Recently my wife turned to me and said I should take our son out to the movies while she was at work. Coincidentally, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was back in local theaters for the weekend only. We missed it the first time around, and jumped at the chance to go. While I was worried the concept might be over my kid’s head, it turns out I was the one surprised by the film.
The idea of the movie can be heady, but thanks to many previous shows and movies, most of society understands the concept of alternate universes and dimensions. I think the biggest was Back to the Future II with the infamous chalkboard explaining that the present had been altered due to Marty changing the past. In this movie, the Kingpin is trying to access alternate realities to retrieve something that he lost. Spider-Man tries to shut it down but gets caught up in the machine and thus instead of the device looking for what Kingpin wanted it is now bringing spider based heroes from across dimensions into one place. There’s a Spider-Man who has been doing this for less than a decade, one that has been working for twice that, one from the 1930’s, one from the future, a woman from the present, a cartoon, and our lead Miles Morales from a present that’s just slightly different than our own.
Getting bit by a radioactive spider creates a bond within these characters. The classic Spider-Sense not only warns of dangers but also acts like a beacon to kindred heroes. Like a sixth sense secret handshake. Within the rules of the movie, it’s easy to see how these characters are drawn to each other despite originating in alternate dimensions. Lessons are learned, origins are told, and – spoiler – the heroes save the day in the end. My son stood up out of his chair and cheered at multiple points during the movie, including the ridiculously well structured ending. “Hey.”
Having this father son bonding time at the movie caused me to think about my love of super heroes that I am now passing down to him. My earliest comic memory is from the fall of 1987 when I was 9. I have a few years until he gets there, so we’re a bit away from going to conventions or digging through long boxes for back issues. But what is right here and now is using the super hero movies and shows as examples. We tell him to “hero up” when he needs to be brave at the doctors. To stand up against evil. To be a good example. To always get back up.
Then it hit me.
Into the Spider-Verse might be the best movie about the bond between fathers and sons. In the movie, Miles Morales – your younger newer Spider-Man – arguably has three fathers. He has his actual dad, Jefferson Davis, a police officer in NY. Davis just wants the best for his son. The best school, the best opportunity, the best chance to do more than he did and maybe be more successful in life too. While some would call his life a win; career, wife, son, home. There is always a desire for your children to do better than you did. Miles butts heads with his father because of the pressure. He just wants to do his own thing, hang out with his friends, and be a kid. The good high school to get into a good college to get a good job seems too far away to conceive. All he can see is the now, and in the now his dad is on his case. Davis is of course on his case because he sees these things as a policeman. He has a job history full of seeing the worst that can happen and will do anything to protect his son from it. Not only to protect him from that path in life but also to protect him from having to see any of that either. Better to have his nose in a book than being shot at.
Miles’s uncle Aaron is the cool father figure. He has his own place, does cool things, and doesn’t answer to anyone. It’s the dream adult life for a teenager. Uncle Aaron didn’t go to the prep school or the ivy league and he turned out alright. Which all seems true as far as Miles can see. As far as any teenage boy can see. The reality is, there are no real adults. While Davis might worry about bills and not seem as sure about life as he needs to project to his child, Aaron is a stunted adult. An Id with an apartment. Do this today, get paid, worry about tomorrow when it gets here. While that kind of freedom does seem tempting the reality, which hits hard in the movie, is that without some sense of responsibility trouble will come find you.
Finally there is the masked father and son dynamic. Miles meets a different world’s Peter Parker and is disgusted by him. How could you be Spider-Man? This alternate Peter isn’t in the best shape, he doesn’t take care of himself, his life is a mess. He seems like a joke. How could you, father figure, teach me how to be a man when you are barely one yourself? Again, from the teenage mind that totally makes sense and is valid. Then life smacks everything around and a new lesson in reality begins.
Being an adult, being a father, it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being there when it matters. About being perfect when you need to be, but being human the other times. About stepping up when life calls. About always. Getting. Back. Up.
Honestly, I would like to be a mix of all three. Stern and driving him to be better. Fun and a buddy. Imperfect but able to rise above challenges. Above all to teach him that it is alright to doubt if you’re ready, as long as you are ready when it matters.