Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse And The 5 Stages Of Grief

Introduction

I’m sure everybody and their mother has reviewed this movie to death already, so instead of talking about the movie’s amazing visuals, soundtrack and script like everybody probably already has in much greater detail, I’ll instead choose to focus on one of the most crucial themes of not only the movie, but the Spider-Man mythos in general.

Grief

Tale as old as time.

Grief has always been a central theme in the story of Spider-Man as much as “with great power comes great responsibility” has been since his inception. The loss of Uncle Ben is one of the most iconic origin stories in comic book history, and that’s because it’s so relatable to any person who has ever lost a family member. In Peter’s case, it’s even worse because it was partially his fault. This is what gives birth to the Spider-Man we know and love.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse masterfully integrates the theme of grief into its story, not only for Miles himself, but for Peter B. Parker and even the Kingpin.

Let’s break down how each character deals with loss, starting with our main protagonist:

Miles Morales

The Rookie

Miles Morales, like every other teenager, has yet to find out what he really wants to be. Along with suddenly having his school life upheaved after gaining entry into a prestigious new school, and his rocky relationship with his overbearing father, Miles already has a full enough plate even without the Spider-Man business

In his life, the one person he completely trusts to tell all his problems to and ask advice from is his Uncle Aaron, a cool and laid-back role model who lets Miles do what he wants but still gives legitimately good advice.

However, what happens if the one person in his life that he can trust completely, turns out to be a factor in killing one of the world’s most beloved heroes, the very hero that Miles promised to honor before his untimely death?

This is when Miles experiences his first real loss, way before the movie even kills off Uncle Aaron. The image of Uncle Aaron that Miles had in his head has been completely shattered, and now he finds he has nobody else to turn to, and when Uncle Aaron does finally die, it also shatters any chance he had of redeeming that image before his death.

This is the best time to talk about the famous 5 stages of grief once more.

Miles goes through the stages in the order you expect, and it’s done really well. Denial already started way before the actual death of his uncle, when Miles first finds out the Prowler’s true identity. The look on his face says it all, and the despair when his uncle dies is also an accurate representation of a person going through denial.

After the death of his uncle, Miles is filled with anger, seen in the tantrum he throws when he returns to his room, where his anger towards Kingpin, and more importantly, his anger towards his uncle as seen when he throws away the notebook that had the layout for the graffiti he made with him earlier in the movie.

This is when Miles starts to bargain with Peter and the rest to let him on the mission, so he can avenge his Uncle’s memory, but Peter knows that Miles simply hasn’t matured enough yet to do that.

The Spider-Gang is empathetic and even mentions that losing somebody close to you is a detriment of the job, but his inexperience leads the gang to decide he’s not yet ready to take on such a big responsibility, and so, leave him tied up in his room.

This is what leads to the fourth stage, depression, as the full helplessness of his situation,tied up and unable to do anything to save anyone, hits him. His father’s arrival and heartbroken delivery of his Uncle’s death (that his dad thinks he doesn’t know about yet) and unable to give back any words of comfort, only cements it further.

However, it is that one-sided conversation that gives Miles the push to understand what is is he needs to do. He breaks out of his binds, dons on a new suit, and gives us the best damn shot of the entire movie as he finally accepts himself.

After all, when you’re at the lowest point of your life, there’s only one thing you can do.

Rise

Unlike the Kingpin and Peter B. Parker, who we will see later stuck in the stages of grief for most of the movie, Miles’ arc is the only one that gets fully realized, and it’s his story that shows us how to overcome grief.

Now, let’s talk about Miles’ grumpy and washed up mentor:

Peter B. Parker

Peter Parker Shower
Seen here dealing with his divorce like a champ

We meet this Peter at what is most likely the lowest point of his life. After the loss of Aunt May, his testy marriage, and eventual divorce from Mary Jane, he has secluded himself from everybody. Other than his duties as Spider-Man, he has nothing else really left to live for, to the point of wearing his spider-suit inside his own apartment when he doesn’t really need to. Sadly, it’s mostly likely because he’s just that sure about never needing to go out as Peter B. Parker, and only ever as Spider-Man.

Peter Parker Depressed 0
Peter Parker Depressed 1
Peter Parker Depressed 2
Peter Parker Depressed 3
Nothing says kids movie like the cruel realities of adult life.

Not only that, he’s been Spider-Man for a really long time at this point, and probably the oldest Peter we’ve seen on a movie screen. He’s gotten rusty and, as Aunt May puts it, thicker through the years of endless petty crime-fighting, unhealthy eating and late night seahorse watching.

Unlike Miles, this version of Peter has gotten stuck at the fourth stage of grief, which is depression. A divorce and family death in quick succession is not something you can get up from easily, but unlike Miles, who still has his childlike optimism and a father figure, Peter has nobody, and has to live with himself for presumably years, making him incredibly jaded and lonely.

This Peter even shows many signs of being suicidal. For example, even when Miles has returned to save the day, he still refuses to give him the “goober”, and insists on being the one to stay behind and get the portal closed, which would kill him. Of course, every Spider-Person was willing to do it, but unlike the others, Peter is the only one who genuinely believes (at least for a time) that he has nothing to lose. It’s only by the end, that he finally accepts his flaws and fears, and takes his old life back.

Peter Parker Rehab

It’s sad but interesting to see such a somber take on the ever-optimistic Spider-Man.

Finally, to complete this trifecta of sadness, let’s talk about everybody’s favorite absolute unit of a crime lord:

Kingpin

Absolute Unit
By the way, that’s not a black background, that’s his body blocking it out.

The driving force of the plot, the dimension collider, is all thanks to him and his refusal to move on. He has somehow combined all the stages into a weird mish-mash of emotional turmoil. After his wife and child find out his animosity with Spider-Man, they run away from home and are tragically struck by a truck, leaving Kingpin alone to his impotent rage and sadness.

Kingpin gazing
Kingpin's family shocked
Kingpin's family dead
On the bright side, there’s a small chance they ended up in a fantasy world.

The Kingpin somehow incorporates all 5 stages of grief in his plot at the same time, and at this point, it’s going to be easier to put it into bullet points.

  • Denial: He knows his family is dead,but he refuses to believe he’ll never meet them again.
  • Anger: Blaming Spider-Man for their death,and generally not caring how dangerous it is to the fabric of spacetime to be using the collider for closure.
  • Bargaining: In this case,building a literal gate between dimensions to get back his family.
  • Depression: As seen in the few moments of calm he has, it’s marred by a longing sadness.
  • Acceptance: The plan to build the collider is definitely his way of “acceptance”, as it’s a way of moving forward,but it’s really not.

Kingpin and Peter’s stories show us what happens to people who never get over their grief.  If it hadn’t been for Miles,both would probably never have seen the hubris of their actions. I doubt Kingpin will learn,but he’s been humbled by the end, and Peter finally breaks himself out of the rut he’s been in for probably years.

Conclusion

Into The Spider-Verse is an important movie for several reasons, but for all the gorgeous animation, captivating style, and charmingly clever wit, my favorite part about Spider-Verse will always be the heart it brings for my all-time favorite superhero.
I’m not kidding when I say this has become my favorite comic book movie ever. Sure,the live-action stuff is great and unique,but they always felt like they had to obey the rules of film instead of comic books,and therefore limiting their own potential. Spider-Verse embraces Spider-Man for what he is, and I wish more comic book movies follow suit.

That’s all, folks!

– Lumi

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