Web-slinging is fun. That’s the main theme of Spider-Man: it’s fun to shoot your web around and swing from building to building. When you play as Miles Morales, you’re just a relatable little loser with a grating nerd voice, so there’s some kind of catharsis when you get to stop purse-snatchers and rescue a cat. You get to shoot webs, you get to help people, and it’s simple, wholesome fun. Who can complain about that?
Me, that’s who. Don’t get me wrong, the web-shooting and the swinging and the beat-em-up mechanics are fun, just as much as they were in the first game. Everything feels smooth and cinematic in just the right way, where a chaotic fight or wild jump that should be confusing and disorienting is polished so well that you always end up moving the way you feel like you should. It’s like the game predicts what you want to happen and just does it.
The problem is simple: Spider-Man is a cop.
Spider-Man having a moment of self-reflection
One might think that Miles Morales, being a black man in America, might have a slightly different relationship with the police than the original Peter Parker Spider-Man, who is also very much a cop. Perhaps he would have a different view of their one-sided antagonism, in which cops vilify him, but he supports them at every turn. Maybe Miles doesn’t because his father, the inexplicably-named Jefferson Davis, was a cop. Who knows? Everybody’s different.
It’s understandable why the game might not want to grapple with such heavy issues and just have Miles ignore it, given that it’s a fairly all-ages kind of situation. They want to keep it apolitical, sure, fine. That would make sense if the game just glossed over the police as a relevant factor at all, the way basically the entirety of the MCU does, but it doesn’t do that. It takes an unmistakably political stance, even if that isn’t what it intends to do.
That’s because the police are everywhere. Spider-Man is constantly supporting them, both directly and indirectly. Every bad guy he chucks off the roof of a high-rise is gently webbed to one wall or another to be later collected by police. He’s regularly alerted to nearby low-level crimes, doing things like assisting the police in high-speed chases through Manhattan streets, which is perhaps not something the police should be doing in the first place.
Can you spot Spider-Man? He's near the POLICE.
Then come the goons. Random groups of enemies appear in three basic themes in the game: the Tinkerer’s goons (organized terrorist types), the Roxxon goons (corporate private security types), and random prisoner goons. The Tinkerer and Roxxon types make an easy case for how to have a bunch of nameless goons to beat up without creating any real ethical dilemmas, but the prisoners are strange.
You might wonder what these prisoners guilty of doing, for example. The game pays some lip-service to them being “the most dangerous criminals” who have escaped from prison all at once for some reason, and Spider-Man makes quips about them being stupid, or bad at crime, or whatever it might be, but you're ultimately supposed to just accept them as a given. There are prisoners around, and they do crime, because that's just who they are, and Spider-Man has no thoughts about that. The kid simply loves the prison-industrial complex.
How is a floating island prison just off the shore of Manhattan filled with constantly-escaping prisoners who seem to be essentially predisposed to crime not horrifyingly dystopian? Spider-Man aims to portray a wholesome and diverse Harlem in which everybody lives harmoniously alongside an ever-present police force, gleefully ignoring the permanent criminal underclass that exists only to be brutalized by vigilantes. It’s a warped liberal fantasy, Dirty Harry for Democrats.
Sometimes, when fighting the Roxxon goons, they will actually shout “stop resisting” at you. There’s something particularly nefarious about this phrase, obviously culturally loaded, being used in the game but transposed to a faction of antagonists who can be hated without requiring any kind of social examination. It feels like an almost insulting wink.
I wonder if there's anything in the Flag Code about this
What really sticks out, though, is the way these Spider-Man games seem so much more invested in the police and first responders as a concept than other mainstream Marvel properties. The MCU movies are not like this. Maybe it’s just because Spider-Man is more local than most of the other MCU heroes (he is the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, after all), but it’s hard not to connect the pro-cop attitude and the Manhattan setting.
This is post-9/11 Spider-Man. This Spider-Man was born from the rubble of the World Trade Center, a hero based on an idealized view of life in American cities where the only real threats we face come from outside forces who want to do evil for the sake of evil, along with the locals who have been led astray by their dastardly influence. This Spider-Man is a manifestation of that razor-thin line between liberal tunnel-vision togetherness and reactionary nationalist fervor, both of which congealed after 9/11 into a rapidly-escalating war machine. To this Spider-Man, America is already a great place to live, marred only by the presence of the bad people.
Against that backdrop, it makes perfect sense that Spider-Man becomes a willing extension of the police state, doling out punitive justice to biologically-determined criminals who have no hope of rehabilitation. The jails need filling, after all. A better future is not possible, other than by technical innovations created by elite super-powered individuals, that is.
He has his own little mask because he's a Spider-Man too
Pretty good cat, though.