Help Believers to Stay Faithful in a Changing Culture

Editors’ note: 

As the most dominant form of pop culture art that still assumes a large, shared audience, movies have an inordinate influence on our culture They also tend to present a broader range of themes and perspectives than other works, such a pop music. Rather than produce a standard review, we thought we’d experiment with a new format that helps parents (and others who engage with kids) use movies to have broader discussions with their children.

Why it’s worth talking about: While not directly religious, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a deeply moral movie that examines the importance of choices and virtue from a common grace perspective. A compelling story and visually stunning animation make it one of the best comic book movies of the decade.

Note: The rest of this article contains spoilers. None of the revealed information will lessen your enjoyment of the movie, and it will prepare you to have a robust discussion after seeing it with your child.

What it’s about: Miles Morales is a middle-school student in Brooklyn struggling with the expectations put on him by his family. After being bitten by a genetically engineered spider, he gains powers similar to his hero, Spider-Man (Peter Parker).

Spider-Man is killed after attempting to stop the evil crime boss Kingpin from opening a portal to other dimensions. As Peter Parker is dying, Miles Miles promises he’ll find a way to shut down the portal before it destroys New York City.

Miles soon discovers that five other “Spider-Men” from other universes have entered our own. He joins forces with them to save his city and help his new friends get back to their own dimensions.

Talking Points and Discussion Questions

Choices and Expectations — A primary theme of the film is facing difficult choices and dealing with the results of our actions. Miles feels he often doesn’t have a choice and that some things—such as a going to a new school and having to deal with his new superpowers—are being thrust on him against his will. He feels he is no longer in control of his own life.

  • Most people would love to have superpowers. Why does Miles originally not want them?
  • Ask your child what choices they are afraid they will have to make as they grow up.
  • Miles has to write an essay on the book Great Expectations but instead paints a mural that includes his own silhouette and that says “No expectations.” Why is he so bleak about the expectation he has for his own life?
  • Ask your child if there are ever times when they, like Miles, feel stifled by parental expectations.

Weird Changes — Miles initially doesn’t understand the changes his superpowers are having on his body. He even blames them (to humorous effect) on “puberty.” At one point Gwen tells him Miles, “I don’t think you know what that word [puberty] means.”

  • Miles doesn’t seem to know, but do you know what puberty means? (This can provide an opening to explain to younger children that puberty is the time in life when the body of boy or girl goes through changes to make them a man or woman.)
  • How are the changes of puberty similar to the process of becoming a superhero?
  • Ask them what changes they have gone through that are similarly confusing.

The Role of Fathers — Miles has one father (Jefferson Davis) and three father figures—his uncle Aaron; his hero, the original Spider-Man (Peter Parker); and Peter B. Parker. Each of these men plays an important role in his life.

  • Jefferson obviously loves his son (and tells him so several times). Why then does Miles feel he can’t turn to his own father about his problems?
  • How do his uncle and the two Peters help Miles deal with his conflicts?
  • Ask your own child if they ever feel they can’t come to you with their problems.

Loss and Grief— Almost every main character in the film, including the primary villain, is in grief over the death of a loved one.

  • Which characters in the film have lost someone they loved? [The answer includes Miles and Jefferson (Aaron); Gwen (her best friend, Peter); Peter, Peter B., Peter Porker (Uncle Ben); Peni (her dad); Kingpin (his wife and son); Mary Jane and Aunt May (Peter Parker).]
  • Ask your child if they can relate to such grief, either from losing a loved one, a friend, or a pet. How does it help them understand the loss the characters feel?
  • Do you ever feel, like Gwen does, that it’s scary to care about people because you might lose them?

Friendship and SacrificeWillingness to sacrifice one’s own life to save your friends is a major plot point of the film.

  • Miles is told a couple of times that he needs to take a “leap of faith.” What do they mean? How does that “leap” reveal his character?
  • Jesus says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” At what points in the movie did the characters provide examples of that type of self-sacrificing love?
  • Miles says that “anyone can wear the mask.” What does he mean? (Miles is implying that what makes a hero is not just one’s power but the choices we make to do good.)

