We’ve had 3 Spider-men in my lifetime, at least in terms of live-action films. What we also got were multiple iterations of animated Spider-people, television taking the precedence but always leaving a longing for big-screen visuals. Into the Spider-Verse has scratched a mighty itch, and it did so in a fantastic way.
With a plethora of superhero films available on a regular basis, something like this feels akin to an anathema. Something that perfectly captures the idea of its characters, their themes, and nuances, is less important than bombast and general appeal. An animated Spider-Man film that embraces someone other than Peter Parker is definitely beyond what we usually consider as a mainstream film. It’s bold, brash, and has an animation style beyond what its peers are trotting out. The climactic shot alone is enough to win audiences over and that was available in the trailer. Calling your shot, allowing an audience to know what your ultimate visual moment is, clocks in at one of the boldest marketing moments in animation history and despite that, we got something more than we’d bargained for.
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) just can’t catch a break. He’s been sent to a new school, his police officer father (Brian Tyree Henry) doesn’t get along with his favorite uncle (Mahershala Ali), and he’s been bitten by a weird interdimensional spider. Things are tough all over, and when he starts experiencing encounters with other Spider-people (Nicholas Cage, Chris Pine, Jake Johnson, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Hailee Steinfeld) things begin to get dicey.
This is less a film about multi-dimensional travel than it is about what makes someone Spider-Man. Other incarnations of the character have explored this, but not quite to this extreme. Toby MacGuire got up and kept fighting, and Andrew Garfield healed his heart to keep fighting. Even Tom Holland struggled against superior firepower to stand against his enemies, but this is a new beast entirely. Miles’s universe is embracing the idea that anyone can wear a mask, but it’s the person underneath that makes one a hero.
And this theme is expounded on as the key idea behind the film. Between the new techniques in animation, the forward momentum in voice acting, and the idea of diversity in heroism, it pushes boundaries and breaks new ground. There’s a key idea behind the music choices, particularly the use of the song “What’s Up Danger,” that exemplifies the meaning.
The most important moment of the film involves this music queue. Miles is broken down, beaten by not only his emotion but his lack of experience, and his peers have let him know this. They’ve not only let him know that they don’t believe in him, but they also hogtied him to a chair to make it super-clear that they think he isn’t ready for the responsibility. See, one of the main ideas behind Spider-Man is that no matter what he stands against he gets up and fights. In the comics, multiple universes, this has led to his death and the devastation of his family as he doesn’t know when to quit. The main idea behind the character is that it doesn’t matter who is wearing the mask, so long as your spirit keeps you upright and fighting onward. Miles Morales exemplifies this spirit. No scene shows this more than when he embraces being Spider-Man completely, even when he literally gets beaten down and gets back up.
As he sits, tied to a chair, he begins to understand what he is and releases himself. After being gifted web-shooters by Aunt May he decides to take the only logical course of action – to leap from a building without knowing if he has what it takes to survive it. Glass shatters, images are flipped in an attempt to show him ascending to the role of Spider-Man despite his downward descent, and he creates a new role for himself by rising up against those that have beaten him down, friend and foe alike.
The idea here is that anyone can be beaten down, it isn’t that hard. Things that hurt you, that break you, exist around every corner in life. What it takes to truly be extraordinary (or amazing, as a matter of fact) is the idea that you can stand against it and rise above. You’re not going to be perfect at it, not even close, but the idea that you can struggle to stand back up even when beaten down is the key to not only Spider-Man but to being a wholly rounded human being. And that’s the point. You look danger in the eye and threaten it.
What’s up danger?