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In the last decade we’ve had multiple on screen iterations of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. From Maguire, to Garfield, to Holland, we all have our favorite version of the web-head, and with each reboot it feels like the charm of what makes Spider-Man so great is almost lost in how studios want to constantly revamp the character.
At first, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse seemed like an attempt by Sony to get bank off of their flagship character. Yet during the movie it became apparent that the people who made the movie genuinely cared about the source material. They cared about what they were making. Most importantly, they cared about the character and what it means to be Spider-Man. After the movie was over, I realized this was not only one of the best movies of 2018—let alone one of the best animated movies—but it was the best Spider-Man movie.
What makes Spider-Man great?
In order to be a good “Spider-Man” movie, you have to get the character right. That’s an obvious statement, but it’s something all three live-action movies have struggled on. What has made the character such a timeless story isn’t because he’s strong, funny, or can do remarkable things, it’s always been his relatability.
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Spider-Man with the idea that anyone can pick up one of his adventures and instantly feel like they can be him. The stereotypical hero is always strong or rich or practically a God, whereas Spider-Man is just a kid from Queens. Tony Stark has billions of dollars laying around, while Peter Parker works hard to make his monthly rent. Steve Rogers is the perfect human being with righteous beliefs, while Peter Parker isn’t perfect. He makes mistakes constantly, but that’s not what makes Spider-Man so appealing to universally everyone. What makes him universally loved is his ability to make mistakes and run with them to create the best chance scenario.
He’s great because of how mundane his life is. We can empathise with his problems because we’ve all been there. We’ve struggled to impress our crush, we’ve struggled to make deadlines whether with school or work, we’ve lost people close to us, we've failed, we've gave up, we’ve never been perfect, and despite all that, we continue to go on with our lives. Spider-Man represents these struggles and represents our pursuit of happiness. Everyone is Spider-Man and that’s why we love him.
How Past Movies Failed at This
As mentioned earlier, the live-action movies struggle with this, as each reboot tries to be different than the last. Raimi, Webb, and the MCU all have great portrayals of Spider-Man, but they’ve never made me stop and say, “That’s why I love Spider-Man.”
For starters, let’s talk about the Raimi Spider-Man, since he was the first live-action Spider-Man. Although this version of the character is nostalgic to most fans, and some still even consider Spider-Man 2 the best Spider-Man movie, Tobey Maguire's interpretation is extremely too exaggerated to be relatable. Don’t get me wrong, that first trilogy is great and gets a lot of things about the character right, but those things are expressed through the extremes. Mentioning Spider-Man 2 again, it acknowledges that a portion of Peter’s character is failure. The keyword is “portion” because not everything in his life should be out to get him. In this movie, his best friend, his aunt, the love of his life, his bosses, his professor, and just random people on the street treat Peter like a pile of trash. It’s almost like every characteristic is exaggerated, therefore, it’s hard to relate to Peter. For example, I’ve never had to chase down my school bus while everyone on board, including the bus driver, made fun of me. I’ve never freeze framed during the song “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.” I’ve never danced down the street, nor have I had a choreographed dance number in a nightclub in order to make my girlfriend jealous. Get my point here? No one is, or can be, that cringey. This version of the character seems to be a product of Sam Raimi and his style of direction, rather than what makes Spider-Man so special in the comics.
Secondly, the most controversial series in the bunch is Webb’s Spider-Man. There’s three major problems with this version of the character.
1) His life is way too tragic. Spider-Man has faced some pretty sad stuff in the comics, but these movies seem way too dreary at times. In The Amazing Spider-Man, not only does Uncle Ben die, but so does Captain Stacy. In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Peter is haunted by Captain Stacy’s ghost, we see how his parents died, his best friend turns against him, and Gwen Stacy dies. That’s a total of five major character deaths, one ghost, and one broken friendship in only two movies!
2) This Spiderman jokes way too much. Spider-Man is known for his quips, but he never let’s telling a joke distract him from what’s serious. In the beginning of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, countless people die because Peter stops to make fun of the Rhino during an intense police chase on the streets of a busy New York City.
3) They made Peter the chosen one. For example, the spider that bit him could turn only Peter Parker into Spider-Man due to his genetics. This makes the character not relatable because no one’s dad is illegally experimenting on spiders with their own DNA—spiders are too scary for scientists to do that in real life! Therefore, these movies demonstrate that Peter Parker is the only one who can be Spider-Man.
