There’s a lot of hotly debated takes about Spider-Man. Who’s the best onscreen Spidey, which series is the best, which iteration of the suit looks the coolest … the list goes on and on. While I’m usually not an advocate of diving into internet battles, because woe betide anyone who tries to pick an online fight, I’m wading into this particular fray to say that the best Spider-Man film of all time is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Spider-Verse is a triumphant work of art that is beautiful to behold, that gets better with each additional viewing. It embraces the truly remarkable spirit that makes Spider-Man so popular and why he is so important to so many fans.
Spider-Verse is the first film to feature Miles Morales as Spider-Man, alongside Peter B. Parker, Gwen Stacy, and a variety of other iterations of the hero. Set in an alternate universe from our own, the story is both a coming-of-age tale for Miles and an ode to the enduring legacy of Spider-Man.
We know the familiar beats of the Spider-story: kid gets bitten by a radioactive spider, kid gets powers, kid loses someone close to them, and kid becomes a hero. But Miles isn’t just another Peter Parker. He’s Miles Morales; he has his own story, his own personality, and his own special set of gifts.
Miles matters because a young Afro-Latinx kid gets to be Spider-Man on the big screen. He comes into his own and is the unquestionable hero and protagonist of the story; despite the other Spider-folks running around Brooklyn, Miles is the heart. He’s our hero. He’s our Spider-Man.
The importance of representation cannot be understated. One of the film’s directors, Bob Persichetti, told Variety, “It’s a version of Spider-Man that is just representative of what it’s like in 2018 America or the world. There’s diversity everywhere, and New York’s the place where it started for America.”
Bustle writer Jada Gomez wrote of the film, “It would have been easy for the film to to simply use Miles as a diversity prop, but its attention to the Nuyorican experience provides representation that is completely refreshing … For some children, their first image of Spider-Man will be of a Black and Puerto Rican teen who saves the world — and even alternate universes — in a hoodie and limited edition kicks. That’s some badass, powerful imagery.”
Miles represents what Peter Parker first meant when he was introduced to readers years ago: the everyman who can save the world. Our version of the everyman, though, can change. It no longer has to be a white man, or a man at all. Anyone can wear the mask.
*Warning, spoilers for the film to follow.*
The idea that anyone can wear the mask is key to Spider-Man. In one beautiful, heart-wrenching scene, Miles’s reality mourns their Peter Parker. Peter’s funeral is so large it blocks the street in front of the church. Mary Jane speaks to the crowd, many of whom are wearing Spider-Man masks or have their face painted, and says, “We are all Spider-Man.”
Earlier in that sequence, Miles buys himself a Spider-Man costume from Stan the Man himself. Miles asks if he can return it if it doesn’t fit, and Lee replies, “It always fits, eventually.” This is, in part, a comedic sequence—the camera then cuts to a sign that says “no returns”—but it also is an important part of the Spider-Man legacy.
If you go to a comic convention, you’ll see a lot of Spider-cosplayers. From Peters to Gwens to Miles, you’ll see the full range of Spider-People out there, because the best part of Spider-Man is that anyone can wear the mask. These cosplayers could be anyone, but for a moment, they are all Spider-Man.
“Anyone can wear the mask,” Miles says at the end of the film. “You could wear the mask. If you didn’t know that before, I hope you do now. ‘Cause I’m Spider-Man, and I’m not the only one.” And it’s true. Spider-Man could be any one of us. Spider-Verse reminds us that the mask isn’t defined by one man. It’s defined by a massive legacy that does include us all.
There are plenty of Spider-Man films out there, but for me? No matter where Tom Holland’s Peter goes next, or what adventure Miles swings into next, this will always be the definitive Spider-film, because the message rings true to what Stan Lee and Steve Ditko wanted to say when they first created Spider-Man.
(image: Sony Pictures)
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