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[This story contains spoilers for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.]
In a year full of superhero movies, it’s become harder than ever to stand out. That’s why the response to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has been particularly noteworthy; it received overwhelmingly positive reviews and earned a strong $35.4 million at the box office over the weekend. But beyond those wins, Spider-Verse is striking a chord with viewers for a number of personal reasons.
It sees Shameik Moore deliver a heroic, vulnerable and authentic performance as Miles Morales, the Afro-Latino teenage Spider-Man first introduced in the comics in 2011. Spider-Verse also comes the same year the world lost Spider-Man co-creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and the film stands as a tribute to their legacies. The Heat Vision team has assembled to take a closer look at the sequel possibilities, standout moments and why they may or may not have been shedding tears in the theater.
FAVORITE NON-MILES SPIDER-PERSON?
Aaron Couch: Jake Johnson’s Peter Parker. It’s so strange to see Peter past his prime — especially a Peter who has lost his way.
Richard Newby: Also Jake Johnson’s Peter Parker. We’ve had so many movies and TV shows centered around Peter so I wasn’t expecting to walk away from the movie thinking as much about him as I have. But the concept of a Peter Parker who no longer wants to hear “with great power comes great responsibility,” whose marriage failed, and whose wounds never healed properly is oddly refreshing. I never would’ve considered Johnson’s voice for Peter, but it fits perfectly with this depiction.
Dan Gvozden: It’s hard to choose anyone but Jake Johnson’s Peter Parker, given that he’s allowed so much screen time to become essentially the co-lead of the film. But suggesting that he’s the best non-Miles character in the film purely because of screen time would be to do him a great disservice. This Peter Parker stands as a stark rebuke to the Marvel Comics and live-action film interpretations of the character, which have him stuck in a permanent adolescence. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse instead gives us not only one future projection of the character, in a way we’ve never seen before, but two different versions with very different choice-based outcomes. It’s a declaration of why Spider-Man should be allowed to age and remains a timeless character that appeals to all: life’s challenges never stop and it’s decisions never become less daunting. Marvel should take note.
Kayla Sutton: Throwing a wrench in the works and going with Gwen. Her story has always resonated with me in her comics and to see it brought to life juxtaposed alongside all of the male characters but still holding its own was amazing. Gwen has a hardened exterior and has every right to be this way, but she cares and loves fiercely despite everything she’s been through. I commend the writers for taking care of her character and also Hailee Steinfeld for bringing her to life.
Theo Brown: It’s hard not to jump on the Parker (Johnson) train — everything about him is fantastic — but I’m going to go with Aunt May (Lily Tomlin). Seeing her face reminded me of the serious stakes that Miles and the rest of the team will always face wearing their masks. Even though she lost own Peter Parker (Chris Pine), she willingly accepts the role of their provider for the other web-slingers, giving them a safe place they can regroup in. The scene when Miles returns to the lair and she’s up waiting for him — it gets me every time. There’s a reason all the other Spider-People gravitated towards Aunt May — no matter what dimension you’re in, there’s always going to be the person who understands the sacrifice you’ve made and will support you 100 percent, no matter the cost. Special shout-out to Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage) and his Rubik’s cube.
Joi Childs: Gwen as a character provides a level of strength and level-headedness that I loved. Hailee Steinfeld did such a wonderful job voicing her as well. I am looking forward to her focused films, in addition to more Miles-led films.
Ciara Wardlow: I also appreciated how Gwen wasn’t turned into some manic pixie dream girl type with spider powers, but Jake Johnson’s past-his-prime Peter Parker kind of stole the show for me. He both subverted established expectations for Peter Parker and for a superhero mentor figure. I also agree that Nic Cage’s noir Spider-man (and the Rubik’s cube gag) was a fantastic touch.
Graeme McMillan: Add me to the Schlub Parker movement. He was clearly set up to be the most important secondary character, but I loved seeing how well the movie balanced his jadedness with the fact that, really, he wanted to believe so much during the entire thing.
Newby: There’s a moment during the Alchemax escape when Miles is carrying the entire computer and monitor, and Peter grabs the monitor and tosses it away saying, “good news kid, you don’t need the monitor.” It’s one of those moments that has no bearing on the plot but it speaks to exactly what a kid would do when asked to grab a computer for the password — he’d grab the monitor too. It’s one of those simple and effective character gags that really had that Lord and Miller touch.
Gvozden: As a high school technology teacher, I have to agree with Newby about the monitor moment being an absolute showstopper, but the biggest laugh for me came really early on and acted as a declarative about the film’s irreverent tone. After a wonderfully fun and dramatic montage sequence featuring Aaron and Miles throwing up some graffiti in the Manhattan subways, the film teases us with a tense moment leading up to Miles’ spider bite. We watch the dramatic, blue-lighting venom seep through Miles’ cells, replacing what was there before, and we all know what’s going to come next…Miles reacting and freaking out.
Nope. Miles slaps the arachnid away without a second thought. Talk about subverting expectations!
Childs: There’s always been a bunch of dramatics surrounding the fateful spider bite. So when we get all this drama with the spider crawling on Miles and biting him — to have his response be to smack it off his hand — is so New York. And I loved it.
