Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

HOT SUMMER TAKES | The Frustratingly Incomplete Narrative of ‘Across the Spider-Verse’

A movie delay is the bane of every cinephile’s existence — it breaks a sacred promise between the studio and the viewer while generating angst about the quality of the project. 

But when it comes to animated films, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” proves that some movies are worth the wait. Well, at least visually.

Initially scheduled for release in October 2022, “Across the Spider-Verse” was marketed as a singular, coherent narrative. Its predecessor, “Into the Spider-Verse,” resolved its story in fewer than two hours: the interdimensional rift was sealed, the Spider-Men and Women went back to their respective realities and the villainous Kingpin was defeated. There was room for sequels, sure, but the main conflict of the movie was resolved. 

“Across the Spider-Verse” breaks this continuity. It doesn’t have a beginning and an end, but rather a beginning and a middle. According to the film’s directors, who were originally concerned that they were trying to “jam two movies into one,” this two-part narrative structure was not Plan A — and, for a trilogy, it shouldn’t be.

In rebuttal, one may point to the shocking cliffhangers of sequels in other trilogies, such as “The Empire Strikes Back,” which leaves audiences yearning for finality after an infamous revelation regarding its protagonist’s parentage. But “The Empire Strikes Back” functions as a self-contained narrative. Sure, the audience may wonder why a giant teddy bear is talking and why the blonde protagonist has a glowing stick that can cut through things, but its central conflict of “will the rebel alliance escape and live to fight another day” is resolved: they do. Luke has a climactic showdown with Darth Vader, loses a hand, learns an unfortunate truth and the audience gets to see his character grow. The movie stands on its own. 

“Across the Spider-Verse” lacks any similar resolution. Excluding Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), no character’s narrative arc is resolved by the end of the movie. Miguel (Oscar Isaac) is still willing to sit back and let thousands die; the film’s increasingly powerful, multiverse-traversing villain, the Spot, still wants to kill Miles Morales (Shameik Moore); and, most importantly, Miles still hasn’t told his parents who he really is. 

Instead of resolving any of these conflicts, the movie introduces a new character and the words “to be continued” flash across the screen at the film’s end. Nothing is resolved, there is no climax, and you’re left with a profound feeling of disappointment that is only partially quelled by the knowledge that this film constitutes a “Part 1.” 

That being said, what this movie is able to accomplish is breathtaking. The film’s introduction serves as an apt representation of its overarching animation style: kitchen sink. Within five minutes of the lights dimming, viewers will either find themselves immersed in a vibrant array of colors and imagery or absolutely stunned by sensory overload. Many will feel both. 

The movie’s signature accomplishment involves its animated rendition of Spider-HQ: hundreds of characters populate every frame without any degeneration in quality. What could have been an opportunity for lazy Easter egg-hunting became a demonstration of the potential held in meticulous animation. “Across the Spider-Verse” is, without a doubt, one of the most visually captivating animated movies of all time. 

These visual feats join an equally stellar soundtrack. Each of the major characters gets a motif: for example, Hobie (Daniel Kaluuya), an anarchist rock band member, gets a punk rock sound each time he appears on the screen. Tracks like this don’t just introduce the character; they develop them beyond what you see on screen. We come to know each Spider-Man variation by their own unique sound.

But these achievements only amplify what the movie gives you. The first half of this story looks and sounds incredible, but that’s all you get: half a story. The film’s directors realized that “Across the Spider-Verse” could not fit into a single feature, and they were right. But to split its narrative and call it a movie on its own is insulting, especially when the finished product has the potential to be the greatest animated story ever. 

Ultimately, this movie would be better-suited as a TV show. An episodic structure would justify the Spot’s underutilization — the villain’s surprising lack of screen time would be more excusable in a TV show, which could have used episodes in which the Spot was absent to further develop the protagonists. This structure would also facilitate more effective conflict resolution, preventing the subplots within the narrative from feeling sporadic and incomplete.

If “Beyond the Spider-Verse” adequately ties its predecessor’s sprawling arcs together and justifies their existence, I’ll eat my words. Given recent delays, though, that likely won’t happen soon.

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