DOG-EARED CORNER - Z1.2
Narrative Structures and Into the Spider-Verse
You’ll recall, Two Quests sets the protagonist on a narrative journey to achieve a goal. Which they may or may not do. Either way, the narrative comes to a conclusion. Even as this occurs though, a new goal naturally takes shape and a new, higher-stakes narrative appears along with it. Often progression is all but invisible.
Before we can see how Into the Spider-Verse fits into Two Quests though, we first have to work out what the protagonist’s goal is Easy, right? Stop Kingpin from opening a black hole under the city. Obviously.
That’s a secondary goal at best!
To prove this, let’s jump forward to the Secondary Climax. Kingpin kills Miles’s uncle, and all his Spiderfriends tell him he’s not ready to fight beside them. They still go off to stop Kingpin and save the city, so presumably it should all work out. Just … Miles isn’t invited. If stopping Kingpin was really the goal, he should be, at worst, mildly bummed by this. As long as the job gets done, right? But it’s much worse than this for him. This is our protagonist’s low point. Why? Because it was never about saving the city. Fitting in was all he ever wanted.
Fitting In is the Goal
It’s obvious when you think about it. Within a minute of meeting Miles on screen, we see him 1) walking through a crowd of his former classmates—who all know and like him, 2) being intercepted by his dad—who judges him, then 3) entering his new school—where nobody knows him and nobody wants to.
So as our narrative progresses, we get the expected peaks and valleys. He meets a girl who seems to sort of get him (maybe?). He visits his uncle who is welcoming and supportive. But he continues to have troubles with his dad. And worse, he gets bitten by a spider and he’s turning into some kind of freak!
Here’s where we get to our First Act Climax. Things start to look really good before everything falls apart. This happens when he meets Spiderman. Spiderman, who recognizes Miles as the same as him, and even says he’ll teach him! (Acceptance.) Then Spiderman gets killed, leaving Miles, not just on his own, but tasked with a mission he has no idea how to complete.
Act Two picks up as Miles stumbles upon Peter B. Parker. There are ups and downs: PBP refuses to help him at first, but then finally agrees. And Miles gets closer and closer to his goal: he finds himself member of a whole team of Spiderfriends! He’s not quite one of them yet but they’re eager to help him learn. There are downs too though. Big ones. The only person who never rejected him, his uncle, turns out to be a villain.
Then, as mentioned above, we get the Secondary Climax where Miles’s new clan rejects him. His uncle dies, yes, but he’s still ready to fight at that point. It’s not until Team Spider leaves him gagged and tied to a chair in his dorm room that he realizes how alone he truly is.
End of the First Narrative
Miles Fails to Achieve His Goal
This also becomes Miles’s Crisis Moment. (Remember Crises aren’t necessary in Two Quests, but they’re certainly still welcome.) In this case, Miles’s dad acts as the catalyst to his overcoming. The old man basically tells Miles through the door that he’s proud of him and he loves him.
Miles sees he doesn’t need acceptance because he has value in his own right. And just like that, he comes to the realization he doesn’t have to be accepted as Spiderman to be Spiderman.
He just has to be Spiderman.
THIS becomes the new goal.
As with a good Two Quests narrative, the new goal requires far more effort and far more risk to achieve. Because what does Spiderman do? Beats the bad guy. Saves the city. Helps his friends. And what’s more, he can’t allow Peter B. Parker to do these things for him because that’s his job as Spiderman.
So we get our Second Narrative/Third Act/Climax. Through danger and difficulty, Miles checks off all the tasks that will achieve his goal, finishing with a battle in which he masters his powers, proving beyond any doubt that he is in fact Spiderman.
The film closes with a fine dénouement in which we see, by achieving his second goal (being Spiderman) Miles has both revived and achieved his first goal, gaining acceptance from his father, the city and his Spiderfriends across the dimensions.
INTERESTING NOTE: Into the Spider-Verse follows the exact same narrative as Eight Grade. I mean, they’re basically the same movie. Kinda weird.