Easily Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ve been dedicating every Wednesday to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!
Released: 14 December 2018
Director: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman
Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing
Budget: $90 million
Stars: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage, and Liev Schreiber
After being bitten by a radioactive spider and gaining the proportionate strength and agility of the arachnid, Miles Morales (Moore) finds himself caught up in an elaborate plot by Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin (Schreiber) to cross dimensions. In the process, Miles is mentored by, and joins forces with, other incarnations of Spider-Man from across the multiverse while stull struggling to carve out his own identity in the role.
In 2011, writer Brian Michael Bendis decided to kill off Peter Parker/Spider-Man and replace him with a younger character in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man (2000 to 2011), Miles Morales, an African American youth of Puerto Rican descent, a decision which created much controversy at the time. Miles, however, soon became a popular character and appeared not just in cartoons and other merchandise but also the mainstream Marvel continuity (“Earth-616”). After the poor reception of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Webb, 2014) led to Spider-Man finally being incorporated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Sony were determined to continue producing Spider-Man films and spin-offs separate from the MCU. Writers Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman chose to focus their efforts on Miles since he hadn’t yet featured in a film and, to further separate the project, it included not only Spider-People from across the multiverse but also a distinct and intricate animation style that was as vital to the story as the music and dialogue. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse received unanimous praise upon release and made over $375 million at the box office, won numerous awards, and is highly regarded as one of the best and most unique Spider-Man movies ever made. Its massive success meant that both a sequel and a spin-off were soon announced and no doubt contributed heavily to Miles’ continued popularity.
First and foremost, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is Miles Morales’ story, even amidst all the chaos and multiverse madness permeating the plot; unlike the traditional Peter Parker, Miles’ parents are still alive and, while he struggles to adjust to boarding school and to make new friends, he’s nowhere near the social outcast Peter is often portrayed as during his teenage years. A big fan of music (though he is amusingly poor at reciting lyrics) and with an artistic flair, Miles is a slightly rebellious and resentful youth who struggles to live up to the expectations of his father, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry), a police officer who regards Spider-Man (Chris Pine) as a menace and delights in embarrassing his son at his new school with typical dad humour. A somewhat streetwise kid who was a popular figure at his old school, Miles is largely an outsider at his more officious and pretentious boarding school; he’s uncomfortable in the mandatory uniform, feels like he doesn’t really fit in, and is intentionally trying to sabotage his future there so he can go back to his old school and his old friends. Believing that his father doesn’t really understand him or his dreams, Miles has a far closer relationship with his uncle, Aaron Davis (Ali), who encourages his penchant for street art and actually takes the time to connect with him on a more peer-to-peer level. To Jefferson’s chagrin, Miles idolises his uncle, who indirectly leads to him gaining his spider powers.
Already somewhat uncomfortable in his new environment, Miles’ newfound spider powers (which are explicitly compared to the onset of puberty) only increase his agitation; he struggles to adapt to and master his abilities, gaining a far louder and more noticeable internal monologue and accidentally attaching himself to Gwen Stacy’s (Steinfeld) hair in an awkward attempt to flirt with her. Interestingly, Miles’ exploration of his abilities is a source of as much entertainment and amusement as it is an integral part of Miles’ character development; throughout the film, Miles struggles to master his powers, which seem to trigger unconsciously or involuntarily, and a massive part of Into the Spider-Verse revolves around Miles living up to the lofty expectations now placed upon him by his amazing new abilities.
Miles lives in an alternative world that isn’t quite Earth-616 or the Ultimate universe; it’s one that draws inspiration from all over Spider-Man’s various adaptations and interpretations but one where Spider-Man is a renowned and experienced superhero. Carrying himself with the confidence of a veteran of many battles, life lessons, successes, and failures, this Spider-Man is, honestly, uncharacteristically competent in a lot of ways (he’s still married to Mary Jane Watson (Zoë Kravitz), has the full support of his beloved Aunt May Parker (Lily Tomlin), and even has a Spider-Cave full of different Spider-Suits, for God’s sake). During an intense battle with the monstrous and demonic Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Jorma Taccone) and the slick and efficient Prowler, Peter is shocked to meet Miles, someone who shares his abilities, and vows to train him and give him the opportunities he never had when he was first starting out, such is his commitment to using great power with great responsibility.
