With close to a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has pulled in an avalanche of rave reviews and even Oscar buzz. Missing from the piles of critical acclaim is the voice of Latino critics and, in particular, Afro-Latinos. Since it’s the first big-screen appearance for Miles Morales, a comic book character with African-American and Puerto Rican roots, we took it upon ourselves to remedy this. Knowing that Latinos are vastly underrepresented on the staff lists of mainstream film outlets, we reached out to a handful of critics to provide their take on this animated tale. Read their reviews below.
–Vanessa Erazo, Remezcla Film Editor
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse opens in theaters on December 14, 2018.
"The sole existence of Mile Morales in the Marvel universe was a win in the fight for representation, but to have him star in one of the best-reviewed, bound-to-be-a-hit movies of the year – that’s true change."
In drawing from the hand-drawn aesthetic that comic books have embraced for decades, the creators behind Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse infused their take on a beloved figure with much needed freshness. Distinctively reminiscent of classic adventures printed on paper, the feature co-directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman stands out as the most visually groundbreaking studio animated offering of the year.
Its relentlessly inventive design coincides with the revamped identity of the web-spewing hero. Now incarnated by Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), an Afro-Latino teen from Brooklyn who is bilingual, bicultural, and a talented graffiti artist – the lead Spider-Man in this story more accurately reflects the changing face of American society. Furthermore, Miles is a person of color who doesn’t come from a broken home: His parents are educated professionals and he’s proud of who he is and where he comes from. That’s twice as revolutionary and transcendent as the decision to not use a photorealistic look for the animation.
In turn, the other five iterations of the character that joined Miles expand the core concept of inclusion and democratization of Spider-Man. There is a brilliant Spider-Woman, an Asian girl who manipulates a spider in a robotic suit, and even a comically clever cartoon pig that is far from being a traditionally imposing superhero. Peter Parker is here, but not as the fan boys might expect him to be. He is a flawed and washed-up white dude whose actions have actually had some consequences.
A risk-taking venture on multiple levels, Into the Spider-Verse is not solely concerned with appeasing the hordes of devoted Marvel-obsessed audience members, but earnestly attempts to invigorate a type of movie that has increasingly become tiresome. It does so not only from a technical standpoint, but also by toppling monolithic visions of who gets to be a hero.
The sole existence of Miles Morales in the Marvel universe was a win in the fight for representation but to have him star in one of the best-reviewed, bound-to-be-a-hit movies of the year – that’s true change, as millions of people this weekend will see him wear the iconic mask (with a twist) this weekend.
"While the surroundings are given great detail, it’s the character work done on Miles and his family that give us the Afro-Latinx representation we have long desired."
In a world of adaptations, where care is taken 85 percent of the time, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse exists as one of the most well-formed and cared for films in recent years.
With vibrant colors that melt into one another and jump off the screen, much like the comic books, the audience is immersed visually into the concrete jungle that is the Marvel New York. Mirroring the visual overload that is happening on screen, the music chosen for the feature varies from nostalgic, to whimsical, to millennial. While the surroundings are given great detail, it’s the character work done on Miles and his family that give us the Afro-Latinx representation we have long desired. From Miles’ faded sides to his mother’s messy flyaway side plait (that tías everywhere will appreciate), even down to the varying skin tones, I walked away from the movie having a better understanding of Miles’ connection to his Latinidad than I did from his previous comic run. Casting Luna Lauren Velez as Miles’ mother lent more authenticity to the character of Rio.
Latinx representation is few and far between, and this is even more true for Afro-Latinxs. Miles’ introduction to Marvel comics opened the door for more diverse characters to be added, and that impact has been lasting throughout the comic world. However, by leaping to the big screen, the impact of Miles’ character has the potential to grow exponentially. As the reception to the film has been filled with praise, it joins the likes of Black Panther, showing that superhero movies filled with diverse characters can and will fill seats and leave the audience wanting more.
Miles exists in a world where he has to choose to either live a normal life or “wear the mask,” but he doesn’t have to choose to exist as either black or Latinx, he blends all the parts that make him unique and interesting, and this is something that younger Afro-Latinx viewers will take away from the film.
"His Latinidad is in his DNA. He is his authentic self which is perhaps the best message when it comes to his cultural identity."
Spider-Man is the most youthful and relatable of all the superheroes in the Marvel Universe. We love him because he reminds us that one doesn’t have to be perfect to be a hero. Peter Parker may save New York from villains, but in the end, he still wants to get invited to the cool kids’ table. Spider-Man: Into the Verse changes the conversation by introducing us to a new member of the Spider-Verse. Spider-Man is about to get a new borough and become bilingual with a high top fade.
And in walks Miles Morales. He’s smart, loves music, and like Peter is trying to fit in at his new school. Life at home is nurturing for Miles. His father, a police officer, isn’t afraid to be affectionate and stern. His mother, a nurse, showers him with love. He quickly switches from speaking English with his father to speaking Spanish with his mother and then Spanglish while navigating effortlessly in his neighborhood. His Latinidad is in his DNA. He is his authentic self which is perhaps the best message when it comes to his cultural identity.
The only shortcoming is that Miles is not voiced by an Afro-Latino actor but by Shameik Moore (Jamaican-American). On the other hand, Rio Morales comes to life courtesy of Luna Lauren Velez who herself is Puerto Rican.
