'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse' co-director Kemp Powers on last-minute cameos and that Twisty Cliffhanger

‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ co-director Kemp Powers on last-minute cameos and that Twisty Cliffhanger

(This story contains spoilers for Spider-Man: Through the Spider-Verse.)

These days, Kemp Powers is juggling a lot. Exiting the open of $120.7 per Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Versethe co-director just returned from San Francisco, where he helped his son move out of his college dorm.

“I’m here in Los Angeles right now, just trying to do a lot of stuff,” Powers said The Hollywood Reporter Wednesday morning. In addition to its box office success, the Spider-Verse sequel received rave reviews from both critics and audiences, following in the footsteps of the Oscar-winning debut film Spiderman: In the Spider-Verse.

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“When you work on these things for years, sitting in dark rooms with people, you get to a point where you don’t even know if it’s good or bad anymore. You’re like, are we the only ones? It’s really heartening to see the outpouring of love in this movie,” Powers says.

The film has been running continuously for years and the team worked until the last minute to perfect it. In fact, one of the best kept secrets of all has come to the end game for the Spider-Verse squad. It’s a major cameo from Donald Glover, who previously appeared in Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe as Aaron Davis in the 2017 MCU film Spider-Man: Homecoming.

While Glover has yet to appear again in the MCU, the brief cameo has always left fans hoping the door was open for the world of Miles Morales to join Tom Holland’s universe. In the Spider-Verse sequel, Glover appears briefly as an alternate version of the Prowler, holed up in Miguel O’Hara’s (Oscar Isaac) Spider headquarters in Nueva York. Ahead of the June 2 premiere date, Glover’s cameo was one of the finishing touches on the film, shot just two months earlier on April 5.

“You have to understand that these things happen very spontaneously,” Powers says.

Kemp Powers

Kemp Powers

Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Known for the critical acclaim of his stage debut in 2013 One night in MiamiPowers has worked his way through every medium, from stage to live-action film to animation (he also co-directed and co-wrote the Academy Award-winning Pixar animated film Soul). One night in Miami it was later adapted for the screen by Regina King in 2020, in which Powers received another Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay.

“Personally, coming from a theater and writing background really lent itself to working directly with a lot of our cast on a lot of these performances,” Powers says of his theater background. “It’s about having action in the narrative, even when it comes to discussions, not just someone swinging from a net. It also never loses sight of character. You remember it all the time. All these other big, bombastic things that happen, no matter how big, have to be in service of the characters, whether it’s Miles or Gwen or Peter or Hobie.

Through the Spider-Verse brings back Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Velez, Mahershala Ali and Jake Johnson, and includes franchise newcomers Issa Rae, Daniel Kaluuya, Jharrel Jerome and Jason Schwartzman. He is a blend of voice acting veterans and established film actors new to the world of animation.

Powers spent much of his time on film directing actors in the recording studio. In a rarity for animation, some of the actors recorded together and were able to interpret each other’s performances.

“A great example of that would be the scene near the end with George Stacy (Shea Whigham) and Gwen (Steinfeild) returning. It’s a pretty dramatic moment,” Powers says. “We recorded them separately, but then we also decided to go ahead and get Shea and Hailee together for a recording session, and it really elevated that scene. That’s all it takes to bring out the best and most authentic emotional performance out of it.

And with the actors’ variable schedules in the recording studio – and the secrecy surrounding the project – some actors didn’t know who they were sharing scenes with – including some who knew each other in real life.

“Eventually, I remember taping Mahershala, (who plays Uncle Aaron), and his scene, talking about the other Miles Morales, and I was like, you know who plays the other Miles Morales, right? He said “No” and I said “It’s Jharrel Jerome, I think you’ve known him since Moonlight”, recalls Powers. “He was like, ‘That boy?!’ Because everyone is so sworn to secrecy. I give the actors credit: they really keep it a secret.

