Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the first movie that truly explores the enduring power and appeal of Spider-Man. The animated film introduces Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and a group of alternate Spider-People, including Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage) Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), who must join forces to stop Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) from destroying the multiverse.
Into the Spider-Verse may serve as Miles Morales' origin, but it’s far from being the first ever Spider-Man film. Since 2002, six movies have centered upon Peter Parker’s adventures as Spider-Man. From Tobey Maguire to Tom Holland’s portrayal, the stresses of super-heroism are clear. As a result, audiences are very familiar with the kinds of trials that Peter faces in his dual life and that famous mantra that Spider-Man lives by. With such a wealth of prior stories and tropes, Spider-Verse is able to tackle Spider-Man’s mythos differently than ever before.
Indeed, Into the Spider-Verse may feature the most Spider-People ever seen in a movie (so far), but Miles Morales is the core of the film. As its protagonist, Spider-Verse relates his origin story as he transforms into the hero of his dimension. But through him, Into the Spider-Verse is able to approach the legend of Spider-Man from an alternative perspective. As a result, Into the Spider-Verse is an intimate – yet comprehensive – look at what the wall-crawler represents within pop culture - and what he means to his fans as well.
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Spider-Verse Deconstructs Spider-Man’s Enduring Legacy
Harassed by the Daily Bugle and unable to fit into any social circles, Spider-Man has long been defined by his status as youthful outsider, negotiating the pitfalls of burgeoning adulthood. All of his movies have tackled this in some way, whether its Peter’s increasing isolation in Spider-Man 2, or his efforts to fit in with the Avengers in Spider-Man: Homecoming. But Into the Spider-Verse flips all of this on its head. Barring a few grumbles from Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry), Peter Parker’s alter ego has clearly been accepted a long time ago.
Certainly, Spider-Man has saturated the pop-culture of Miles’ dimension, in the same way that he has ours. Not only do villains hum Spidey’s theme song, but he’s also the star of several comic books, and he’s even produced a Spidey Christmas album. We may only spend a few brief moments with him, yet it’s clear that this Spider-Man (a version played by Chris Pine) is a supremely confident veteran superhero in this world. It’s against this backdrop that Miles is introduced. Miles is not the bullied science-geek that Peter was, but he similarly struggles to fit in. He feels restricted and pressured by his father and his new school, but he’s enticed by his uncle Aaron’s (Mahershala Ali) freer lifestyle. To shun the burdens of his life, Miles deliberately (and literally) trips himself up, by leaving his shoelaces untied and flunking his school work. But a spider bite soon changes all of that.
When Miles stumbles across the real Spider-Man in action, he's captivated by the hero’s surety and prowess. However, Spidey is incapacitated and the hero makes Miles promise to destroy the collider. Peter transfers his responsibility to the teenager, but it’s not something that Miles wants – or feels able – to shoulder. Instead of the young hero outside society looking in, Miles is the youngster looking in on another hero’s glory. Whether it's Spider-Man’s hall of superhero suits, or his ill-fitting costume, the insecure Miles is dwarfed by the vastness of Spider-Man’s legacy – and the adult responsibility – all around him.
Into the Spider-Verse’s writer Phil Lord and producer Chris Miller are both known for meta-textual commentaries within their movies - and this Spidey movie is no exception. By depicting the many quirks of Spider-Man’s iconography within Miles’ world, Into the Spider-Verse acts as a self-referential treatise upon his mythos – and the nature of many other pop-culture properties.
Spider-Man’s Every-Man Status Is The Focus Of Spider-Verse
At this point, there's no escaping the fact that the name and personality of Peter Parker will forever be tied to the heroic web-slinger that we know and love. But Peter doesn’t have the same kind of monopoly on his superhero identity as many other fictional characters do. As stated earlier, Spider-Man has endured because of his relatability. Spider-Man’s life might be extraordinary, but in every aspect of his character, he's explicitly grounded in the real world. For example, instead of inhabiting a fictional city like Gotham and Metropolis, Spidey swings through the concrete canyons of a recognizable New York City.
Similarly, readers and audiences empathize with Spider-Man's day-to-day struggles with his relationships, rent, and his career. He was the first mainstream hero to have these problems, which is partly why he has become one of the world’s most popular superheroes. People can project themselves onto the character in ways that they cannot with other superheroes. Moreover, while Stan Lee stressed that the “original” Peter Parker should remain a white, straight male, he said that Spider-Man’s full-body outfit enabled readers and audiences to align with this hero:
“What I like about the costume is that anybody reading Spider-Man in any part of the world can imagine that they themselves are under the costume. And that’s a good thing.”
