Anyone who believes that superheroes should be canonized only by their classic identities will probably walk out of
The new film contains spider-multitudes. Those multitudes naturally include Peter Parker (voiced alternately by Chris Pine and Jake Johnson), but the focus is on Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), a character spun into being in the 2011 comic Ultimate Fallout#4.
In Into the Spider-Verse-as in Ultimate Fallout-Miles attempts to fill Peter Parker's shoes when Parker tragically dies while doing Spider-Man things. (A spoiler, perhaps, but Ultimate Fallout is seven years old, and Parker's death spurs the movie's plot, so on your head be it.)
Pine plays the Peter Parker of Miles' New York City; Johnson plays the Parker of alternate New York City. He's just as much the hero, but not as much the man, incapable of balancing Spider-duties against his marriage with Mary Jane Watson (Zoë Kravitz). Getting from one Parker to the other requires mad science paid for by Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber), who's toying with a Super Collider for personal ends; the Collider tears reality and lets Spider-Folks from other dimensions spill into Miles'. Loser Peter becomes Miles' mentor. Spider-Woman, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), becomes his bestie. Spider-Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her robot Sp//dr, and Peter Porker (John Mulaney) become his Spider-coaches, though Miles, new to the superhero gig, doesn't measure up. Not at first, anyway.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse reads as the best kind of response to threads of anti-diversity traced throughout modern comic book geekdom. It's a great Spider-Man movie that uses inclusion to fulfill the promise of Spider-Man's character.
Anyone can be Spider-Man, the film tells viewers-and Spider-Man can be anyone.
He can be a boy genius from Brooklyn (or Queens); he can be white, or Afro-Latino. He can be a knight in shining armor or a pitiable loser in spandex. He can be a reporter modeled after Humphrey Bogart. He can be a literal pig. He can be she; she can be totally punk rock. She can be a Japanese-American girl psychically bonded to a spider warehoused in mech armor.
Into the Spider-Verse is a joy to watch. It pulls its audience into its frames the way good comic books pull their reader into their panels. Each edit feels like the turn of a page, and each turn increases the film's momentum, giving every minute an urgency the average action comic book movie tends to lack.
The film is clever, energetic, and an all-around great time at the movies as well as a treasure trove of dazzling craftsmanship. It's also a great example of how a movie "gets" a comic book character. "Essence" is the buzzword people throw around when assessing whether or not new interpretations of superhero icons pass muster, and Into the Spider-Verse is all essence.
People read comic books because they long for resonance; they want to recognize pieces of their worlds and their lives in their favorite series. Into the Spider-Verse gets that. "We are all Spider-Man," the movie tells us-a sentiment buttressed by a quote from the late, great, Stan Lee himself during the credits roll: "That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero."
You don't need spider-sense, superhuman strength, speed, and agility, or sticky fingers to be a hero.
They help! Of course they do. But you can be a hero without those wonderful gifts. All you need to be super is common decency and compassion. You can be a hero by being a good friend, or telling your dad you love him, or by simply being brave while facing your fears; you can help a broken-down man overcome his existential funk by convincing him he doesn't have to sacrifice his life for the greater good just because he made a big mess of his marriage in his own dimension. (Admittedly this is a very specific circumstance, but it counts all the same.)
All any of us must do to qualify as a hero is follow Lee's advice. It's that easy. It's easier when Lee himself is the one giving you advice directly; he makes his (final) Marvel cameo in Into the Spider-Verse as the purveyor of a costume shop, selling Miles a Spidey get-up after Spider-Pine's death. “Can I return it if it doesn’t fit?” asks Miles in trepidation. “It always fits, eventually,” says Lee, part warmhearted elder, part slick huckster. (His store happens to have a "no returns, no refunds" policy.)
Lee and superpowers aside, there's nonetheless a distinct satisfaction in watching Miles don the cowl and grow into his role as Spider-Man, validating the character's greatest truth in the process. Spider-Man isn’t a person. Spider-Man is an ideal, and that ideal lives in all of us, no matter who we are or where we come from.