Among the dozens of cameos and meme references in the film, the director was surprised by what impressed viewers the most. “One of the biggest laughs, honestly, was Lego Spider Man,” he says. “When Miguel opens up about his bracelet and says, ‘You’re one of our best Peters,’ and he goes boop, boop. This is one of the biggest laughs in the whole movie.

And while playing around with the references is a lot of fun, Powers points out that the overarching story is top priority. “At the end of the day, Miles Morales and his family have always been our lodestar,” says the director. “As he fades away, that’s when you do a lot more spitting than funny gags and stuff. Many times these things happen very organically in the moment. Like, Metro Boomin becoming a character was a coincidence where he was doing the soundtrack, and Phil (Lord) and Chris (Miller) were like, ‘Hey, wanna come over and record a couple lines?’”

He adds: “Eventually, we try to make ourselves laugh. We’re sitting there watching this being edited and making each other laugh. I like to think that, at least in our minds, we all feel like people who have good taste.”

Like the first movie, Through the Spider-Verse appoint three directors. This time it was directed by Powers, Joaquim Dos Santos and Justin K. Thompson. While Powers and Dos Santos were new to the franchise, Thompson had worked on the first film as a production designer. Beginning production in the midst of the COVID-19 quarantine, the co-directors did not meet in person for a full year after working together. And while each director brings their own unique strengths and skillsets to the film, Powers notes that they all “really do it all.”

SpiderMan through SpiderVerse arrivals

Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson

Monica Schipper/Getty Images

The directorial trio will return for the third installment Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse, which will be released on March 29, 2024. Considering the fact that the second film took almost five years to complete, a third installment slated to take less than a year is an ambitious breakthrough for the team. While the filmmakers have previously said they aren’t sure the film will make it to that release date, Powers declined to talk about the final chapter in the Miles Morales story.

“I can’t really comment on the third one,” says the director. “I’m sorry to give you just one big non-answer. But really, it’s just because people are so desperate for information, and it all ends up being misunderstood or misquoted. I swore to keep quiet. As soon as you say Beyond the Spider-Versemy mouth closes.

In regards to whether or not the writers’ strike has affected the ongoing production for the third installment, Powers declines to comment yet again. Meanwhile, the director is proud of what he has accomplished with the sequel. “I think we made a really good movie,” he says. “And that’s not an easy thing to do.”

Paving the way for the third installment, Through the Spider-Verse leaves behind a shocking cliffhanger, as Miles faces what will likely be his greatest challenge yet.

At the film’s climax, Miles discovers that his very existence within the Spider-Verse is a mistake: the radioactive spider that bit him had to go to someone else in an alternate dimension. In the closing minutes of the film, Miles returns home, or so he thinks, to save his father from a tragic fate. It turns out that he is not at home at all. It’s on Earth-42, the place of origin of his radioactive spider, where things have gone awry without Spider-Man. Miles’ father Jefferson died in place of his uncle Aaron. Left without a radioactive spider, this alternate version of Miles, known as Miles G. Morales, is a villain: the Prowler. Voiced by Jerome, Miles G. and Uncle Aaron capture our Miles, while Gwen assembles a familiar team of Spider-Mans to save their friend, lost in the multiverse.

“We made some changes after we screened it for the audience, but that cliffhanger was pretty much in the cards for a long, long time,” Powers says. “It was about making sure that while we end on a cliffhanger, we have full emotional arcs for the main characters for Miles and for Gwen, to see them evolve from one point in the beginning of the film to another point in the beginning of the film. end of the film and that they have full emotional arcs.

And according to Powers, there’s a lot more to come from Miles G. Morales. “He was such an exciting character, it was actually hard for us to keep it a secret,” Powers says of understudy Miles. “Oh man, the design is so different, it’s such a visual starting point. And to explore how Miles might have developed if he was in a different world where he didn’t have his father, he was taught by his uncle, what kind of child would that be? For people who see Miles G. Morales at the end, don’t judge a book by its cover. There’s a lot to learn about that character. He’s a very, very interesting character.”