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We Must End the Scourge of Meta Movies

Heads up: this is a review of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and, as a result, will be filled with big spoilers for the movie. If you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read this article. Just close your eyes and try to click as many ads as possible so we get money for it like you did read it. That’s the only moral thing to do, here, really. 

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a beautiful movie. The visuals are out of control, surpassing those of the first film, and it does things with animation I have never seen done before at this level. If the first movie in the series had a long-lasting effect on the animation world, this one’s legacy will be even greater. Gwen’s painted world is especially gorgeous, but the various different animation styles thrown together seamlessly really create an awesome effect — and I mean that like the actual definition of the word awesome, like it inspires awe, rather than like, it’s freaking epic, man.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I absolutely recommend going to check it out on that level alone.

One last look at how dope this movie is before I start getting mean. Fuckin sick, dude.

That being said, holy shit, we gotta stop the meta commentaries in these movies. The crux of the story in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is that Miles goes to the dimension where all the Spider-People hang out and learns that he has to let his dad die because, unfortunately, it will create a universe-ending rift if he doesn’t let this “canon” event occur.

First of all, this doesn’t even make sense within the rules explained by the characters. The movie goes on to explain that Miles himself is an anomaly to the canon due to the fact that he was bit by a spider from a foreign dimension — so considering his universe didn’t implode, there’s really no evidence pointing to the fact that another anomaly would do the same.

Second of all, this sucks as a story device. I don’t hate the idea of a multiverse (I really love the first Spider-Verse movie!), but Spider-Man movies are supposed to be about a character learning what it means to be Spider-Man (or Spider-Woman or Spider-Car or whatever). With great power comes great responsibility, sometimes you can’t save everybody, learning how to handle personal problems with the problems that affect the greater good, etc. These are all great Spider-Man themes. If you, for some reason, feel the need to release a new Spider-Man movie every other year, there’s a lot there to draw from!

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, however, is not about being Spider-Man. It’s about being a character in a Spider-Man movie. 

The main driving force of the story in the second half is the revelation that all Spider-People have a police captain in their lives who, at some point, needs to die. Not someone who is similar to a police captain — it has to be a literal police captain — Miles’ dad is only in trouble once he gets his big promotion. This is bizarre! It’s not a personal issue Miles has to overcome, it is him grappling with his place in the type of Spider-Man story we know in our world, rather than in his. 

And the movie is very explicit about this; they literally show scenes from other Spider-Man movies in this movie for the other characters to see. Miles watches a video clip of Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man. It’s not an animated recreation, it is a straight up clip from the movie you might find on YouTube. We see live action Donald Glover as The Prowler, green-screened into an animated movie. Someone mentions Dr. Strange in No Way Home, another meta multiverse Spider-Man movie. When Miles says he doesn’t want his dad to die, the other characters say, “sorry, but that’s not how Spider-Man movies go!”

The upside is that it is technically possible for Miles to read this review.

I don’t want to see that shit. I don’t want to be reminded of studio negotiations and casting news and Twitter discourse while watching a movie. Honestly, I don’t know if I ever want to hear the word “canon” in a movie at all! It isn’t enough to wink at that by having Glover lend his voice to an animated character? We have to literally have him in the movie? And by the way, Miles’ friend is playing the PS5 Spider-Man game in one scene and then Miles meets that PS5-generated Spider-Man in real life, so I dunno what the fuck is going on there.

Meta shit was pretty cool for a while, I guess. If you go through IMDb, you won’t be surprised to discover that Dan Harmon seems to have mentored half of everyone working on a superhero movie right now. And I’ve listened to an embarrassing amount of the man’s voice on podcasts, so I know he loves a good meta joke. But at some point, and I think he would agree, just knowing about tropes and saying them outloud isn’t the same as telling a story. I’m not against the idea of the Hero’s Journey or lampshading tropes, but I am against the idea of every character being 85% on their way to being Deadpool. 

Not to mention, if you start having characters know about the tropes, it begins to create some weird fatalistic themes for the movie. If we look closer at things like there being a universe where every single thing about Spider-Man is exactly the same except he lives in India (down to having an Aunt Maya), why aren’t the characters wondering about some sort of intelligent design? Do Stan Lee and Steve Ditko live in this universe as gods, deciding what happens to every single character until Miles decides to defy them?

Harmon actually already did this whole thing back in 2010. And this scene was in the background of the first Spider-Verse movie in 2018. But let’s all ooh and ahh at the fact that Donald spent 15 minutes to show up in the new one too.

I guess at the end of the day, what I’m trying to say is this: cut it the fuck out. The first movie was cool. Everything was self-contained and the multiverse aspects existed to drive the plot forward, as well as Miles’ emotional arc. It didn’t ask us to start thinking about the ramifications of what it meant if there was a universe where Peter Parker is a cartoon pig.

I hope this doesn’t come across as an overly negative review; the movie is definitely very worth seeing, based on visuals and great voice acting alone (even if most of that voice acting is done through teary monologues). I’m excited to see the conclusion to the story in Part 3 and I gave it a 4/5 on Letterboxd, so everyone just CALM DOWN. I just think we can eventually get over our meta movie fever and finally just tell some stories that exist within the movie we’re actually watching — even if they have to be set across infinite parallel universes (as, for some reason, all movies have to be now).