Sutton: For me, it would have to be the scene when Gwen, Peter and Miles meet all the other versions. More specifically, the moment we meet Spider-Man Noir. That line from Peter, “Where is the wind coming from? We’re in a basement.” It was such a small nod to Jake’s character from New Girl, and it had me in tears.
Brown: When we’re in the middle of the new characters’ origin stories and getting to learn what their respective dimensions are like, Spider-Man Noir is seen holding a lit match. He says something along the lines of, “Sometimes I let the match burn into my fingers, so I can feel something.” I’m still laughing just thinking about it — it’s such a perfect delivery that only Cage could pull off.
Couch: Miles (as Spider-Man) telling his dad he loved him — and his dad being totally confused why Spider-Man would say that to him.
McMillan: What kind of a beast are you to find love funny, Aaron? What kind of a beast?!? (My favorite part might have been everyone walking over Peter and Miles as they lay on the ground after being pulled across town by the train. There’s something about Miles’ “Thanks, New York,” that really landed for me.)
MOST TEAR-INDUCING MOMENT?
Couch: Even more than the Stan Lee cameo, it was the simple dedication to Stan and Steve Ditko that got me. We lost both of them this year, and that dedication brought me back to being a room in my kid reading a trade that featured Amazing Fantasy No. 15 and the first six issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Thank you, Stan and Steve.
Newby: I’ve seen it twice now and both times I got chills and teary-eyed during Stan Lee’s cameo. It’s odd because it’s such an effective tribute to come so soon after his death that you’d almost believe he knew it was one of his last when he did it. And the Lee and Steve Ditko tribute at the end also got me.
Gvozden: My life has been dominated by ugly crying whenever Stan Lee appears onscreen or in a comic that I’m reading, so his scene and how perfectly it summed him up really got to me. But the most emotional moment in the film for me was by far the final moment where Miles holds Peter over the dimensional portal, in the same way Peter held him from the ceiling of his dorm room, and challenges Peter with the same axiom, “It’s a leap of faith.” As someone who is currently struggling with the notion of whether or not to have children, for all the various reasons people struggle with that decision (money, resources, careerism, climate, etc.), the suggestion, as it pertains to Peter’s life, that one can never really know but for faith was incredibly clarifying, moving, and tear-inducing for me.
Sutton: While Stan Lee brought me to tears, I think I cried more when Peni lost SP//dr. However, I attribute that to knowing her backstory. Her father died piloting the suit and it was like watching her lose her father all over again. And again, the writers took so much care with the scene that while I write this, I’m tearing up again because it was a poignant moment that added to the theme of loss that has long since been part of the Spider-Man ethos.
Brown: Stan Lee’s scene really hit when he said tells Miles that he’ll grow into the suit, but the most emotional scene for me was getting to see Miles IN his own spray-painted suit. fearlessly diving off the building, it shows that ANYONE can be Spider-Man behind the mask. Doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from.
Childs: They showed Stan Lee’s cameo during the first 35 minutes of footage during New York Comic Con, so I was prepared for it. Seeing it again so recently after he died made me more emotional than I was expecting. But the scene that hit me the most was Miles with his uncle Aaron in the alleyway. Him imparting wisdom to his nephew on the cusp of losing his life? Chills.
Wardlow: I felt a pang at the Stan Lee cameo, but what really got to me was the conversation between Miles and his father (Brian Tyree Henry) after Aaron Davis (Mahershala Ali) dies. The moment when his father alludes to his fears that they’re growing apart and how he doesn’t want that to happen — it’s so bittersweet, and it echoes back to that hilarious school drop-off scene but casts it in a rather heart-wrenching light, which I think is an incredibly clever move. It really struck a chord with me. I actually shed a few tears, which I very rarely do watching movies, but it really reminded me of conversations I’ve had with my own father.
McMillan: I got legitimately choked up at the very end, with Miles’ “Anyone can wear the mask — you can wear the mask,” monologue. Maybe it speaks a lot to where my head is at as we depart the year of two thousand eighteen, but there’s something so simple and direct about the potential for people to be heroes in there that really, really hit hard for me. It was like an invitation; we’ve watched Miles step up, now it’s our turn. Isn’t that kind of inspirational thing what superhero stories should be all about?
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM A SEQUEL?
Newby: I’d like to see Miles travel to some of the other dimensions and meet alternate versions of himself. I think identity is such a dicey thing as a teenager and having Miles face other versions of himself could open up the doors for some for really interesting conversations. Plus, there’s a future reality where Miles and Gwen are married and have kids and that would also be fun to see.
Gvozden: It’s hard to be too demanding on a sequel to this film, mainly because I can’t believe that this film even exists in the first place (are you guys seeing what I’m seeing?). I suspect the next film will be a bit more of a dimension-hopping affair, as Newby suggests, and I look forward to seeing Sony lean a bit further into the variety of visuals that each universe can provide. As I laid out in my Easter eggs article, I suspect we’ll see Richard Fisk return as the Rose or even Liv Octavius come back with an army of Doc Ocks, which happened in the Web Warriors series. Mostly, I want them to keep pushing forward on an emotional and genre-challenging story that doesn’t with the economy of storytelling that this film has. Basically, don’t rush the production and be sure there’s a story to tell beyond heroes punching each other across multiple dimensions.
