Let’s Talk About the Cliffhanger Ending of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Photo: Sony Pictures Animation

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) was never supposed to be Spider-Man. At least that’s what Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), leader of the Spider-Society, believes. But let’s back up.

When Morales was introduced in 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, his origin played out much like it does in the comics. He’s bitten by a genetically engineered spider, Project 42, and when his world’s Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Chris Pine) dies, he becomes the new Spider-Man, albeit facing a steep learning curve. But what Across the Spider-Verse reveals is that Project 42 wasn’t from his world. The spider, brought to Miles’s Earth-1610 by the Into the Spider-Verse antagonist Kingpin’s super-collider machine, was actually from Earth-42, leaving that world without a spider to bite Peter Parker, Miles Morales, or anyone else who could carry the mantle, and thus created a world without Spider-Man. It’s this world, Earth-42, where Miles finds himself captive, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

The past has come back to haunt Miles in more ways than one in Across the Spider-Verse. The threat of Miles’s self-proclaimed nemesis, the Spot (Jason Schwartzman), a scientist transformed by the explosion of the collider and given the power to open portals to other dimensions, brings Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld) back into Miles’s life. Miles learns she has joined the Spider-Society, a multiversal union of Spider-people connected by “the web of life and destiny” who want to stop the multiverse from falling apart, under the leadership of the tormented O’Hara. Desperate to join others like him, and feeling the absence of friends in his own life, Miles secretly follows Gwen into the multiverse, where he lands on O’Hara’s radar after preventing a “canon event” — a tragedy crucial to a Spider-Man’s development. In this case, it was saving Captain Singh, the father of Spider-Man/Pavitr Prabhakar’s (Karan Soni) girlfriend, and a variant of Captain Stacy.

O’Hara proceeds to rock Miles Morales’s world with two revelations. The first is that to prevent the continued collapse of the multiverse, Miles has to let his father, Jeff (Brian Tyree Henry), who has just been promoted to captain, die in an attack by the Spot in two days. The second revelation is that Miles Morales is an anomaly, whose very existence as Spider-Man has destabilized the multiverse. Miles, who refuses to be beholden to the “canon event” and let his dad die — something his friends Gwen and Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) were aware of and kept from him — goes on the run, with hundreds of Spider-people on his tail. Miles manages to escape, with the help of Spider-Byte (Amandla Stenberg), whose multiverse machine can scan DNA and send variants back to their home world.

And so Miles returns home to his family’s apartment and reveals to his mom, Rio (Luna Lauren Velez), that he is Spider-Man. She responds in turn with, “Who is Spider-Man?” And it dawns on Miles, as well as the audience, that the multiverse machine read the DNA of the spider that bit Miles, sending him to Earth-42, a world where his father has already been killed, and his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) is still alive. Meanwhile, O’Hara and his closest allies, Spider-Woman/Jess Drew (Issa Rae) and Scarlet Spider (Andy Samberg), have traveled to Miles’s world of Earth-1610 just in time to ensure the Spot succeeds in killing Jeff and maintaining the canon event. If that wasn’t enough to leave audiences on the edge of their seats, there’s more.

Earth-42 Uncle Aaron picks Miles up for a job but quickly realizes this isn’t his Miles. Miles wakes up chained to a punching bag, pleading with his uncle not to kill him, revealing to him that in his world he protected Miles and was a good person who only did bad things because he thought he had no other choices. Miles tells him he doesn’t have to be the Prowler. Aaron reveals to him that he isn’t, as a figure in a Prowler costume climbs down from the ceiling. He removes his mask and Miles looks straight into the face of a variant version of himself, left cruel by the death of his father and tutelage under Uncle Aaron. With Miles trapped in a hostile world with seemingly no way home, Gwen quits the Spider-Society and forms her own team, consisting of Peter B. Parker, Pavitr Prabhakar, Spider-Byte, Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluyaa), and returning friends Spider-Man Noir, Peni Parker, and Spider-Ham, to set out and find Miles Morales beyond the Spider-Verse.

And yes, it just so happens that the next installment is titled Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse. The title, at least in part, refers to the fact that Earth-42 doesn’t have a Spider-Man and is thus unconnected to the Web of Life and Destiny and outside the limits of the Spider-Verse. The next film obviously won’t stay put on Earth-42, and there’s really no predicting how expansive the journey of the third installment might be. What we can predict is that Miles Morales as Spider-Man will go toe-to-toe with Miles Morales as the Prowler. The comics offered a battle between Miles and another variant, the Miles Morales of Earth-616, an older version of the character who worked for the Kingpin and later became the costumed villain, Ultimatum. Turning the Across the Spider-Verse variant of Miles into the Prowler, however, allows for a crucial aspect of Miles’s legacy to continue to play out in the films: the influence of alternate Uncle Aaron and how far it goes.

However things shake out with the Prowler, there is still the larger war brewing between the Spider-people, with Gwen Stacy leading one side and Miguel O’Hara leading the other. Can the Spider-Verse survive such a collision, and at what cost? If these “canon events” are disrupted, then who does Spider-Man become? Does the character always have to be defined by loss? The film is toying with interesting ideas and meta-commentary on the comics that have increasingly stripped away any chance of Peter Parker finding happiness. Of course, we want to see these characters win, to avoid tragedy, but how often do we see finales without any casualties? Miles Morales’s story in the comics saw his mother die, and in the PS4 video game, he lost his father. Fans of the cinematic Spider-Verse might find it hard to claim Morales should suffer the loss of either parent, and I don’t think he will. But there will undoubtedly be consequences to their survival and the Spot’s cataclysmic effects on the multiverse, one that may see Earths collide à la Marvel’s Secret Wars comic-book event, which the MCU has plans to adapt.

What’s interesting, given all Across the Spider-Verse’s references to the Marvel Cinematic Universes (O’Hara mentioning Doctor Strange, the appearance of Sacred Timeline, and the existence of Donald Glover’s variant Aaron Davis, who previously showed up in Spider-Man: Homecoming), Sony and Marvel Studios may be working toward a similar goal from different ends, one that results in a live-action Miles Morales, cementing the character’s place as more than an anomaly, but the rightful Spider-Man. Perhaps the canon event that could save everything is the very existence of Miles Morales as Spider-Man throughout the Spider-Verse. We’ll find out next year, and until then we’ll just keep swinging.

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Let’s Talk About the Across the Spider-Verse Cliffhanger End