We knew Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was going to have a lot of Spider-people. That much we saw in the trailers. What we didn’t know is exactly how many were going to be there. Nor did we know in what dimension they’d exist. Not alternate dimensions; physical ones. While the movie as a whole is gorgeously animated, utilizing a number of different styles and types as Into the Spider-Verse did, some Spider-Man cameos are even not animated. Have I been vague enough yet?
Okay, so there are real human people in this movie. Like live-action, real people. One of the pre-release marketing bits revealed the Spot (Jason Schwartzman) popping up in the convenience store from Venom. That’s pretty fun, but without Tom Hardy in it, it’s little more than that. Later, when Miguel O’Hara is trying to convince Miles about the tragedy necessary for timelines to exist properly, we see flashes of various Spider-peoples crying over Uncle Bens or Captain Stacys. This allows the movie to show both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield clips in Across the Spider-Verse. No new footage appears, though, just clips from their respective movies.
But, the biggest, most fun, and potentially universe-collapsing human cameo comes when Miles sees the tubes of villains who’ve hopped dimensions. In one of them, we see a version of the Prowler, aka Miles’ uncle Aaron. Except this one is Donald Glover, the Childish Gambino himself. Yes, Donald Glover appears as a live-action Prowler in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Let’s unpack.
This is fun for myriad reasons. First, it hearkens back to the initial groundswell of internet support for Glover to play a live-action Miles Morales several years ago. He’s obviously a bit too old now, but during the Community heyday, he was a favorite. That didn’t come to pass, obviously, but it did eventually lead to Donald Glover’s appearance in a Spider-Man movie. He played an unwilling informant in Spider-Man: Homecoming, named Aaron Davis. Yeah, the Prowler!
So when it comes to Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, you may have noticed, while a lot of different depictions of Spider-Man appear, we only ever get a passing mention of the Tom Holland one and what he did with Doctor Strange. This is, of course, a reference to Spider-Man: No Way Home. This is due to the very weird Marvel Studios/Sony deal. Sony owns Spider-Man film rights, but had to strike a specific deal to have Spider-Man in the MCU. Even the Sony-co-produced movies within the MCU have special dispensation to use the villains. Because Sony owns the rights to the villains and ancillary characters.
The Vulture, as seen in Homecoming, had to hop universes to appear in Morbius. This effectively cuts him off from appearing in further MCU movies. Or at least until it doesn’t anymore. So is the Donald Glover Prowler actually the same Aaron Davis from the MCU’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, or is it just a fun nod to that? The truth is, it doesn’t entirely matter. Donald Glover represents the MCU and the actor’s history with Miles Morales. We know Sony wants to make a Miles Morales live-action Spider-Man movie, so could Glover appear there? Only time and Amy Pascal can say for sure.
In any case, seeing Glover as the Prowler was one of the most enjoyable surprises in Across the Spider-Verse. It was right up there with seeing animated Spectacular Spider-Man and the one from the Insomniac video game universe. One can only imagine what kind of surprises we’ll get in the next movie next year.