With his love for graffiti and music, Miles is not the same every-man that Peter is. Indeed, as an American teenager of color, he reflects the modern and diverse world that we live in. However, he also serves as a literal embodiment of how fans from every corner can see themselves within Spider-Man. Into the Spider-Verse depicts Miles being inspired and shaped by Spider-Man’s legend to become a hero in his own right. And this is key to the movie’s inclusive message.
Spider-Verse Explores How Even Spider-Man Needs To Evolve
Much has been written about how Miles’ ethnicity is a boon for representation. This is not to say that there haven’t been superheroes of color before (e.g. Blade and Black Panther) but for the most part, they have featured as side characters, or been undeserved by their film’s narratives. Therefore, the fact that Into the Spider-Verse depicts an Afro-Latino teenager becoming Spider-Man – one of the world’s most prominent superheroes – is a massive development for groups who do not usually see themselves so prominently onscreen.
But by having Miles as its protagonist, Into the Spider-Verse doesn’t just cater to moviegoers and superhero enthusiasts from all demographics. In fact, the film emphasizes that new fans and fresh developments (like Miles becoming Spider-Man) are crucial to Spider-Man’s future, as well as pop-culture at large. Certainly, the filmmakers choose not to approach Miles’ status as a legacy Marvel character through his race, but through his relationships with the Kingpin and Peter B. Parker.
In Into the Spider-Verse, Wilson Fisk is the kind of uncompromising villain that Spider-Man fans will immediately recognize. However, this version of Kingpin has lost his wife and son. Vanessa and Richard had witnessed a battle between Fisk and Spider-Man. Appalled at Wilson’s brutality, they were killed in a car accident when they fled the scene. Instead of moving forward, though, Kingpin tries to tear Vanessa and Richard Fisk’s counterparts from alternate realities. But even then, as Kingpin clashes with Miles, the echoes of the multiverse’s many Vanessa and Richard reject him, just as their deceased versions did. By continuing in the same way that he has always done, Fisk almost dooms reality – and his own life – by repeating the mistakes of the past.
And that’s where Peter B. Parker comes in. The “janky old broke hobo Spider-Man” that Miles meets is an established hero, but like Fisk, he’s initially reluctant to change. This Peter shied away from having children and stuck to what he knew. As a result, he has stagnated, and has become disenfranchised with his own heroism. This Spider-Man even attempts to shun and dissuade Miles from becoming a web-slinger. But as he fights alongside Miles, Peter begins to appreciate what his protégé has to offer. Miles eventually becomes a reflection of Spider-Man’s heartening heroism, so much so that Peter is inspired to become a better man himself. Peter even reconnects with Mary Jane at the movie’s end, eager to start a family. As such, Into the Spider-Verse is an exploration of how we must evolve and diversify, as must our heroes and our fictional stories.
Anyone Can Be A Super Hero In Spider-Verse
Chris Pine’s Peter Parker may not appear much in Into the Spider-Verse, but he casts a long shadow across the film. The absent Spider-Man is viewed as a pure distillation of the character’s empowering ethos, by not just the audience but Miles and his fellow Spider-People. Indeed, they inhabit his base, use his equipment, and even resemble him. But that doesn’t lessen their relevance – or their heroic potential. In fact, it strengthens it.
Miles, Peni and SP//dr, and Spider-Ham all have different back stories, viewpoints, and abilities. They’re not even all the same species. But Spider-Man Noir still heckles his enemies. Peni demonstrates her fearsome intelligence when fixing the collider’s command key. And as jaded as he is, Peter B. Parker still strives to use his power for the greater good. Every one of them has a tragic past, and thus they once learned a fateful lesson, like the one that shaped Peter Parker’s life. Through their costumes and their personalities, they continue to capably channel the Spider-Man legend. None of these heroes are presented as better than the other; they are valued – and value each other – equally.
Through their shared effort to combat Wilson Fisk, Miles doesn’t just learn how to be an effective Spider-Man. The new Spidey recognizes that he's not alone, and that despite being one out of many arachnid-themed heroes, he can become a new and distinct part of this growing legacy. But Into the Spider-Verse isn’t just a love-letter to Spider-Man, though. It's a tribute to the inspirational power of superheroes themselves. Before Into the Spider-Verse's hilarious post credit scene, the film ends with another quote from Stan Lee:
“That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero.”
Superheroes can serve as comic or violent fantasies, but at their heart they are stories about people learning to be better themselves. Peter Parker and his comic books act as a springboard for Miles Morales to achieve greatness, as he recognizes how to use his abilities responsibly. But the lesson that we can all change for the better is not one that Peter or Miles must learn on their own – we too can be inspired by Miles' story in Spider-Verse. Indeed, it’s an empowering and universal message that anyone can live by. As Miles says in his voice-over at the end of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, anyone can wear the Spider-Man mask. Therefore, everyone has the potential to do good in this world, just like the every-man superhero, Spider-Man.