Sony’s most recent production of Spider-Man, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” is a dramatic departure from the Spider-Man audiences have seen time and time again. If you’ve ever rolled your eyes at the massive catalog of Spider-Men on screen, this one’s for you. The film is incredibly self-aware, making a point to acknowledge some of the most infamous moments cemented in the canon of the superhero. “Spider-Verse” doesn’t shy away from making fun of itself; instead, the animated feature embraces the multitude of memes and pop culture tropes to come out of the superhero’s long run both on-screen and off.
Spider-Verse” follows Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) as he navigates the collision of different universes — a collision that results in the introduction of an interdimensional motley crew of spider-people to his once simple life. For those who lauded “Avengers: Infinity War” for being Marvel’s most ambitious crossover, buckle up. From the original Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) to Earth-14512’s half-Japanese Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), the film makes it clear that there is still much of the Spider-Man universe to explore.
Visually, the film is an unprecedented bridging of comic style and CGI animation. It is unlike any Spider-Man content to exist — the humor of the film is represented through visual gags as much as it is represented through smart writing. The story and style work in tandem to create a beautifully intelligent film. In a world of DreamWorks faces and CalArts style, “Spider-Verse” brings a thriving uniqueness to the field of animation.
While the film grapples with showcasing the endless backlog of Spider-Man content to come before it, it also deals with a different heroic identity than what most of the audience has seen before.
“Spider-Verse” makes an earnest attempt not to sideline its own responsibility to its protagonist. Miles Morales is a biracial, Afro-Latinx kid. While one could argue that the film isn’t about his racial or ethnic identity, it doesn’t ignore it either— in the opening scenes, Miles is seen wading through English and Spanish, both in his home and in his environment.
That said, to say that the film isn’t about Miles’ identity would be a massive disservice to the story. “Spider-Verse” tells the tale of a teenager navigating the minefield of growing into himself. Anyone who’s ever made the leap from childhood to adolescence can relate to how intrinsic identity and individuality can be to that experience. In moments of claustrophobia and isolation, the audience can feel Miles’ own understanding of who he is chafe at the seams of a new identity being thrust upon him. Spider-Man’s entire purpose is to serve a greater cause, and much of the film is about Miles’ struggle to believe he can accomplish that. Placing this burden onto the shoulders of a young person of color could not be a more apt portrayal of what that experience can feel like.
Miles’ struggle to fill the massive shoes of Peter Parker, to try and exist in a space that has never before defined him, is a poetic homage to the relationship between minorities and the media; it acknowledges how hard it can be to grow up without representation. There is, of course, always more to be done in the way of media inclusivity, but “Spider-Verse” doesn’t present itself as a revolution, or as the be-all and end-all to the conversation around representation. But the simple existence of Miles as both Spider-Man and a person of color is revolutionary.
Upon his introduction, Spider-Man resonated in astounding numbers among young people because he was easy for them to relate to. He was an ordinary kid from Queens to whom extraordinary things happened. Miles Morales embodying that role is much different than Peter Parker doing the same because Miles represents a group of people who have had to work very hard to see themselves in their heroes.
Miles’ presentation as Spider-Man on-screen says to children of color everywhere that they are seen and that they are very capable of being extraordinary.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is now playing at the UA Berkeley 7.
Contact Areyon Jolivette at [email protected].