Discovering ‘Across The Spider-Verse’ From a Black Expat’s Perspective
In 2018, I raved about the sleeper hit ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’. Its masterful blend of humor, action, heart, and revolutionary animation made it my all-time favorite Spider-Man movie, and one of my most cherished superhero flicks. It was a film so exceptional that I flew across the ocean from Seoul to see it again through the wonder-filled eyes of my teenage brother. It is one of those films that I am always excited to watch with people who have never seen it, and my hype for a sequel was through the stratosphere. Yet, post-Avengers Endgame, the quality of superhero movies seemed to decline. This decline in quality gradually wore down my interest.
The Decline of Superhero Cinematic Quality
The innovative promise of ‘Wandavision’ ended disappointingly. Captain America and the Winter Soldier’s unique story about open borders and bucking the global order sputtered to the finish with a “Yes We Can” speech and the titular hero upholding the status quo. Even Taika Watiti’s genius couldn’t save ‘Love and Thunder’. Furthermore, ‘Ant-Man: Quantumania’ failed to impress critics and box office alike.
‘Wonder Woman 1984’, the sequel to a milestone female-led superhero movie, was burdened with bafflingly poor storytelling and controversy. So, you would imagine my shock when it was announced that one of the screenplay writers for 1984, Dave Callaham (who also wrote for 2021’s Mortal Kombat and Zombieland: Double Tap, yikes), was involved in the Spiderverse sequel.
Overcoming Expectations Amid Delays
Long-standing protectionist policies in Korea limiting the number of Western films in theaters didn’t help raise my expectations either. Fast X, The Little Mermaid, The Flash, and Elemental had created a packed June lineup that made me fearful that I wouldn’t be able to see Spiderverse in IMAX. Fortunately, I was able to watch ‘Across The Spiderverse’ on one of the world’s largest IMAX screens, much to my relief.
A Celebration of Color in Cinema
The lead-up to the movie was electric. I organized a small group of, mainly, Black people to watch it with me. I also wore the Morales costume I ordered last year, hoping that nothing would ruin my fun like the unfortunate Itaewon tragedy. I walked through the department store with pride, turning heads, taking pictures with people, and high-fiving children who were on their way to celebrating people of color at the cinema again en masse.
A Leap in Animation and Storytelling
The film exceeded my expectations completely. I laughed, my jaw dropped several times, and I nearly cried. It’s unbelievable that the studio that recently brought us the Venom movies and Morbius has given us, arguably, the greatest superhero movie of all time (Take several seats, James Gunn and The Flash).
Sony’s claim of delaying the movie for the sake of advancing animation was clearly justified. This was, undoubtedly, the most beautifully animated film I’ve ever seen. The sequel’s artistic creativity and narrative innovation deserve the highest commendation. The first film showcased different art styles for the various Spidey heroes, but the sequel has taken that to a whole new level even if they reportedly took some ethical shortcuts to achieve it.
Relatable Themes Resonating with Expats
The inventive storyboarding also deserves the highest praise. Nearly every frame of this movie, from the action to the humor to the dramatic moments could be made into a poster. Extraordinary fails to describe the level of detail. In an era when so many low-quality movies can be streamed at home, Across The Spider-Verse demands to be experienced at the highest quality theater system you can find.
The movie’s themes of isolation, hidden identity, loss, connection, regret, and unmet expectations resonated deeply with me, especially as a Black expat. As an expat, I’ve been the only Black male teacher at a number of my schools (even in the U.S., Black men account for just 2% of teachers!) and in my Korean neighborhoods. Since the pandemic, even though I have helped bolster my students’ skills and confidence and have inspired them for years, my sense of isolation has only increased. I, in a sense, put on a mask when I teach my students every day and hide my pain.
Miles’ relationship with his mother, Rio, was lovingly expanded and became my favorite dynamic in the movie. Rio was loyal, hardworking, caring, and funny. Even though she’s Puerto Rican, the looks on her face when the men in her life upset her are looks that every Black child who has a Black mother knows. They are looks that I give my own students when they misbehave.
Her monologue about asking Miles not to forget that he is loved and where he comes from nearly brought me to tears, as I had to break the news to my own mother recently that I wouldn’t be able to visit home this summer due to astronomical plane ticket prices. It was compounded by me remembering that so much of the good in me – what I share with my students and overall community – comes from her. It motivated me to stay strong during a tumultuous chapter in my life right now.
Representation in Media
Across The Spider-Verse powerfully illustrates why representation matters in media. Not only did I identify with the characters, but I also found the movie profoundly inspiring. I’m eager to watch it again and share my thoughts with as many people as possible.
Go and be loved, my friends. Wherever you are, stay strong! A special shoutout to Jess Kroll at Pop Mythology for inspiring me to write this piece!