If you think the world already has enough Spider-Men, you might not be ready for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Part coming-of-age tale, part psychedelic acid trip, and all a love letter to the comic book medium, Sony’s animated Marvel movie—written by Phil Lord and directed by Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman, and Peter Ramsey—follows Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a Brooklynite on the cusp of a bite from the same radioactive arachnid that turned Peter Parker into Spider-Man. As Miles still juggles newfound powers with the trials of being an awkward teen, Wilson Fisk (Liev Schrieber) rips a hole in reality, opening the door for the arrival of alt-universe Spideys like Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man: Noir (Nicolas Cage), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), and Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), a schlubby, out-of-shape version of Spider-Man who couldn’t handle that great responsibility that comes with all that great power. This movie is a joy, man, and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who has ever picked a webhead comic off the funny book rack.
Before Into the Spider-Verse‘s premiere, I sat down with directors Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman, and Peter Ramsey to discuss Easter Eggs, hidden Stan Lee cameos, heroes, villains, and Miles Morales’ journey.
Collider: The end result is this very complex, very wild-looking movie, so I’m wondering what your conversations were like on day one.
BOB PERSICHETTI: Oh man, day one. Day one was three years ago, this week. December 2015, was day one. It was giant aspirations, you know? Carte blanche in coming up with something different. Phil and Chris have that kind of cachet with Sony that they were basically saying, “If we’re gonna make an animated Spider-Man, let’s make it really distinctive and find the best way to make a story about Miles Morales.” Because that was the big hook for I think all of us. This is not only just a Peter Parker story. He’s a supporting role in it, but it’s a story about a contemporary kid from Brooklyn. How would you make that look? So yeah, the cuffs were off, and it was just like “Create something.” It took about a year and a half to get to where we ended up. When we released that first teaser last December, the shots of Miles without his mask on were like a day old. If you look at them now, you can see the difference.
RODNEY ROTHMAN: Yeah, that shot in the movie is a lot different than it was in that teaser. We had a lot left to learn.
PERSICHETTI: Those were our first properly lit, skinned characters and we were still trying to find out exactly how to do it.
What’s the relationship like with the script itself? There’s the art, the comic book aspects that pop up, how much of that is in the script, how much is down to the art department, how much is on you?
PETER RAMSEY: It’s an insanely organic process. Even the writing of the script is part of that whole flow, so there’s very little delineation between like an actual script page and what ends up in boards or what comes out of the art department. It’s all a really free-flowing sort of thing that we all just shepherded along and threw things in the pot, stir, and stir, and taste it. See where we are, then it’ll bounce back to pages. Its one of those things that it’s like, it really was all about the film as a process in and of itself rather than, “Here we have a finished script. Now we will do exactly what’s on the page and nothing more.” It was much more alive than that.
ROTHMAN: Some ideas start in the script. Most ideas, a lot of ideas happen downstream from the script and then as we’re working on the script, if we have to tweak or rewrite a scene, all of a sudden we’ve seen what animation is doing, or we’ve seen what the art department has added. And that makes us think of this other idea. It is a really organic process of seeing what the team is doing and then refining what you’re doing and emphasizing things that seem to be working well and disappearing things that aren’t.
Miles Morales isn’t a character that fans have gotten a lot of time with outside of a comic book page. What were your discussions like deciding who you wanted your Miles Morales to be?
PERSICHETTI: A kid from Brooklyn, first and foremost. He’s meant to be your average teenager from Brooklyn with a loving mom and dad. That’s the big difference between him and Peter Parker is he still has both his parents. We tried to make him as relatable as possible, because even though it’s a radioactive spider that triggers it, it’s really just a simple coming of age story for him. Putting him in New York, and thinking about all the aspects of this film, a lot of the different cultural aspects of this film originated in New York from comic books to hip-hop to graffiti to the idea of Spider-Man, period. It was really just trying to create a kid who maybe had a little bit of a creative soul in him and was searching for an identity. Making sure that he was challenged and grew and had like a radioactive puberty [laughs].
ROTHMAN: Studying [Brian Michael Bendis’] comic books, Miles is a very endearing character. He’s very sweet. He isn’t exactly nerdy like Peter Parker. He’s not the coolest kid around, but he has his own personality. A lot goes unsaid with Miles, that’s something we definitely were inspired by. He seems to have a rich internal life. We lean into that in our portrayal of him, we try and portray a kid who is struggling to figure out who he was and caught between different things and had a lot going on under the surface. As we saw what our animators were doing to depict his performance we grew more confident in the fact that Miles didn’t always have to tell us what he was thinking or feeling. He could show us. The animators were conveying what was going on behind his eyes very well, so we started to push more toward that.
What did you want out of Shameik Moore’s vocal performance in terms of portraying all those traits you just mentioned?
RAMSEY: Well it’s a big reason we cast Shameik. Because Shameik, when we all first heard him, he’s got this immediate vulnerable, innocent quality to his voice. And then there’s just like an eccentricity to his phrasing, just the cadence of how he delivers a line of dialogue was so unique. It let you into that character like there’s no wall between you and him. When you take that and you animate a performance to it, it gives you something that’s really different. You can’t always put your finger on it but it really imbues that character with a real inner life that you can feel. It doesn’t sound stock, which is something we were always trying to avoid.
PERSICHETTI: We actively tried to not cast him, only meaning that we found him really early on. We’d seen Dope and were like like “ooh.” He was doing The Get Down in New York and we shot him some script pages. He recorded himself into his phone and sent it back to us and we were like, “this is really good.” It’s got a real idiosyncratic, unique quality to it. Then we spent like 6 to 8 more months, we did open casting call. He was the best version of Miles.
One of the beauties of animation is all the things you can stick in the background, and this movie has a lot going on in the background. Is there anything you’re particularly happy made it in?
ROTHMAN: Stan Lee has more than one cameo in the movie.
PERSICHETTI: The easiest to spot, because you don’t have to stop the film, is when Peter and Miles are on the ground on the sidewalk, after they’d fallen from the train, there’s a dog who smells them with a guy who walks over them. That’s Stan again. On his way home from work. But then I will say, there are many, many train scenes. Subway shots. If you just pause, he’s in a lot of them. That guy is all over New York. He’s a busy man.
There’s a lot of villains you wouldn’t think of in the movie, there’s Tombstone, there’s Scorpion. Were these always the names you wanted in the movie or did they change over time?
RAMSEY: Those guys were always there, from Phil’s initial treatment. The earliest drafts.