Sadly, and unexpectedly, Peter is killed right before Miles’ eyes by the Kingpin; Fisk, who blames Spider-Man for exposing his criminal deeds to the world and thus driving away his wife and son, has built a gigantic Super-Collider which he plans to use to rip a hole between dimensions and retrieve his family from another time and place. When Peter costs him this opportunity, Fisk beats him to death in a brutal and surprising scene and spends the remainder of the movie desperately trying to track down and reacquire the USB flash drive that allows the collider to work. Like Green Goblin, Fisk is a comically exaggerated version of himself, even compared to the creative flair of some comic book artists, but as preposterously absurd as Kingpin looks, his threat has, arguably, never been more tangible and brutal than in Into the Spider-Verse. Exuding unmatched power, wealth, and authority, he commands some of Spider-Man’s most notorious foes with a cold menace and is more than happy to get his hands dirty in his desperate attempt to be reunited with his family.
Shaken by Peter’s death, and overwhelmed by the immense responsibility now in his hands, Miles is shocked to meet an alternative version of Peter, Peter B. Parker (Johnson), who arrived during the brief period that the Super-Collider was active. Unlike his counterpart from Miles’ world, Peter B is an out of shape, jaded, wreck of a man who has lost his way, and everything near to him, and yet, despite his crushing losses, obvious depression, and having grown weary of the power and responsibility that comes from being Spider-Man, Peter B still continues to be Spider-Man and does his best to tutor Miles in coming to grips with his powers. He’s obviously not as effective or competent a mentor than his counterpart promised to be but he does what he can regardless and is fully willing to put his life on the line to allow his fellow Spider-People to return home.
Speaking of which, Miles is also joined by a whole host of unexpected Spider-People; the first one he meets is Spider-Woman, Gwen Stacy, although he is unaware of her true identity at the time. A vastly different version of the traditional Gwen, Spider-Woman gained her powers in Peter’s place in her world and is a tough, sarcastic character who, while having a soft spot for Miles, is reluctant to open herself up to him, or anyone else, for fear of losing them. In a film arguably crowded by Spider-People, Gwen stands out by being one of the more recognisable and fleshed out characters and is, basically, a tertiary protagonist as her growing friendship with Miles is a major part of her (and his) character development.
Sadly, the same can’t really be said about the rest of the Spider-Crew; Peni Parker/SP//dr (Glenn) is perhaps the least developed and expendable of the group. While she is rendered in an outstanding anime aesthetic and has a heart-warming bond with her spider mech, she’s largely inconsequential to the story and could have been spliced out with any other version of Spider-Man. Spider-Noir (Cage) and Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (Mulaney) manage to stand out a little better thanks to being rendered in monochrome and talking like a thirties gangster or being a literal cartoon character, respectively, but we don’t really learn a great deal about them and they’re mainly there to emphasise that every universe has a Spider-Man and that Spidey’s legacy and ideals are carried by a variety of characters all throughout time and space, which all directly ties into Miles’ character arc of growing into, and finally accepting, his role as Spider-Man.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse immediately sets itself apart from other Spider-Man movies not just by focusing on Miles as its main character and its cross-dimensional subplot but also by virtue of being an animated movie. Truthfully, animation suits Spider-Man down to the ground as, often, some of the more exhilarating sequences in Spider-Man movies are the computer-generated fight scenes and web-slinging moments and Into the Spider-Verse definitely uses its medium to its full advantage, featuring a unique aesthetic, comic book-like sound effects for emphasis, and even varying the frame rate to emphasise the differences between the various Spider-People and Miles’ comparative inexperienced compared to them.
Humour is an important element of the film; Into the Spider-Verse is full of amusing lines, sight gags, and comedic moments that come naturally and are incredibly amusing thanks to some effortless and believable line delivery from the likes of Moore, Pine, and Johnson (Spider-Man’s quips during tough situations and battles are a notable highlight). Characters have an easy banter and sass to them that allows even the least developed of them to appear far more nuanced in the short space of time they have to shine and humour is emphasised through Miles’ inexperience with his powers, wry commentary on his increasingly chaotic situation, and the frantic nature of the action scenes and character beats.
