It was the week I turned 24; like all birthdays, I was a bit miserable, anxious, and burnt out from life and my disdain for my own words were eating me alive. 2018 was a year-long healing process from a failed decision I went through back in late 2017. I told myself that I needed to get back to basics, which apart from the routine of an 8-5 day job comprised of finding time to submerge into the occasional stories. I then decided to make a home in the cinema.
I was already familiar with the narrative of Spider-Man apart from his presence in pop culture and Sam Raimi’s trilogy along with Marc Webb’s. I was a bit charmed by Holland’s performance in a softer reboot of the character, but other than that, the story itself didn’t strike me as much. The superhero genre didn’t compel me that much because it always felt like something to gaze at and be entertained about instead of something of depth. Maybe it was the constant military presence occasionally weaving in its narrative or the superficial way it leaned on to the “super” of super people or how growing up with white heroes only made me believe there was no room for heroes of my own color. Either way nothing interested me about it besides the constant need to catch up on pop culture to understand what was going on my feed.
Oddly, I didn’t hear anything about this film until I had scrolled through reviews hailing it as a fresh new start for Sony’s deteriorating franchise. So, by luck (and because the long line to see the competing film at the other theater took up most of the space) we saw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with a few others.
Needless to say, it was one of the best films I have seen in my entire life. There was something refreshing about seeing something new again. That rush of passionate love translating across the screen into a kaleidoscope of madness: New York at its darkest and brightest, the clashing of colors and its characters were just a part of it. It was Miles Morales.
To have a Spider-Man focusing on a new character besides Peter Parker was bold. In a company that keeps on re-introducing the narrative of Peter Parker, there was something compelling about Miles Morales, a young Afro-Latino boy distracted in his own space, singing and creating something in his sketchbook. He’s charming, smart, a delight to watch with a keen sense of wonder about the goings-on of his city while struggling to belong in an upper-class boarding school. He’s about to embark on a thrill when he gets bitten by the fated radioactive spider and as he gets pulled into the chaotic circumstances that call upon him to rise, Peter Parker comes to the rescue and recognizes his dilemma. We get the sense of excitement in Peter’s voice when he finds out: becoming automatically supportive and eager to promise Miles the guidance he needs.
This doesn’t happen well as tragedy befalls his could have been mentor and the circumstances rise to a whole new level of weirdness. And there’s the magic of it: the overwhelming unity of our atoms to seek each other throughout spaces. With the collision of five other universes through the collider, Miles is introduced to five more Spider-People one which is another version of Peter Parker (Peter B.)—albeit, older, sadder and worn out by the years as a vigilante with his own set of personal grievances, as well as his 1950s and Pig counterpart, a teenaged Gwen Stacy and Peni Parker. While Peter B. was initially reluctant to teach Miles, it isn’t until Miles expresses his concern towards his safety that he realizes the tragedy of the circumstance and softens towards him, eventually guiding him towards the path Miles was meant to.
While previous franchises have actively portrayed Peter Parker as this nerdy, geeky and promising young man, the film gives us a version that calls on his Jewish roots, hypercompetent, sarcastic and occasionally an asshole. What makes these Peter Parkers are how they are very human. Peter B.’s failures and fears are relatable, but the call of responsibility weighs heavily and like all his previous incarnations and deceased version, he tries to do what is needed eventually burning himself out in the process.
Similarly, Gwen Stacy another traumatized teenager has closed herself off from forming close friendships out of fear of losing them like she did with her best friend–Peter Parker. As they all bond with their shared experiences, there’s the relief of knowing you are not alone with your struggles, and how it eventually helps each one of them embrace their given responsibilities and loosen up a bit. The friendship between Peter B. and Miles especially, is founded on mutual kindness and humor, eventually learning to trust their own capabilities in handling the circumstances they must deal with through the knowledge of each other’s faith and love.
Spider-Man’s story has always prided itself about being universal where it uses the privilege as a responsibility to do good in order to create a safer neighborhood. What makes it compelling is how the narrative doesn’t shy away from its working-class background. Despite Peter Parker being a science genius, he had to struggle with maintaining a job, socializing with his fellow peers and taking care of his aunt, all this while he swings through the night as a masked vigilante, determined to do his job.
The simplicity of a narrative like Peter Parker’s is compelling because of its universality and weight in our role calling out to being proactive in an unrelenting environment; a working man who consistently resists against an environment that oppresses its people. Though the past films have tried to properly adapt such narrative, eventual studio interference and creative disputes along with the franchise fatigue have contributed to a worn-out audience. Subsequent reboots have turned Peter Parker into a softer dependent character in order to be more profitable to a younger audience, and as such it eventually loses sight of the working-class narrative.
While Spider-Verse introduces us to Miles Morales, someone easily relatable and new for the younger audience to embrace, it doesn’t lose sight of Miles’ core narrative: An Afro-Latino boy who struggles with parental pressures at an upper-class boarding school; who has immense passion in making graffiti and an optimistic initiative to persist and take responsibility amidst the risk of danger. It embraces the narrative beyond Peter Parker without disgracing what makes his story unique amongst other popular superheroes.
And while the impulse to resist is often weighed down by matters of insecurity and haunting failures, it is the unwavering support of the people we love and care about that gives us the strength to carry through. The doorway scene prior to the climax frames father and son separated by a door: Miles hears his father gently coax him to embrace his own person and a reminder of the reassuring unconditional love that will persist.
And so, we watch Miles take all the things he had learned and all the love he has and swings with it. When the glass breaks as he pushes himself towards the city, it is then we start to embrace him as the new Spider-Man. He leaps, he runs, he swings with such fervor reminding us of how joyous it is to embrace that potential. It makes you believe the things you could do with the knowledge that you are very loved all throughout. As Miles yells in excitement in between buildings, you get the sense that everything is falling into place because of faith.
Spider-Verse is about re-discovery all throughout. There’s something different about seeing someone else experiencing the familiar joys of long ago. It means possibility and potential for through discovery we learn little bits that create a whole. The universe in one way or another will let us know that we are not alone in our journey towards self-fulfillment but will also send us people or pieces we need in order to help create a better one for each other. We cannot do this until we open ourselves up to the new again.
I can tell you the moment I decided to pursue life again: on the way home that night, I watched the orange streetlamp glow as three teenagers walked towards me, laughing boisterously. I heard the joys of the future and past coming into that very moment, that the very thought of the unknown laughter I shall potentially miss haunted me and I broke down after. That such a moment would come back to me a year or so later, seated in a crowd of people all expressing their joy and laughter reminding me that there is life yet. We create stories, we fight for them and we resist. Every day, I think of those momentous discoveries and it brings me to a memory of laughter bouncing all over the room. Maybe some things do eventually come into your way, but I like to think that allowing ourselves to learn from every piece that comes and goes will likely be an imprint on our hearts.
At an age where we have started to become conscious of the type of content churned out by corporations and major studios, Spider-Verse strikes itself apart with its willingness to embrace its medium with self-awareness and depth without an inch of the usual hollow signatures on its frame. It may not extrapolate on its class narrative; it helps that it makes diversity and inclusion a necessary step towards it. It starts with acknowledging your privilege in helping to create and find more stories like this.
Spider-Man is a story about responsibility and love and Spider-Verse is filled with it. You can feel it in its bones. It’s a love continuously made and passed on from its makers to each artist involved, translating to each frame, each character and line. It’s a burst of joy and a thrilling re-discovery towards an age where we have started to embrace our own doom. Because sometimes, all we need is a reminder to resist that impulse of doom, to stand up against it and demand something new, better and good.