Miles is a typical teenager, and the animators did a great job in personalizing his style. It’s apparent in scenes where he’s wearing his Jordans untied, and his love for Post Malone. Miles’ humming as a relaxation mechanism is one of the most endearing moments of this movie.
On the technical side, Spider-Man Into the Verse beautifully intertwines the pages of the comic book with the animation, it’s a visual novel. The hustle and bustle of New York City captured via the skyscrapers, blinking lights, and horns blasting from moving taxi cabs all are accurate depictions. Pop-ups are another beautiful element of this story; they help the viewer get into Miles headspace.
The interactive artwork comes to life in the subway graffiti and when Miles draws in his notebook.
As with other more recent Marvel movies, the Stan Lee cameo is an audience favorite.
Miles’ Spider-Man is a hero for today’s generation. He carries tremendous responsibility yet still displays many of the imperfections of a teenager. The overall message of this Spider-Man is that anyone can rise to the occasion – even a bicultural Afro-Latino kid from Brooklyn.
"Spider-Verse – on a small scale – confirms that Latino characters can be the face of a franchise."
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse won’t do for Latinos what Marvel’s Black Panther did for the African-American community earlier this year from a cultural perspective, but the highly stylized animated film is a solid first step in making the mainstream superhero universe more inclusive.
Sure, Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino teenager living in Brooklyn who is bitten by a radioactive spider and transforms into the titular arachnid character, might not be the official Spider-Man of the Marvel franchise, but the move by the studio is a welcomed one.
Miles is one of the first superhero characters who identifies as Latino to hit the big screen from Marvel or DC. Seeing how much critical acclaim Spider-Verse has received in recent weeks will hopefully light a fire for POC superheroes to get their own live-action movies. Earlier this month, DC announced it would produce Blue Beetle, based on Mexican-American comic-book character Jaime Reyes.
Spider-Verse – on a small scale – confirms that Latino characters can be the face of a franchise. While we love Mexican-American actor Michael Peña in the Ant-Man movies, Latinos are more than sidekicks – more than comic relief. Latinos want to leap tall buildings in a single bound, too. They want to bench-press diesel trucks and body slam intergalactic supervillains. They want to save the galaxy.
It would’ve been nice if Marvel had cast an actual Afro-Latino actor to voice Miles (actor Shameik Moore is of Jamaican descent), but the film does, at least, reference his Latino background and does so with pride. This is especially true during the sweet scenes Miles shares with his Puerto Rican mother (voiced by Nuyorican actress Luna Lauren Velez) and the use of Spanish in their dialogue. Most Latino mama’s boys will identify with a scene where Miles’ mom bear hugs her son and won’t stop kissing him on the cheek. There’s also a Latino villain thrown into the mix: Scorpion (voiced by Mexican actor Joaquín Cosio) who looks like he was designed to resemble an MS-13 gang member with eight legs, two pincers, a powerful stinger, and some face ink.
Spider-Verse is quality animation and storytelling. It’s not a throw-away chapter in the Marvel canon that moviegoers will forget once they leave the theater, especially if they’re looking for something distinctly different. Every comic-book fan knows alliterative names like Peter Parker, Bruce Banner and Sue Storm, but none roll off the tongue quite like Miles Morales.
"To live in a liminal space – as a bicultural kid, as a superhero-in-hiding – stresses the animated feature’s positive message about what it means to feel different from those around you."
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse doesn’t shy away from acknowledging that, despite being the first big-screen animated outing of your friendly neighborhood hero, it is telling you a story you already know. Well, almost. One of its funniest recurring jokes starts out with the words “My name is Peter Parker. I’m sure you know the rest.” So, yes, this vibrant and kinetic Marvel film features Peter, Mary Jane, Aunt May, and a number of super-villains we’ve seen in various other Spider-Man iterations. But this story belongs not to that Queens-dwelling web-slinger but to a Brooklynite by the name of Miles Morales (voiced by Jamaican-American Shameik Moore). Just like Peter, Miles is bitten by a radioactive (and presumably time-and-space-shifting) spider. Only, where Peter was geeky and straight-laced, Miles is cool and laid-back.
But the swagger-in-the-making that young Miles has is rooted in his background. He’s the son of an emotionally available cop, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry), and a doting nurse, Rio Morales (Nuyorican actress Luna Lauren Velez). Both are intent on bettering the life of their artistically minded kid, who’s all too eager to skip out at night and paint some graffiti with his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali). Once the film’s central conceit makes itself known – yet another science experiment has gone haywire in the city, bringing in a number of Spider-people from different universes and now threatens to swallow Brooklyn whole – it’s up to Miles to learn the ropes of being a superhero all the while shaping what an Afro-Latino Spider-Man can look like in the 21st century. Spoiler alert: he has great taste in music and can easily shuttle between English and Spanish with his mother and friends alike.
Not only do we see him navigate his preppy charter school as a minority but the choice between abiding by the law (embodied by his father, the cop) and defying it (represented by his uncle, the criminal) is complicated by the way he knows he needs to straddle the two as his Spidey alter-ego. To live in a liminal space – as a bicultural kid, as a superhero-in-hiding – stresses the animated feature’s positive message about what it means to feel different from those around you. In doing so, the film swaps out Spidey’s most famous tagline – “With great power comes great responsibility” – for a much more relatable if no less empowering one: “What makes you different is what makes you Spider-Man.”