My favorite thing about Into the Spiderverse is that they kill off the Toby Maguire version first. Made clear by his awkward dancing that they “don’t talk about”, fans of the franchise unmistakably recognize the impotent-yet-all-powerful iteration of Spider-Man. Toby Maguire is white, good looking, and pleasant, even if boring and timid, brilliant, and attends an ivy league school of some sort. Awful, right? Even without the spider bite, boring old Peter Parker probably gets a trophy wife and a six figure salary.
But from the moment you start Into The Spiderverse, something is different.
If you watch it on Netflix, you’ll see a quaint little warning, similar to TV-MA that says it contains “intense strobe features.” If you get to the finale, you’ll see why. It’s a rainbow of streaming pulp comic color.
Colors and light matter in this movie.
The movie starts out following Miles, an African American teenager who likes to leave graffiti art stickers around NY, which gets him in trouble with his father, a police officer. His shoes are always untied–“it’s a choice”–and his greatest mentor is not his father, but his uncle, a thug who encourages the only self-expression available to him: music and graffiti.
Who NEEDS to be Spider-Man here? Certainly not Toby.
After Miles gets bit by a spider, he meets the real Spider Man, who is promptly killed. A few scenes later, he meets another version of Peter Parker, this one divorced from MJ and thick around the middle. A short while later, he meets Spider Woman. Each new iteration of the hero gets their own montage run-down of their story. For the last eight years, months, days, they have been the one and only Spider-Man. If you look closely, each montage has its own color scheme.
Black and white.
At the end, when all of the Spider-Men are swinging through the collider causing the space time continuum nexus that’s responsible for their appearance, the colors scream past in the background. As each iteration of Spider-Man drops back to their own world into the energy beam–leaving Miles to defeat the villain Kingpin and turn off the collider on his own–their streaming colors vanish until you are only left Miles’ colors: Black, and screaming, angry red.
You cannot watch this movie and remain colorblind.
At the movie’s heart is a symbolic riddle: a Rubik’s Cube. The Rorschach-like Spider-Man who came from a black and white comic book world holds up the cube and says, “I’m taking this with me. I can’t see the colors yet. But I want to.”
Anyone can wear the mask. Anyone can be a hero.
We’ve heard this before.
But why is Miles’ biggest hurdle actually believing he can not just be great, he can be the best Spider-Man ever? He has more tricks than the others. He can turn invisible and his touch can deliver electric shocks.
With all of its colors, symbolism, and character substitutions, the movie begs the question of why we’ve been raised on a century of washed out Peter Parker, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Bruce Waynes, and what it will take for some of us to wake up and realize that the experience and dreams of Miles are very different from Peter Parker’s.
Failing to acknowledge labels, white, African American, homosexual, latina, trans, makes it impossible to talk about how someone’s experience is different from your own. And that would be a shame.
We’d be left with boring old Peter Parker instead of a stunningly diverse, technicolor world.
Into the Spiderverse is ridiculously fun, clever, and visually arresting in a way that only anime can come close to touching. What’s more, they’ve elevated the franchise into something it arguably has never been before: art.