Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse‘s Peter B. Parker is a hot mess — and the perfect hero for millennials.
This article contains spoilers for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
There are two Peter Parkers in Sony’s glorious animated triumph, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. One is the Peter we know and love (and raised a few eyebrows at) through Sony’s original run of Spider-Man films. Sure, he’s a little older now, a little more exhausted, could use a little more help. But he is, fundamentally, the good-hearted and hopeful Spider-Man we have come to rely on. To his last breath, Peter Parker is kind, resolute, and determined to do right by those who need his help.
And then there is Peter B. Parker, sucked out of his own dimension into a slightly different world. He is familiar in many ways, but this Peter? Well, this Peter is a hot, steaming mess.
Alternate-universe Peter Parker is cynical and sad, burying his feelings in food and distractions. He did everything right — became a hero, got married, tried to Adult successfully, but nothing has turned out as planned.
His Aunt May has passed. His relationship with MJ has crumbled. Peter lives in a tiny, depressing box of an apartment, at the age by which his parents had probably already bought a house.
Peter’s body tells of the strain as much as his attitude does, from the shadows under his eyes to his pouching belly. More painfully, this Peter has lost faith in the institutions that define heroes. Justice and truth, enduring love; hope and systems of support.
Peter B. Parker is skeptical of heroism itself. He is sullen and angry, using his wry quips to distance himself from people who need him. The world that Peter was both promised and tried to create himself — a world of opportunity, fairness, positive re-enforcement and honest reward — feels completely beyond mortal reach.
It feels like a fantasy — or worse, a lie.
Perhaps the most damning and saddest display of Peter B. Parker’s malaise is his reaction to being sucked into an alternate dimension. Forced out of his funk and into a universe where a dangerous villain threatens to break apart the world, Peter… just wants to go back home.
In contrast to Spider-Girl and the other collected Spider-folk who join the adventure, Peter is not immediately spurred to bravery or heroism. He isn’t interested in being particularly helpful to Miles Morales, or to anyone else. He wants to return to his vaguely depressing life, and more importantly, he does not want to change.
Yeah, that sounds uncomfortably familiar.
Obviously, no one can speak for all millennials. (Fashionable as it is to blame an entire generation for every single modern ill, such instincts are neither fair nor logical.) But there are qualities that many of this oft-maligned generation do share with each other, and that are eminently recognizable in Peter B. Parker.
Disillusionment in once-trusted systems. Meeting tides of injustice that seem impossible to crest. Following the rules, only to learn that nobody really cares about the rules at all. Unsteady relationships and the resulting loneliness, fear of life-changing choices. An over-reliance on takeout.
So no one told you life was gonna be this way. Clap your hands, everybody!
In roping Peter B. Parker into its Spidey story, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse sets itself a unique task. The movie not only has to guide Miles through his origin story, it also has to fix its other hero, maturing a reluctant millennial mentor with no intention of being moved by anything. In this way, the film acts a kind of Bildungsroman and redemption story for Peter B. Parker, even as it deftly handles Miles Morales’ coming-of-age (or perhaps “coming-of-spider”) story.
This Peter is as far as could be from a noble Dumbledore or stoic Obi-Wan Kenobi. He isn’t even terribly similar to his murdered counterpart in Miles’ universe. He has just as much to learn about growth, responsibility, and strength as Miles does — compounded by the vague sense that Peter really should have this shit figured out by now.
And while Into the Spider-Verse has no qualms ribbing Peter B. Parker about some of his failings, the movie is also more than happy to let Peter grow along with its younger protagonist. In fact, it is through Peter’s relationship with Miles that his evolution becomes possible at all.
This isn’t quite Logan, where a youngster’s spirit and pluck reignite a banked fire in a grizzled former hero. The key to Peter B. Parker’s redemption isn’t responsibility, strength, or sacrifice (though those are recognized as important values). Instead, the movie suggests that hope and heroism are to be found most truly through connection and trust.
It is the loss of these things that sent Peter B. Parker into his downward spiral, and their restoration that leads to his redemption — his emergence as a caring man, capable of healing his own wounds. It is the loss of these things that characterizes many millennials, separately settling the lands of social media, grappling for responsibility on a constantly shifting plane. Peter’s connection with Miles is the central mechanism of his transition from moody man-child to a truly heroic adult, and it is a live and engaged connection (whether with a kid, a peer, or a mentor) that millennials are often missing.
After all, Peter B. Parker’s story reaches its apex not as a singular stroke of heroism, but as an act of partnership and trust. Yes, Peter is willing to sacrifice himself if necessary. But his arc comes to full fruition when he lets Miles take control of the situation, accepts the way things have changed, and returns to his home dimension.
In other words, when Peter takes a leap of faith.
That’s all connection and trust are, after all — a leap of faith no less real or frightening than swinging through Manhattan on threads of spider silk. That’s a tough prospect for anyone to contemplate, but it is a direct and necessary antidote for millennials who climbed to adulthood on a mountain of many still-unfulfilled promises.
It can be dreadfully easy to lose faith, to lose touch, to lose hope in times like these. But Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t here for that. If Peter B. Parker can drag himself from the mire of millennial malaise, if he can question himself and trust others again, if he can find himself back on MJ’s doorstep… well, the rest of us can do that, too.
Yes, there are villains out there in the world. Yes, there are disappointments and tragedies and closed doors. Yes, it can be terribly tempting to lie in bed and eat pizza. (And honestly, that’s okay sometimes.)
But make no mistake, millennials: Like Peter, and the other Peter, and Miles, and Gwen, and all the rest, we can be heroes. We just have to make sure that we aren’t going about it alone.