I made the point with Spider-Man: Homecoming that “Spider-Man” is a misnomer since he’s so often depicted as a teenager. The most recent and totally cool iteration of Spidey doubles down on the youth thing, depicting Miles Morales as a mere 13 years old.
Miles may not be a man, but that’s where he’s headed…fast.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a coming-of-age story on steroids (or radioactive spider venom, as the case may be). It’s also one of the best movies of the year.
Miles is a very likable kid from the first moment he’s on screen, hanging out alone in his bedroom, humming along to “Sunflower” on his headphones (try to forgive the overt Sony product placement there), creating his graphic art, and putting off packing for boarding school.
He quickly becomes even more endearing when he grapples with issues all adolescents face, like social awkwardness, challenging schoolwork, and balancing affection from his parents with his need to assume a more mature identity. He also has to mourn the tragic loss of a loved one.
If teenage angst and grief were all Miles had to handle he’d be plenty heroic. But along come the superpowers. And the supervillains. And the plot to destroy the world that he must foil.
He gets help along the way, including some hilarious mentoring from a down-on-his-luck Peter Parker from an alternative universe. Ultimately, though, Miles has to find the hero within himself. He takes the leap of faith and lands on his feet.
“Ultimately, though, Miles has to find the hero within himself.”
Previously I defined my Heroism Quotient (HQ) and Villainy Quotient (VQ). I rate pop culture heroes along five factors (0-20), yielding a Heroism Quotient (HQ) with a maximum score of 100. The higher the HQ, the more heroic the hero. The factors are inspired by the thinking of Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who has explored heroism following his ground-breaking work on the roots of evil with the Stanford prison experiment.
1. Acting in service to others in need, or in defense of an ideal.
Once Miles learns to control his superpowers and faces off against Dr. Octopus and others, he’s all in about getting his Spidey brethren to their home dimensions and averting a cataclysm in his. But his initial motivation is revenge against Kingpin, which does not earn high marks for idealism.
I give him 12 out of 20 for this factor.
2. Serving voluntarily.
Miles gets a very high score here (16) because he is given every opportunity to stay out of the whole superhero gig. In fact, the other Spideys (including the awesome Spider-Gwen) leave him behind for his own safety. The fact that his parents help and protect others in their careers has to give him a nudge towards that leap of faith.
He also wants to do right by his new found friends.
3. Recognizing possible risks/costs.
I only give Miles a 9 here, in part because his adolescent brain is naturally wired to take questionable risks. How much does he appreciate the grave danger he faces when donning the mask and scrapping with the likes of Scorpion?
The flip side is that he has the confidence of youth.
4. Accepting anticipated sacrifice.
It’s one thing to recognize risk and quite another to accept sacrifices that may need to be made. Miles gets a strong 14 on this factor mostly because in the ultimate showdown it’s just him and the Kingpin, mano a mano (or, more accurately, mano poco a mano grande).
And in that throwdown Miles has let go of his vengeance craving because, you know, the world can’t save itself.
5. Anticipating no external gain.
I only dock 1 point off a perfect 20 here (19) because though Miles maintains his anonymity, he’s immersed in the kind of celebrity culture that will make it very challenging for him not to enjoy a bit of the superhero lifestyle.
Craig Pohlman is the co-author of CinemAnalysis: Learning about Psychology through Film. He tries to be heroic at least once a week.