Speaking of action, Into the Spider-Verse is crammed full of some of the most impressive, intense, and frenzied action scenes in any Spider-Man movie; the freedom offered by relying on animation allows for some of the most diverse and varied web-slinging as each Spider-Person swings, fights, and moves differently. The use of music and onomatopoeia emphasises the action, which is fast-paced, memorable, and impactful thanks to the film showcasing a wide variety of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery, which includes the likes of the Green Goblin, Lonnie Lincoln/Tombstone (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III), and Mac Gargan/The Scorpion (Joaquín Cosio).
Apart from Fisk, though, the most prominent villains of the film are Doctor Olivia Octavius/Doctor Octopus (Kathryn Hahn) and the Prowler; while Doc Ock is a sadistic and formidable, half-crazed scientist, it is the Prowler who has the most emotional significance to both the plot and to Miles. Constantly accompanied by an ominous, animalistic theme, the Prowler is portrayed as Fisk’s top mercenary; a brutal and vicious, cat-like fighter in a sophisticated suit of armour, Prowler stops at nothing to hunt down Fisk’s missing USB drive. Miles is absolutely devastated to find that the one person he thought he could rely on in the whole world, his Uncle Aaron, turns out to be the Prowler and even more crushed when, upon discovering Miles’ identity, Aaron chooses to spare his nephew and is executed by the Kingpin as a result and dies in Miles’ arms while urging him to continue on as a hero.
In the end, against all the odds and his own doubts and inexperience, Miles customises one of Peter’s suits (crafting an absolutely bad-ass variant in the process) and fully embraces his role as Spider-Man to confront the Kingpin and put an end to his destructive scheme. It’s a real coming of age moment for Miles, who previously could only look up in awe at Spider-Man’s legacy, and allows him to not only finally live up to the lofty expectations placed upon him by his father and the various Spider-People but also repair his relationship with his father (and his father’s opinion of Spider-Man) through his actions. With the Spider-People returned home, Miles becomes the one true Spider-Man of his world, gaining lifelong friends and a renewed sense of responsibility, confidence, and identity in the process. It’s a strikingly effective story largely thanks to how relatable and complex Miles is portrayed throughout the film, being a rebellious and well-meaning kid who is simply struggling to find his place in an ever-changing world.
If I’m being completely honest, I’m not really a fan of how often a street-level superhero like Spider-Man gets caught up in multiversal misadventures and meets alternative versions of himself; just like how I’m often a bit perturbed by how often Bruce Wayne/Batman has to put up with the same events, I feel like Spider-Man works better as a more grounded hero who only occasionally dabbles in cosmic-level events. To that end, I feel like Into the Spider-Verse would have been just as appealing to me, if not more so, had the multiverse elements been dropped; Peter B could have just been the version of Spider-Man in Miles’ world, Gwen could have been the same or swapped out with Cindy Moon/Silk, and the other Spider-People could have been replaced by, say, Ben Reilly or Kaine Parker and the idea of a multiverse of Spider-Man could maybe have been saved for the next movie.
However, having said that, that doesn’t mean I’m not a huge fan of Into the Spider-Verse as it is; make no mistakes about it, this is a fantastic movie from start to finish, with an extremely appealing aesthetic identity and some absolutely fantastic action. It also carries a very emotional heart to its story, which is one of identity, legacy, and expectation; a coming of age story that follows a young, emotional kid who is struggling to live up to the role his mentors expect of him, Into the Spider-Verse says a lot about not only the nature of Spider-Man but also the struggles of youth and puberty. I’m glad Into the Spider-Verse did so well and I’m genuinely looking forward to the sequel delivering more of the same high-octane action and heartfelt emotion, visual flair, as well as introducing more Spider-People and, hopefully, expanding upon the brief cameo from one of my favourite Spider-Man, Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac).
What are your thoughts on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse? Where does it rank among the various other Spider-Man movies for you and what did you think of the artistic style and focus on Miles Morales and the other Spider-People? Which of the alternative Spider-Man was your favourite? Would you have liked to see one, or more, get a bigger role and if so, which one? What other alterative version of Spider-Man would you like to see show up in the sequel? Are you a fan of Spider-Man always having adventures with alternate versions of himself or would you prefer to see him tackling more street-level threats? Are you a fan of Miles, and what did you think to Peter’s death both in Ultimate Spider-Man and in Into the Spider-Verse? Whatever your opinion on Into the Spider-Verse, go ahead and drop a reply down in the comments and be sure to check back in next Wednesday as Spider-Man Month continues!