Concepts and Characters You Need to Know

Into the Spider-Verse is a complex movie that brings together twelve main characters from five different alternative dimensions. To aid in your discussion, here is one concept and twelve characters you need to know.

The Multiverse — In comic books you often have superheroes starring in multiple different books each month with varied, often conflicting, storylines. To manage the problems this causes with continuity, Marvel Comics created the “Marvel Universe.” In reality, the Marvel Universe is a multiverse, a collection of simultaneously existing universes.

In an attempt to keep them straight (which merely adds a layer of confusion) the individual universes are labeled with “Earth” and a number. For example, the main Marvel universe (which we live in) is designated Earth-616.

For this film, all you need to know about the multiverse is that variants of Spider-Man are brought to our universe (Earth-616) and meet each other, hence the term “Spider-Verse.” The word “dimension” is also frequently used in the movie as a synonym for these individual universes.

The Superheroes

Peter Parker / Spider-Man — The “original” Spider-Man of our universe, known in the comics as Earth-616. Peter dies soon after meeting Miles Morales.

Miles Morales / Spider-Man – A biracial teenager (his father is African American, and his mother is Puerto Rican) who is bitten by a genetically engineered spider. In the film, he becomes the new Spider-Man in our universe, Earth-616.

Peter B. Parker / Spider-Man — Peter B. is alternate variant of Spider-Man from a currently undesignated universe similar to our own (i.e., Earth-616).

Gwen Stacy / Spider-Woman — Gwen is an alternate variant of Spider-Man from Earth-65. In that alternative universe, Gwen is bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes a superheroine instead of Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man. (In our universe, Gwen Stacy is a friend of Peter Parker.)

Peter Parker / Spider-Man Noir — A brooding, black-and-white alternate variant of Peter Parker from a 1930s universe. He specializes in fighting Nazis.

Peter Porker / Spider-Ham — Porker is a variant of Spider-Man from Earth-8311, an alternative universe populated by anthropomorphic versions of Marvel superheroes. He was originally a spider named Peter who was bitten by a radioactive pig.

Peni Parker / SP//dr — Peni is a variant of Spider-Man from Earth-14512, an alternative anime-like universe. She’s a Japanese teen girl who co-pilots a biomechanical suit with a radioactive spider with whom she shares a telepathic link.

The Villains

Wilson Fisk / Kingpin — A powerful crime boss who kills Peter Parker. He owns Alchemax, a company that creates a super collider to open a hole in the multiverse.

Aaron Davis / Prowler — Miles’s beloved uncle, who we learn is a villain that works for Kingpin.

Olivia “Liv” Octavius / Doctor Octopus (or “Doc Ock”) — The head scientist at Alchemax who is working for Wilson Fisk.

The Non-Hero Supporting Roles

Jefferson Davis — Miles’s father, a police officer for PDNY (i.e., the Police Department of New York).

Rio Morales — Miles’s mother, a nurse.

Aunt May Parker — The aunt of Peter Parker. After his death she helps Miles and the other superheroes.

Mary Jane Watson — The wife of Peter Parker (in our universe) and the wife of Peter B. Parker (in his universe).

Extra Information

You don’t need to know this stuff to enjoy the movie, but it might impress your kid.

• The movie doesn’t explain why Miles takes the last name of his mother (Morales) rather than his father (Davis). In the comics, Jefferson had been a criminal before becoming a cop. He temporarily took his wife’s last name to hide his shame, and so his son took that name too.

• The man who sells Miles the Spider-Man costume is the late Stan Lee. He’s the co-creator of Spider-Man, and the former president and chairman of Marvel Comics. Lee has made 58 cameos in the Marvel universe (and one in a DC movie—Teen Titans Go! to the Movies.)

• Morales is the second biracial Spider-Man. In 1992, a geneticist of Mexican and Irish descent named Miguel O’Hara appeared in the series “Spider-Man 2099.”