Lastly, like Raimi’s version of the character, the MCU does get a lot of the major things right about the character—yet to a certain degree, he’s still not relatable.
I can’t relate to having a million dollar suit with advanced tech.
Two out of the three movies, this version of the character has been a part of the Avengers stories. In the comics, of course, Spider-Man has been in crossover stories fighting cosmic entities, but it was never the majority of his adventures. Then in his solo movie, his whole motivation is becoming an Avenger. Someone once said to me, “Well, if you were him, you’d want to do the same." Yet the issue with this concept of Spider-Man is that I shouldn’t have to put myself in his shoes; I should just be able to feel like I can be him. The beauty of a character like Spider-Man is that anyone can wear the mask without any questions asked.
How 'Into the Spider-Verse' Succeeds at This
Into the Spider-Verse addresses what it means to be Spider-Man through its characterizations of Miles Morales and Peter B. Parker in regards to the movie's central theme of taking a leap of faith.
To start off with the main character, Miles Morales is a kid torn between the expectations of everyone around him and doing what best suits his desires. This is instantly relatable since everyone has had a dream of theirs be conflicted with the circumstances of the world around them. Miles has a passion to create and is uninterested with his school because it’s a representation of not being able to pursue that desire. Miles is pushed to live up to expectations of his parents, one a cop and one a nurse, but it only causes Miles to become uninspired more. The happiest we ever see Miles is when he’s allowed to just create and spread his art. This eventually relates to his overall journey as Spider-Man since the Spider-People trapped in his dimension also try to train Miles in their individual image. Yet what ultimately causes Miles to reach his true potential is learning that he has to do it his way rather than what has or hasn’t worked in the past for others. To quote Peter, "One thing I know for sure, don’t do it like me. Do it like you."
This is contrasted with Peter’s arc in the movie. Here we have a much older version of the character. Aunt May has passed away, Mary Jane divorced him, he’s gained weight, and the job has been beating him down for many years. The subtext behind every one of his quips imply that Peter has been letting people down for awhile. It’s clear Peter isn’t in his prime anymore, but is afraid to grow up. Therefore, he’s stuck avoiding or ignoring his problems. His actions aren’t a case of being irresponsible, but a universal situation of not knowing what to do. Thus, his story is a tragedy we can all relate to.
Through these versions of the character, the film is able to express its theme of taking a leap of faith. This theme plays off of the concept of failure that the multiple characters face throughout the movie. The whole reason the events of the movie take place is due to Kingpin's failure to protect his wife and son.
The movie constantly beats these characters down, yet it never feels exaggerated or unwarranted. We root for these characters because no matter the numerous times they have their faces splattered on the New York pavement or have their anime style robots destroyed, they get back up.
Just because they take a leap of faith also doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll always work. Peter is the example of that, but just because it doesn’t work doesn’t mean we stop trying. We don’t want these characters to succeed by the end of the movie just because they’re the heroes. We want them to get back up, because when it comes to our own problems, we want to get back up, too. We want them to prevail past their failures because we can see ourselves trying to prevail past our problems. By the end, when Miles forces Peter to go back to his dimension, he’s not only telling Peter to face his problems, he’s telling us to go back out there and face our problems. When the credits roll, the movie challenges us to take a leap of faith.
The Final Verdict
This message of taking a leap of faith despite failing is an important one. It’s common to see people with the mindset that if something isn’t the best thing ever, it has to be the worst by default. There’s rarely an in between or middle ground, which is a fallacy within logic. Therefore, the idea is to stop trying after failing. For example, if you look at how people view the DCEU—if that’s still a thing—they’ve produced a few less than average movies, so the majority of audiences point to ending this franchise.
Failure is treated as a bad thing, but imagine if we lived in a world where failure meant the end of everything. Imagine a world where trial and error never existed. Imagine a world where Peter Parker reacted to Uncle Ben's death by taking that failure and using it as an excuse to never become Spider-Man. We relate to Spider-Man because, despite his many great abilities, he can still fail. Despite our own many great qualities, we can still fail. What should be taken away from this, is that it’s okay to fail, just as long as you get back up.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best Spider-Man movie because it makes Spider-Man relatable again. We can all relate to failing, giving up, and trying again. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, a girl, a pig, a man from the 60s, or an anime character, you can wear the mask. Like the great Stan Lee says when handed a cheap Spider-Man costume in what probably is his best cameo, “It always fits, eventually.”
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