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Spider-Verse Is The First Movie To Properly Understand The Meaning Of Spider-Man

Miles Morales in Spider-Verse and Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man

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.

Related: All 7 Spider-Man Movies Ranked (Including Spider-Verse)

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.

Spider-Verse Deconstructs Spider-Man’s Enduring Legacy

Into The Spider-Verse comic

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.

Related: How Sony Ruined (And Then Saved) Spider-Man

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

Into The Spider-Verse Peter Parker

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.

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