My mixed feelings about "Spider-man: Across the Spider-Verse": It's too good to have a TV ending

There are so many reasons to love the new Spider-Man film, but the ending isn't one of them

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published June 12, 2023 3:00PM (EDT)

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Sony Pictures)
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Sony Pictures)

This following contains spoilers from "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse," including its ending.

"Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" is an excellent film – and will receive praise for so many reasons, from the wonderful score and beautiful animation to the compelling storyline and humor. This is by far the best Spider-Man movie to date. As a matter of fact, the film got everything right except the ending. Like come on, Marvel, really? 

Before getting to the ending, I would like to highlight what I liked so much, starting with way the creators tackled diversity as it stands out the most. 

No I'm not Captain Diversity or the inclusion police. I don't walk into movies with an angry look wiped across my face, RACE-O-METER in hand, hungry to judge and critique the color, ethnicity and class decisions made by production companies. While representation matters to me, as an artist, I believe that people should be able to create whatever they want. The need to see myself in a cartoon may be outside of your priority list, and I can live with that.

Even tokenism and performative inclusion – like Lisa, the one Black girl on "Saved by the Bell" or Storm, the single Black character in those X-Men comics and early films, never really bothered me until I had my own child. And even still, I can carefully curate what she watches, making sure she's seeing Black queens, Black princess and Black heroes. The internet is full of shows like "Gracie's Corner," "OmoBerry" and "Karma's World" – but none of them are as big as Spider-Man. There's no getting around blockbusters like Marvel films, and at times you have to face race head-on. There's something about having a kid that annoyingly makes you feel like you can audit the world and season it to your child's taste in a way. You can't, but you still try anyway because you never want your child to feel slighted. It used to be so easy for me to click past a show like "Friends" – that had no Black friends or "Sex in the City," a show that takes place in New York, one of the most diverse cities in the world; however, was 100% white – but the blatant erasure of Black people is highly unacceptable to me now. 

Black parents intentionally have to prove to their kids that they are good enough to be read in books, seen on television and in films, not just as extras but as superheroes, mermaids, doctors, lawyers and Spider-Man.

Black parents intentionally have to prove to their kids that they are good enough to be read in books, seen on television and in films, not just as extras but as superheroes, mermaids, doctors, lawyers and Spider-Man.

Peter Parker was white my whole life, and I did not care; actually, Tobey Maguire did a great job in those early films, but now that Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) the new Spider-Man, or at least one of the many from the Spider-Verse is my complexion, I find myself behaving as childish as my three-year-old while cheering throughout the film. 

About a week ago – I took my daughter to see Disney's live-action "The Little Mermaid." Ariel, played by Halle Bailey, sang beautifully in a way that inspired my daughter immensely; however, the production company's decision to cast a white father (Javier Bardem) and white auntie (Melissa Mc Carthy) in addition to a white boyfriend (Jonah Hauer-King) opens the door for questions Black parents don't want to explain during or after a Disney movie. 

Questions like, "Where is the Little Mermaid's real family?" or "Why does Ariel look different?" or "Was Danny Glover or Forest Whitaker too busy to star as the Black father or just out of budget?" 

Thankfully she did not bombard us with these thoughts, but even as a three-year-old, our daughter has already dealt with racism, and had questions about racism, even though she doesn't know what the word means. "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" left no questions. 

"Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" (Sony Pictures)

A viewer should not have to leave the film, wondering what is going to happen in part 3, 4, 5 and 6. We need to be complete, to be whole.

Issa Rae plays Jess Drew, a Black Spider-Woman who is pregnant: Win. Daniel Kaluuya plays the coolest Spider-Man, Hobie Brown aka Spider-Punk: Win. Karan Soni is Pavitr Prabhakar, Spider-Man India: Win, win, win. The story is still centered around Miles Morales' Brooklyn universe, and thankfully the film looks and feels like Brooklyn. There are no sorry distractions based on racial sensitivity, or the desperate need to create what could be considered a Black movie (as if we aren't Americans), that may only draw interest from a Black demographic. The film offers diversity in class, in race, perspectives, body types and ideas that exist within the Black and White and Latino community in a highly authentic way. People aren't present for the sake of checking boxes; they just get a chance to exist like in the real world. I watched the whole movie and didn't think about race, inclusion, or diversity once. Just action, fun, and a brilliantly crafted storyline. The way it should be. And my daughter did the same. Other filmmakers who struggle with race should take notes. "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" is a master class. 

Again the film was great, all the way up to the ending. Marvel, I packed up my daughter, and drove to the movies to see your film – as you know this wasn't a straight-to-cable production or something I streamed at home – and takes time. On top of me spending two hours and 16 minutes in that theater watching your film, a film that I enjoyed, but still, why couldn't you end it? The last scene has Miles, trapped in a universe where there is no Spider-Man, New York is a mess, his father is dead, his uncle is alive and sets him up to be killed by a supervillain version of Miles. And as soon as the kill is about to happen, we are hit with a "To be continued . . ." 

A "TO BE CONTINUED?" This isn't a weekly TV show; it's a film. At least in TV shows we can pick up on the action next week, how long are we away from the next Spider-Man installment? A viewer should not have to leave the film, wondering what is going to happen in Part 3, 4, 5 and 6. Sequels are necessary because we are fans who want more; however, we deserve to be complete, to be whole at the end. All I heard around me was "What the hells?" and "How could they leave us in the middle of an incomplete scene?" kinds of comments when I exited the theater. That is not cool, and clearly, I'm not alone. 

Viewers should be comfortable laying down to die after a movie ends, and "SpiderMan: Across the Spider-Verse," as great as it is, leaves us hanging. 

By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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