Miles Morales doesn’t think he deserves to be a hero. But that’s why he is the perfect hero.
One of the many reasons why Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is so revolutionary is its depiction of something so many of us go through every day – the basic negotiation of self-worth. Really, the only superhero film I can think of that tackles this topic is…Iron Man 3? One of the top 5 MCU movies? And IM3 only tackles it because it deals with the circumstances and consequences of the previous film, which throws Tony Stank into a tail-spin where he has to realize that, no, he’s good enough.
Stank, however, is a billionaire more times over than the rest of the MCU (and collected superhero-dom) combined. Miles Morales is a product of chance, the same as Peter Parker and many others. Unlike Parker, Stank, and others with crises of identity, Morales doesn’t think he deserves to be Spider-Man.
The Keystone Scene
Another genius part of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse is its underplaying of examining serious socio-economic mental health. Which is not something I expected to ever think nor see in something as populist as Spider-Man, but here it is.
Miles comes from a not-private school. He lives in what appears to be a small apartment. He is also mixed race, but the film is not interested in that at all, instead choosing to focus more on issues of class and self-worth.
While something as politically significant as Black Panther or Wonder Woman wear its analysis on its sleeves, Spider-verse is a lot more subtle. Miles’s environment is a massive subtext running through the film, but codified in this single scene. Yet this scene explains everything and blows up superhero-dom.
On his way to school, Miles and his father, Jeff, get into a conversation about how Miles wants to go back to his old school. But he has this chance to go to a prestigious school. He worked hard, like everyone else did. He passed entrance exams, like everyone else did. But, by random chance and fate, he was picked. And his father will not let him pass an opportunity like this up because he doesn’t feel deserving.
Unlike other superheroes, Miles feels guilt at his fortune. Think about this. Can you think of any white heroes who don’t want to be heroes because they think they are not allowed to be? There are so many white heroes who think they aren’t up to the task, but then they just try harder. Bruce Wayne rarely turns his wealth away, instead using it to fuel his tiny war machine. Same goes for Captain America, Iron Man, Superman, and a lot of other superheroes. Even in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Peter just tries harder when he’s up against the ropes.
Miles is different – he’s a product of circumstance and basically feels survivor’s guilt. He doesn’t think he deserves to have power.
The Problem of Destiny
Miles gets bitten, turning him into a Spider-Man by coincidence. Eventually, circumstance and coincidence butt heads and compounds against thematics thanks to the Spider-verse. A dimensional rift opens, revealing 5 alternate Peter Parkers, all of whom are more senior than Miles.
Also, there’s only one Miles.
The filmmakers play against the notions of destiny versus choice so wonderfully here. The others are products of destiny – Peter Parker is supposed to be Spider-Man. There can’t be more than one, yet here they all are, and they are all tied to the identity of Parker. Then there is the anomaly of Miles, who has no ties to this mythology.
Those feelings of self-worth would probably implode upon seeing that the other Spider-Men are all…not like you. You can’t identify yourself in these other people – therefore, you are undeserving.
It’s almost like representation matters or something to Miles. Tying destiny and representation to each other is a master stroke of storytelling and rebukes so many chosen one narratives of the past…well, since storytelling has existed, really. While those in power can talk of destiny, those not in power have to make their own way.
The Journey to Self-Worth
One of the Spider-Men, Peter B. Parker, puts it all in succinct terms in a moment of self-doubt to Miles. At this point in the film, Miles’s burgeoning spider powers are out of control/unable to be controlled. This relegates him to the sidelines when dealing with the big climactic final battle towards the end of the movie.
Taking the keystone scene into account, the control issues aren’t due to a lack of knowledge. Whereas previous iterations of superhero films (including the Spider-Man films) would just have the character try harder, the biggest thing standing in Miles’s way is himself.
When Miles asks, “When do I know I will be ready?” so he can get back into the game, Peter responds:
“It’s a leap of faith.”
It’s a choice, which is certainly not an unsubtle theme in Spider-verse. But the choice isn’t to learn that, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Miles is supremely responsible. He constantly looks to any authority figure he can to help navigate him through his life.
Miles doesn’t just try harder and do better so he can win the day. Instead, he relaxes. Stops trying so hard. And finds out how to do it his own way. This is galvanized by his father saying that, “There’s a spark in him [Miles] that is so special,” these intimate words giving Miles the self-worth he’s been lacking the whole film. It’s not skill, knowledge, or some other thing that unlocks Miles – It’s realizing he deserves to be Spider-Man. While coincidence and circumstance might have given him the power, he needs to use his newfound privilege.
He goes his own way because he has made the choice to trust himself. He deserves to be Spider-Man. He was given this opportunity, so he should use the power within. He shouldn’t be scared of his newfound power.
To Miles, and the millions of others that doubt if they deserve the good things in the world, with great power comes great privilege. So use it. Because you have it. You just don’t think you deserve it yet.