Representation in media and comics for minorities has always been a topic of interest. Where one idea represents a race or ethnicity, such as the impacts of Black Panther and Black Lightning has had during the year of 2018 with its meaningful and relatable matters on racial issues and circumstances in the African American community, the continued trend of representation is upheld by another figure: Miles Morales. In Sony’s newest film “Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse” it’s starring protagonist is of African American and Dominican descent. This combination of hero shows a different representation and the mixing of cultures is presented well with Miles’ story as he learns how to become a better person; in and out of the costume.
For anyone that hasn’t heard of Spiderman, a brief synopsis of the hero is introduced for the moviegoer with his exploits in being a superhero, how he received his powers and a convincing explanation of his accolades as the masked hero for over two decades. Flashbacks of his efforts, including some memorable moments from the past Spiderman films and actual real world memorabilia that has existed, are artfully directed to the narrative of this Spidermans’ tale. After concluding his tale of heroic efforts, the scene is immediately shifted to our main character, Miles Morales (Voiced by Shameik Moore), as he’s jamming out to Post Malone and Swae Lee’s song “Sunflower” while showing an enthusiastic youth to which the audience can relate towards. Miles is further introduced as a student at a highly qualified charter school in Brooklyn, New York and is shown to have a rather stressful life with being from two different bureaus of life; socially and ethnically.
The story’s pacing is worked from the perspective of Miles perspective from being at school, hanging out with his Uncle Aaron (Voiced by Mahershala Ali) after his first day to discuss about how it feels at a new school and one which he is unfamiliar with, alongside the issues that paint Miles life with conflict. This is further enhanced after Miles comes into contact with a mysterious spider with the number “42” on its abdomen, biting the young youth and mutating the cells within his body and making him into something different from within. While I could dive into the story and explain all of the moments that make the film and its story incredible, I’ll leave my take on the story as a cliffhanger for those that haven’t seen, however, to those that have seen the film – the story and how it was managed from beginning to end was orchestrated well and was tactfully directed in regards to race, a branching storyline and the accompaniment of different elements towards the storytelling for its characters.
A powerful movie should also have a cast of powerful characters, and the voices gifted to the cast of ‘Into the Spider-Verse’ is no exception. Backtracking back to the story, Miles’s adventure begins when he encounters Spiderman and is thrust into an array of dangerous complications that give weight to the main narrative of the story for most of its characters. This leads to the arrival of different “Spider People”, as Miles politely points out in one scene, that originate from different universes; hence the name. This is the meat and potatoes of the movie, as are the same ingredients for the comics; minus a table full of bloodthirsty vampires trying to hunt them down, however, that’s an analogy for a future post. In his quest to make things right with Mile’s Spiderman (voiced by Chris Pine), he’s assisted and taught by an entirely different Spiderman from a different dimension who, unlike the comics, is a more a seasoned and older hero that’s experienced conflict. This Spiderman is voiced by Jake Johnson and really gives attention his performance by using his broad sense of comedy (a staple of the hero) and his detachment to serious motives as a setting to Spiderman that Miles and moviegoers are unfamiliar towards. In addition to his role is the additional hero to which actress Hailee Steinfeld portrays in that of Spider-Gwen. Her addition to the cast is both intuitive to the perspective of female superheroes and can be seen as a fan favorite to the comics with a different take on the Spiderman mantle; replacing the antics of Peter Parker with the distinct differences of his female interest, Gwen Stacy; creating a narrative that was reciprocated in kind by the community and was an added investment of female representation within the film.
Alongside the two are other spider entities that included Spiderman Noir (voiced by Nicolas Cage) a Peter Parker from the 1930’s and Noir Universe (A universe that is…well…noir), Peni Parker (Voiced by xxx) who comes from the future of 2099 and fights in her father’s created mech known as the “SP//dr SUIT” (Equipped with a living spider on the inside of its system) and one of the most hilarious interpretations of the character in Peter Porker – otherwise known as Spider-Ham (Voiced by John Mulaney) – adding a distinct cartoon flair to an already animated cast; a play on a words to the different animation styles showcased from Noir, Peni and Porker when compared to the rest of the cast.
In contrast to the batch of heroes that the movie showcases there are also a few recognizable villains which make an appearance within the film. The main antagonist of the film belongs to Wilson Fisk (Voiced by Liev Schrieber) who’s entire narrative, as a villain, is represented in making his plans work and eliminating those in his way – sets the tone and the plot to which he follows. Additions to this include ‘The Prowler’, whose role is both dynamic and exquisitely showcased throughout the film, Tombstone, a forlorn villain of comics past that’s given a distinct style, The Green Goblin, whose appearance is more of a representation to the Ultimate Spiderman’s version of the character, Scorpion, whose surprisingly a Hispanic variation to his New Yorker counterpart in the comics, and Doctor Octopus’ surprising appearance are all unexpected and yet their presence is never without merit; symbolizing the ins and outs of villains from the rogues gallery for this version of Spiderman’s Sinister Six.
It’s easy to miss the signals that are scattered within the film amongst all of the action and storytelling that the cast does a wonderful job of acting and portraying with their characters, however, Spider-Verse also gets another thing right within the movie: Representation. With popular debates and news over the importance of representation among races, a popular superhero that has always been debated in regards to representing others is Spiderman. Under the mask, Spiderman is generally a white male that lives in New York City, going through school, hiding his identity and saving the lives of citizens within the city; even when slandered with hate by media and other officials that are against his vigilante ways. In some ways, the mantle of Spiderman is a representation of those that wish to do good but are against playing to the rules of the law, which is why Miles’ culture and ethnicity play a big role within this film.
Directors Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman and Robert Persichetti Jr. orchestrated a beautiful story and interpretation for the Ultimate Spiderman and the mantle of it being passed down to not only just Miles but that “anyone can wear the mask” which was a deep and inspiring moment for the filmmakers to showcase in times of strife and separation. I felt that the same narrative of storytelling, where it was showed rather than said, was similar to another animated film that came out earlier in the year – Incredibles 2. The story was dedicated to the material that it was based on – Superheroes that were seen as a liability to the foundation of human society – and built upon the future of the source material by including women’s rights and feminism representation with just a splash of realism. ‘Into the Spider-Verse” doesn’t shy away from the premise of storytelling as it showcases Mile’s discomfort in going to a new school, leaving his old one behind, discussing his lack of importance and ability to perform well; undermining his own abilities and trying to fail.
The mantle of Spiderman and the name “Miles Morales” represent something more within this film. By using the mantle of Spiderman to cover his shortcomings or the fact that he doesn’t believe he can be better as Miles Morales, it’s through the guidance of other Spider-people and the impending threat to the city, much less the dimension, that plays with the moral and social ambiguity that the film’s direction can take and that moviegoers can speculate over after watching it.
Overall Score: 11/10
A film that should not be missed whether you are a Spiderman fan or not. The narrative is easily understood by kids and the action pieces, combined with the visual effects that make it feel like a live-action story straight from the pages of its comics, is a welcomed breath of fresh air after a year of CGI mashups. The characters are relatable, the plot isn’t convoluted, the representation for Miles and the mantle for Spiderman are explored with detailed examples, and it’s overall a great film to see with friends, family or even by yourself; don’t let the absence of others be the reason you miss out on 2018’s Best Animated Film.
And also – A Happy New Year to everyone in 2019! Expect more content in the future for this year!