This article contains lots and lots of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse spoilers. Pretty obvious, but yeah.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has a ton of personality and heart, but it boils down to a pretty basic plot. It’s a superhero origin story that ends with the good guys having a climactic battle over a maguffin that can blow up all of reality. The good guys win, the bad guys lose, and our heroes live happily ever after.
The final seconds suggest that there will be more inter-dimensional team-ups later and the ridiculous post-credits sequence backs this up.
But the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ending shows more than just good conquering evil, but the growth of our team of heroes. Let’s take a closer look.
The most telling moment of Miles’ conflict really comes when he fails that exam early on in the movie. Miles was given an opportunity in this new school due to a lottery and even though he may have what it takes to see it through, the struggle is too much for him and he’d rather just quit and move on to a simpler life. Now he’s won a different lottery and he’s once again struggling. He could give up and, possibly, all things could turn out all right.
Well, except for another dead Peter Parker on his hands. And that’s the best-case scenario!
Miles’ whole thing is that he’s stressed and pulled apart by having three father figures who, despite never actually interacting with each other on screen, are at constant odds. That’s what you get when you mix a police officer, criminal, and vigilante. Despite that, all three of them are against Miles being Spider-Man, or are against Spider-Man in general. All three are flawed and it’s up to Miles to learn from their positive traits and discover what kind of person he wants to be.
He gets the ultimate victory in the end. He becomes the Spider-Man that he wants to be. He earns the trust and respect of his father, his uncle, and his mentor. He stands on his own as Spider-Man, is vocally supported by a moral man who showed nothing but disdain for the Spider-Man legacy, and defeats the villain by harnessing his uncle’s humanity as a weapon.
His loved ones are exposed to the man that Miles is and they all approve. Contrast that with Kingpin, who merely exposes the man that he is to his loved ones, only to meet tragedy.
Peter comes off as the wise mentor in parts, but his story arc is the darkest by far. In the third act, he benches Miles from the final battle and decides to fill in as the one who will send everyone home and destroy the particle accelerator. At first glance, this comes off as selfless and heroic. He feels that Miles isn’t ready and is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the lives of the other four.
It isn’t until Miles is ready to fight Kingpin that we learn the real truth about Peter’s plan: he’s suicidal.
Up to this point, the movie’s been playing it up for laughs, but Peter is broken by his lonely life where he’s out of shape, his wife left him, and he made bad financial decisions. Miles sees through his bravado because he knows what it’s like to want to quit instead of powering through the pain and uncertainty.
Peter would rather burn out a hero than fade away as a nothing, which is extremely ballsy for a cartoon Spider-Man movie to give us. In the end, he accepts life and returns home. He owns up to his problems and presumably mends his relationship with Mary Jane.
If Miles needs to stop letting people hold his hand, it’s Gwen’s struggle to let her hand be held every now and then.
Gwen is capable, but she’s held back by her need to be a loner. Although she’s somewhat friendly with Miles early on, she chooses to do her own thing and investigate the plot on her own when telling the truth might have been helpful to their situation. She doesn’t join up with Miles and Peter until she absolutely has to and based on her origin, there’s reason for that. Gwen’s hang-up is that, in her eyes, she’s a liability with survivor’s guilt. Her best friend died and she blames herself for it.
Then again, it’s hard to blame her for not wanting to be around Peter Parker considering her own Peter Parker will never get to be that age.
Gwen’s arc gets sidetracked, but through their little adventure, it’s made apparent that she’s finally able to open up more and accept friends into her world. Even at the end, she’s breaking through dimensional gateways to see Miles again. Is she there to shoot the shit with her buddy or is it like Super Mario Bros: The Movie where there’s another big battle that they’re needed for?
And how did she even get there to begin with? Good thing she has a movie of her own planned to fill us in on the blanks.
Coincidentally, the comics have played with the idea that Miles and Gwen have strong romantic feelings towards each other despite being from different universes. The only reason they aren’t dating is because Gwen saw an alternate dimension where they’re married and is afraid of destiny controlling her life.
AND THE REST
Of the three extra heroes, there are pieces of character development, albeit minor at best. Spider-Man Noir starts off as an empty man whose pain is also played up for laughs. By the time he has to leave, he mentions, out of nowhere, that he loves his friends. There’s probably something to be said about his adopting of the Rubix Cube and how he goes from being unable to understand the basic concepts of color to conquering the gift when back in his own colorless world.
As for Spider-Ham, he appears as the comic relief even more than the self-serious Nick Cage caricature and the anime schoolgirl. While nobody on the team actually doubts him, there’s surely doubt from members of the audience that a tiny, cartoon pig parody is capable of being any use. When Scorpion laughs him off, Spider-Ham shows his full potential as a badass and brings him down singlehandedly.
One could even say he went ham on him.
As for Peni…? Well, okay, Peni doesn’t really have a story arc. She’s there to be a crazy inclusion to an already outlandish team, be competent, and kick just enough ass. If anything, she exists to reinforce the moral that Miles Morales gives us.
Wearing the webs and being a spider-hero is about the actions and heart and not about gender, race, or even age. Spider-Man doesn’t have to be stuck in his teens or perpetually in his twenties. Someone like Gwen Stacy can be more than just a lifeless prop used to drive the hero. In a time when people get pissy about legacy characters being portrayed as anything other than straight, white males, you see a story that shows that while Peter Parker may be the first Spider-Man, he doesn’t have a monopoly on the identity.
That’s the nice thing about the multiverse. The possibilities are endless.