absolutely lost in the Spider-Verse already. This Sony production follows on as the latest in a double figure slew of Spider Man movies in the last two decades, not including half-assed spin-offs like Morbius and Venom. I’m pretty sure that Venom was the baddie in the last one of these movies which brought me to the cinema, Sam Raimi’s truly-awful Spider-Man 3; after that, I’d had enough, and nothing has tempted me back since. I did see the first Spider Verse movie at home, which had some expensive looking abstract animation and nothing else that might stick in the memory, and my interest in finding out what everyone else is watching brought me to this middle chapter without much enthusiasm.
Sure, fan-boys may lap it up, but for casual viewers, this is the kind of venture that makes going to the cinema utterly dispensable. Story-wise, it’s just the same as it ever was. Spider-Man has to balance dual identities from his family while fighting a criminal antagonist in his home city in New York. He travels to an alternate dimension called the Spider-Verse where he meets various other versions of himself, like an Indian Spider-Man called Pravitir Prabhakar (Karan Soni) from Mumbhattan; at least he gets an anti-Empire line when he says ‘And this is where the British stole most of our stuff…’. After an hour or so of establishing nearly 300 exploitable IP like Lego Spider-Man or Spider-Man in therapy, we return to the traditional main-story a la The Flash; a close relative of Spider-Man will die for sure unless our hero can rescue him and save the day. It’s the same story as the last Spider-Verse film, and the same story as No Way Home, so any entertainment value will have to be found in the garnish, which exists in plentiful but exhausting quantities.
A twenty-minute opening sequence makes this out to be about a trans-friendly female Spider-woman in fetching pink called Gwen Stacy; I’d thought Spider-Man’s girlfriend was Mary Jane, but that now seems to be the name of Gwen’s screamo-band. 140 minutes of this kind of noodling leaves time for some strange curated-by-algorithm cultural references ranging from Def Leppard to Jeff Koons, and it’s less than ten minutes in before conversation turns to the dreaded portals, vortexes and multiverses. ‘You talk about the fate of the multiverse and my brain dies,’ says one of the characters, reflecting audience malaise on such topics, but within seconds of such self-aware hipster snark, we’re back to earnest chat about what would the consequences be if the ‘dimensions are unravelling’ due to the ‘portals of Nemesis’ causing ‘canon events to be disrupted’. Spider-Man himself is boringly woke with preachy lines like ‘Men of your generation ignore their mental health,’ which don’t mesh with such leering school-boy smut as ‘my holes can take me anywhere’.
Even Spider-Man’s mom dishes out meaningless advice like “Don’t get lost’; what does that even mean? Who sets out to get lost? How does such advice help you if you do get lost? But on reflection, it wasn’t Miles Morales but me that got lost trying to make sense of this Spider-Verse malarkey. An arrestingly realised moment like Gwen and Miles admiring an upside down New York skyline is admittedly stunning to look at, but everything else about these Sony productions is a hard-sell for a sixty-year old product you already bought, used, grew out of and got bored of some time ago. Fortunately the intellectually-fresh double-punch of Barbie and Oppenheimer kicked this Spider-Man’s ass beyond the spider-verse at the box office, suggesting that our enthusiasm for such colourful but self-serving nonsense may finally be on the wane.