I’ve seen Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse three times in theaters since December. It’s a brilliant superhero movie, with an endearing protagonist in Miles Morales and a creative animation style that really makes it feel fresh.
The last time I saw it, I went with a friend who isn’t into superheroes. He is always gracious and lets me talk endlessly about what I love about them, and pushes my brain to think more in-depth about things that I would have otherwise. Before seeing the film, we had talked about what I thought were the most effective fight scenes between a villain and a protagonist. In my view, superhero movies pack more of a punch when there is an ideological conflict between the hero and the villain, and not just “good vs evil.” Captain America is a basic example: Steve Rogers embodies the ideals of America (freedom, equality, etc.) whereas Red Skull, embodying Nazi ideology, is Steve’s antithesis. When they have a physical confrontation, the stakes feel higher because their ideological conflict plays out in the fight scene. Captain America punching Red Skull in the face is a physical representation of American values winning out over Nazism. Black Panther also did this with T’Challa and Killmonger, with the two characters representing opposing ideas on how Wakanda should be ruled. T’Challa (initially) believes in keeping Wakanda isolated and true to its traditions before later embracing Nakia’s mission to use the nation’s resources to help the rest of the world. Killmonger, by contrast, wants to use the resources to conquer the rest of the world and seek revenge for the wrongs committed against black people by colonizers. When the two characters fight in the vibranium mines towards the end of the movie, the stakes are higher because whoever wins that battle shows that character’s ideology to be the “correct” or “heroic” position – the one people should look up to.
Of course, that’s not to say that fight scenes between characters who are connected more emotionally than ideologically aren’t fun to watch. They are, but I feel less invested in a fight between a mustache-twirling “I want to rule the world!” villain and a do-gooder. I’m also less invested in a fight between a hero who is seeking revenge for a wrong done against him or her – “I’m going to defeat you for killing my friend” and all its iterations.
With all this in mind, I want to write about the conversation I had with my friend about the fight between Kingpin and Miles Morales in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Spoilers under the cut.