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4 Things my teen son and I discovered in the Spider-Verse

Row of posters for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse in lobby of movie theater

FlickDirect Inc | Shutterstock

John Touhey - published on 07/05/23

The experience of watching the movie 'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse' was surprisingly rich for a father and his teen son.

A couple of weeks ago, I went with my 15-year-old son to see Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. I had heard positive things about the movie, but I would not have gone to the theater to see it if my son hadn’t asked me to take him. As a dad, I know that when a teenager asks to do something together, you don’t stop and ask questions, you just seize the opportunity!

Anyway, we both loved the movie. And we had four important takeaways from the experience that I thought it would be helpful to share:

Spoiler warning: Point 3 necessarily talks about an important plot point in Across the Spider-Verse, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want to be spoiled, SKIP POINT THREE!

1IT WAS GREAT TO WATCH A MOVIE WITH OTHERS

Pre-pandemic, I went out to the movies fairly frequently with my kids. Like many of you, I suspect, the lockdown altered by viewing habits. I still watch movies with my kids, but generally at home via a streaming service.

Going out to the movies can be somewhat costly, but it was worth the extra expense to be in the presence of many other people, all of them strangers. Of course, you don’t talk to the other audience members around you (that would be pretty rude during a movie showing), but you are always aware of their presence. The experience gives you a sense of being part of a larger community. And, fortunately, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse lived up to the hype, so there were many moments of shared laughter and other reactions during the movie.

Seeing a movie in a theater doesn’t change the movie itself, but it certainly enhances the experience of the movie. When you experience a well-made movie, play, or dance with an audience, it makes you aware that at our core, our hearts need and crave the companionship of others. That is something you only understand through experience. After the movie ended, my son and I both agreed that it was great to be in a theater with other people and that we wanted to repeat the experience more often.

2TRADITION AND CREATIVITY DON’T HAVE TO BE OPPOSED

My son and I both went into Across the Spider-Verse also agreeing that the superhero genre feels like it has run out of steam. Every Marvel and DC movie seems very much the same now. Watching one of them often feels more like a chore than a pleasure.   

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a happy surprise. It is not just a terrific superhero movie, but a terrific movie period, while giving the superhero genre a much-needed creative boost. How did the filmmakers pull it off?

In the past, many filmmakers try to make superhero movies feel “fresh” simply by adding more – more villains, more action, bigger sets, more explosions. The result is exhausting rather than invigorating. Or they try the “kitchen sink” tactic, which involves throwing in any crazy and different idea they can think of. This never works and just feels desperate.

The makers of Across the Spider-Verse take a different tactic. They innovate by going back to the roots of the superhero genre, to its comic book origins. The look of the animation is inspired by old comic books, using animated panels and text boxes to convey story information, and visually incorporating the designs of a variety of comics from different eras.

My son and I both thought that the makers of Across the Spider-Verse were able to capture what is most appealing about the superhero genre and reimagine it in ways we hadn’t seen before – an effective meeting of creativity and tradition that we can all learn from.

3WE ALL WANT TO BELONG

Remember, everything in this point is spoiler-heavy, so if you don’t want to hear anything about the plot, SKIP TO POINT 4!

The dual heroes of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse are Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy (a.k.a. Spider-Woman). Both characters share a similar problem in that they have a hard time fitting into society. For Miles Morales the problem is particularly acute, because he is unique among all of the Spider-people in all the different Spider-Verses. There are zillions of Spider-Verses and zillions of Spider-people (most of them Peter Parkers), but Miles appears to be unique among all of them.

If all this Spider-talk has you scratching your non-Spider head, don’t worry. The basic point is that Miles and Gwen really, really want to belong and be accepted, not just by Spider-society but by society in general.

This is a simple, but powerful and relatable theme. We all want to belong, we all want to know we have a place in the greater community, we all want to be valued. I could see that this theme particularly resonated with my teenage son. But it also resonated with me because, even at my advanced age, I share the same desire that he has.

Whether in the Spider-Verse or the Church or the world at large, no matter how different ech of us is, we all share a desire to be valued, accepted, and embraced.

4SHARED EXPERIENCES ARE MORE POWERFUL WHEN YOU JUDGE THEM TOGETHER

One of the best and most enjoyable things about seeing this movie with my son was discussing it together afterwards. We didn’t have a deep, metaphysical discussion, but it was a meaningful one for both of us. That’s because we talked about what we liked (and a few things we didn’t like), but, more importantly, about why we felt the way we did. In this way, we were able to judge the film together.

By “judge,” I don’t mean coming to a “thumbs up or thumbs down” verdict on the movie. Rather, my son and I were able to discover a few things that we thought were good and true in Across the Spider-Verse and articulate them together. In that way, we came away understanding each other a little better and also ensured that what was positive in the experience would not be lost. As St. Paul said to the Thessalonians, “Test everything; retain what is good.”

None of these four discoveries is particularly earth-shattering, perhaps, but I found it interesting and encouraging that my teenage son and I could reach and acknowledge them together by watching a summer superhero movie.

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