When Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse premiered last weekend, we expected the same high quality of storytelling, humor, action and brilliant animation. What we did not see coming was just how strong the LGBTQ+ themes would be.
Spoilers for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse below
Like its predecessor, Across the Spider-Verse balances the personal lives of its heroes with the battles of their alter-egos. We find Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) having settled into life as his timeline’s one and only Spider-Man. The problem is that his superhero duties are heavily cutting into his personal life, to the point that he is constantly disappointing his parents. Throughout the film, Miles considers telling his parents the truth, but he is worried they will see him differently.
The superhero “coming out” allegory is nothing new. But in Across the Spider-Verse, it is particularly poignant and, at times, heartbreaking. Miles is always on the verge of saying something, and you can feel the fear and anxiety that keeps compelling him to back down. From the other perspective, the helplessness his parents experience—watching their child suffer in secrecy—is achingly palpable. All they can do is wait for him to be ready and assure him (as they do multiple times) that they will love and accept him no matter what.
It’s a brief moment toward the end of the trailer, but the message is clear.
Unlike its predecessor, Across the Spider-Verse also centers the backstory of Gwen Stacey, or Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), and her “coming out” illustrates everything Miles is afraid of. The film opens with Gwen saving her city from an alternate timeline Vulture, and in the aftermath, her own police captain father holds her up. In order to escape arrest, she is forced to reveal her identity to him in the worst, most abrupt way possible. Although heartbroken (or because of it), her father reacts badly, proceeding to place her under arrest anyway. This forces Gwen to run away from home.
Much later in the film, Gwen sneaks back home and finds her father waiting for her. He clearly regrets his actions, has been in a depression for months, and the two have an uneasy reconciliation. While all of this can be read as a general queer allegory, the imagery throughout Gwen’s story is specifically trans.
Some of these images can be chalked up to easter eggs, like the “Protect Trans Kids” poster displayed in Gwen’s room or the Trans flag on her father’s jacket. But then, there’s the colors of Gwen’s entire world itself.
In Gwen’s alternate timeline, the world is painted in watercolors that change with her mood. During the reconciliation with her father, Gwen and the surrounding room are literally drenched in Trans Pride colors.
While it would be nice to have confirmed LGBTQ+ characters in the franchise, there is clear and definite intention behind the creative team to deliver themes of love and acceptance to young audiences. And at the end of the day, there’s always newcomer Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya) — whose anti-fascist attitude makes him an honorary queer in my book.
We’ll be watching how these characters develop when the third film in the Spider-Verse franchise hits theaters in 2024.