“What I like about the costume is that anybody reading Spider-Man in any part of the world can imagine that they themselves are under the costume. And that’s a good thing.”
I’ve wanted to write a review for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ever since I saw it for the first time back in December but something always seemed to get in the way. At this point, I’ve been trying to write it for far too long that everything I write seems repetitive, redundant, like it’s been said a million times before. And it probably was.
It’s definitely been written in almost every single article about how innovative the animation is, or how culturally significant it is to have Miles Morales, the only black (and second Latino) Spider-Man in Marvel history, to be the lead in such a major production.
Not to mention, reviewing a film that has already garnered so much praise and recognition is frankly a waste of time; everyone knows how significant Spider-Verse is. I mean, this Sony production has already been nominated for practically every ‘Best Animated Feature’ award, including that of the Academy Awards (Oscars) and the British Academy Awards (BAFTA). It has recently, by the time of this article’s publication, won itself a Golden Globe and a Critics Choice award as well and is highly predicted to snatch all the remaining trophies.
Naturally, you’re most likely wondering why then am I writing this? Why am I trying so relentlessly to give this movie something more than anyone else?
That answer is pretty obvious to anyone who’s ever known how much Marvel has affected my life, how Stan Lee changed how I viewed the world when I discovered Spider-Man through the Sami Raimi trilogy as a Kid.
When Stan passed away last November, I felt like I somehow deserved some sort of closure. Because, believe it or not, despite knowing that Stan had lived an incredible and accomplished life of 95 years and despite knowing that it’s inevitable to let go someday, it wasn’t enough because I still thought of him as one of those people who simply just lived forever. You know, the kind that outlives your grandparents, your parents, you AND your kids.
It seemed impossible to believe that someone who gave so much, who has done countless things one could only dream of doing in their wildest dreams, could be really dead, just like that. Stan wasn’t someone who made up silly pulp-fiction characters and storylines for a living; he was someone who created a safe haven for every kid that needed one and dare not ask, and for the kids who already grew up, the ones who resort to seeking solace in the lives of others because they could never find it in theirs.
The funny thing, though, is that I didn’t go into Spider-Verse thinking I’ll get that closure. I went in knowing I’m going to be gaping at the different animation styles and maybe laugh at some jokes. Heck, I didn’t even realize before watching that Stan’s regular cameo was obviously going to be there. (I’ll get back to that in a second.)
And I don’t even think the film makers intended it to feel that way since it was finished beforehand, but it did.
Spider-Verse embodied everything I think Stan would’ve wanted for all of us; for us to see heroes as they truly are, as humans very much like us. And for us to see ourselves in a way we could never imagine, as heroes like them.
You’d think how would seeing all these characters who literally have superpowers, can swing through Brooklyn using actual spider webs, or even turn invisible, make YOU feel like a heroes? If anything, it should make you feel worse right?
But it doesn’t.
When Stan Lee first co-created the character of Peter Parker, he didn’t want him to be just another unattainable superhero. He’s not a magical al-mighty Norse god or an alien from outer space who could only be killed by kryptonite (yes, DC, no one cares about Superman), he’s not a genius billionaire or a deadly Russian spy.
He’s a mess, just like us.
Peter Parker was always the underdog, a normal teenage kid fighting to find his identity while dealing with puberty and the endless hell that is high-school. He was never a popular kid; he was bullied, seen as a quiet and awkward nerd and he kept crushing on Mary Jane for way too long that you actually felt sorry for him.
Even when a radioactive spider bits Peter and gives him all these incredible abilities, Peter practically stays the same. It didn’t change anything about his personal life; he was still a loner, an outcast, a loser if I may say, just like the majority us at that age.
Even as Peter grows and gets into college, we see him still struggling with his identity as well as everyday matters as we also do. He takes up several jobs just to barely make rent, he’s still trying to make his relationship work and he’s just…tired.
One of the things I loved about Spider-Verse is that they showed us a grown up Peter Parker in his 30’s. We see him as a (slightly overweight, but still fine tbh) man going through a mid-life crisis, divorced and depressed because he couldn’t make it work with MJ and, as always, a mess.
Just like us. (Or future you because let’s face it we’re all doomed)
Now adding more spider-creatures (shout-out to Spider-Ham) to the mix only serves us more. Everyone can see themselves in one of these variations and they’d see how valid they are.
You see, for example, Gwen Stacey as Spider-Woman/Spider-Gwen AND Peni-Parker as SP//dr is something that does give validation to 7-year old me, who was told by other silly 7-year olds that I can’t be like Spider-Man because I’m a girl. (Who’s laughing now, huh?)
You see, Stan always preached for diversity and inclusivity, and his work tended to always reflect that. (The most famous example of that is his X-Men series, a clear allegory to the struggles of the 1960s civil rights movement in America.)
So maybe that’s why Spider-Verse hit me so hard; because seeing an animated Stan Lee tell Miles Morales as he buys a cheap Spider-Man costume that “it always fits, eventually” just stresses that fact, that he wanted us all to feel like we all are Spider-Man or at least could be if we wanted.
“Anyone can wear the Mask. You can wear the Mask. If you didn’t know that before, I hope you do now.”
Throughout the film, the characters often discussed what makes a person a true Spider-Man. The one thing they had in common was that they don’t give up. I think this fellow writer describes it best when she wrote, “We all could wear the mask, maybe not in the same way as Peter or Miles. But similar to Peter and Miles, we all have responsibilities and each person takes them up differently. Despite these differences though, a true Spider-Man always strives to do what is right and always get back up when they fall. Like Miles, we can stand up to injustice and make a leap of faith even if we don’t feel ready to face the injustice in our lives.”
Stan Lee poured his soul into his work; there’s no denying it as the worlds and characters he created are the greatest testament to that. But for me, Stan’s legacy continues because of what those characters represent. Stan Lee lives as long as we know that our differences do not divide us, and that being different isn’t and should never be the obstacle.
Most importantly, Stan lives when you comprehend that being YOU should never be what stops you from becoming a hero; it’s what makes you one. Because, no matter what, the mask will always fit…eventually.
We are Spider-Man.