Sutton: I want full on Web-Warriors. Give me Scarlet Spider, Agent Venom, Iron-Spider, Spider-Man 2099 (which this one might as well be added). Basically, give us all of the Spider entities because this film showed us that they can all hold their own on the big screen.
Brown: Superior Spider-Man. That’s all. That comic story was one of the best Spidey runs I’ve ever read, and Sony and this Spider-verse team could pull it off for the movie medium. I’d love to see a dimension where Doc Ock becomes Spider-Man, and Miles and Co. have to reunite to take him down.
Childs: There’s more Spider-people we can explore: Spider-Man 2099 (we got him in the end credit!), Silk, Jessica Drew, etc. I want them all.
McMillan: I don’t want a Spider-Verse sequel, I want a Miles sequel. And I want a Peter sequel, and a Gwen sequel — OK, I’d actually be more than okay with a Miles and Gwen movie, actually. But what I really want is something that doesn’t try to repeat the gimmick of this movie, and instead branches out and shows us more of each of these characters in their own worlds. And I want much, much more of Miles’ mom as well as his dad in the next one, too.
WHAT DID SEEING MILES IN THIS ROLE MEAN TO YOU?
Couch: Spider-Man can outlive us all, and Miles is proof. Spider-Men and Spider-Women are bigger than Peter Parker.
Newby: It was incredibly gratifying to see a kid of color as Spider-Man in a movie of this caliber. Miles Morales is Spider-Man and this film helps cement that fact. He’s not a secondary Spider-Man, or a substitute Spider-Man, or even an alternate Spider-Man. He just as much embodies the ideal of the character as Peter does. I’ve been reading Spider-Man for as long as I can remember and growing up I never thought that a black and Puerto Rican kid would become Spider-Man, let alone lead his own movie. It’s huge for me as an adult, but more importantly, seeing Miles in this role makes me so happy for all the black and brown kids who can now see themselves as Spider-Man.
Sutton: Where do I start? I never thought that I would ever see a fully realized Afro-Latino comic character in a major film property as this. Allowing Miles to be front and center, showing all the aspects of himself without the mask meant the world to me. From the Spanish spoken to his mother, Rio, to the Jordans on his feet, this glimpse of his life existing as an Afro-Latino teenager from Brooklyn shows that anyone can wear the mask, and it doesn’t matter who are or where you come from.
Brown: Seeing the theater filled with kids wearing their Miles’ Spider-Man masks, but when they took them off, they were all from different races…it just really shows that anyone can wear the suit. Anyone can be Spider-Man.
Childs: Miles means so much to me because I grew up with Miles. Being a Black girl from the Bronx, seeing an Afro-Latino kid from Brooklyn be the lead and wear the mask made me feel proud. For all the film versions that Spider-Man has appeared in, only Spider-Man: Homecoming and Into The Verse captured what New York looks like to native New Yorkers who don’t live in Manhattan. The other boroughs are self-sufficient, with their own feel, color and style. Everything about Miles’ identity I saw on that screen, I believed and saw in myself. For that alone, this film did its protagonist justice.
Wardlow: I think a lot of films know they are supposed to embrace diversity and the idea that a hero can look like anybody, and will make concessions towards that end. But there are still tragically few films that truly embrace that idea and come across as wholly genuine. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse doesn’t just have some character say “Spider-Man could be anybody,” it really, truly means it. There are a couple films I’ve watched in the past few years that have left me thinking, wow, I really wish I had this movie when I was a kid, and this is definitely one them.
Gvozden: As a comic reader, I’ve seen Miles in this role for years now but this is the first time it has ever really worked for me, mainly because I’ve found the handling of him in the comics to be so poor. Here, the character is made distinctly different than Peter, rather than a me-too copy, and remixes the best things that Brian Michael Bendis devised in the comics. The result is a character that needs no caveats to stand in the role of Spider-Man, without shirking the legacy of the original Spider-Man that precedes him. I’m mostly jealous that I didn’t get to meet Miles as a child.
McMillan: Yeah, I agree. I like the Miles comics, but this was the first time when Miles felt fully like his own character, rather than an updated Peter Parker with a few details switched out. He just worked so well here, and there were all kinds of little touches — his final costume, which is literally taking the legacy of Peter Parker and making it his own, and which also looks far better than the comics version — that helped him stand alone from, and up to, the story of Peter Parker. I’ve been wanting to see superheroes diversify away from white guys created half a century or more ago for a long time, and this — and Black Panther at the start of the year — felt like one of the first times where it felt like more than lip service or good intentions; it felt real. I saw this movie and there was this kid behind me, basically narrating everything that was happening onscreen, and at the end, with Miles in the air, he just excitedly yelled, “That’s Spider-Man!” and, yes: That’s it. That’s exactly what I want.
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