I have seen Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — now an Academy Award-winning film for Best Animated Feature — seven times now. Each time I watch the film, I notice more details in the beautiful, precise execution of each moment, and it always reminds me of the thoughtfulness and care that goes into the best movies. Nothing is wasted; every detail is there to add something to the emotional impact of the scene.
I’m a lead game designer at ArenaNet, and I’ve previously worked on projects with NASA. I wanted to look at my favorite scene from Into the Spider-Verse through the eyes of someone who designs games for a living to help you see why I love this movie so much. It’s my hope that I can help you see things you might have missed the first time around, or maybe gain a better understanding of why the scene made you feel a certain way, or even just get you to watch the movie for the first time if you haven’t already.
The scene is Miles’ leap of faith: the moment he becomes Spider-Man. The best way to begin is just by watching the whole thing by itself. So, first, enjoy!
You know what you have to do
The audience enters the the scene by looking up the side of a building. It’s dark and dramatic, and the lightning strikes match the beats of the music. You may recognize the building if you’ve seen the movie before: This is where Miles tried to take his first leap, but failed.
But Miles now knows what he must do to become a hero, to help the people he cares about, and it shows.
The new outfit frames his face, he’s surrounded by the city, and his face is determined. What he’s about to do is hard, and he knows it, but he also knows it’s the only way forward.
We see how Miles has arrived at this moment as he sits and contemplates the challenge ahead of him. The editing and direction take advantage of different storytelling methods in these moments. There are visual reminders of previous scenes to give us a sense of place, like the subway, and Miles’ literal journey back to Aunt May to get help. We’re shown that she was waiting for him to reach this point in his journey. We hear audio snippets of those who have influenced his path to this moment, including his mother, father, and finally Peter Parker.
My favorite detail during these flashbacks is when Miles sees his reflection in the glass that holds the Spider-Man suit. We have seen this moment before, but his face didn’t line up with the mask on display when Gwen Stacey, Peter Parker, and Miles first entered the Spidercave in an earlier scene.
It’s a visual reminder that Miles wasn’t yet the person he needed to be in order to wear the suit then. But now? His face fits the mask. Things have changed.
What’s up danger
The music builds slowly during these flashback scenes. Miles is still thinking, and considering. He’s getting ready. We hear snippets of the song “What’s Up Danger” by Blackway and Black Caviar as the flashbacks bring us to a conversation between Miles and Parker.
“When do I know I’m Spider-Man?” Miles asks.
The camera cuts to Miles pulling the mask down over his face.
“You won’t,” Peter answers. Sometimes we have to do things before we feel like we’re ready for them.
The music quiets. Another amazing shot takes over the screen.
Listen to the small audio details: Miles’ sneakers squeak on the glass, and his fingers tap against it. The song’s placement in the audio mix leaves so much room for these tiny, relatable sounds. Every small movement leads to a tiny, furtive noise of some kind.
Pay attention to how the shot is framed; it nearly pushes Miles outside of it and offscreen. The building is so much larger than he is and dominates the screen. His environment leaves almost no room for him. He’s crushed by the weight of where he is and what he has to do next.
Peter’s voice breaks the silence: “That’s all it is, Miles,” he says. “A leap of faith.”
“Now, what’s up danger?” the song asks, but it’s still low in the mix. But notice this subtle detail from the moment in which he jumps:
His fingers rip the glass from the building’s face. He didn’t actually let go — not all the way. He’s still afraid, and he still doesn’t have full control over his powers. But he does it anyway. This the manifestation of his leap of faith: Miles is doing something necessary despite his fear, despite knowing how badly this could all go for him. Miles is still conflicted internally, as part of him refuses to let go of the wall. His brain isn’t telling him that this is how he becomes Spider-Man. His brain is telling him that jumping from this height will kill him.
And yet, he jumps. Which is how he get to the signature shot of Spider-Verse:
This moment is breathtaking, and it occurs in almost full silence. This shot resembles an underwater environment, and the action slow downs before it comes to an almost complete halt.
In the script, all it says about this scene is that “Miles rises.” Feature animation editor Andy Leviton gave me some more context through Twitter, describing an earlier version that was much less graceful — and almost made the final cut.
“We called this sequence 3010 MRU — Miles Rise Up,” Leviton wrote. “The number is for organization in editorial and the acronym/name goes across all departments. It was one of the few sequences that was in the movie from the very beginning back in early 2016 and was re-boarded and recut until middle to late 2018.”
This moment flips the canvas completely, so Miles literally flies up into the city instead of falling from the sky. The skyline itself embraces him. He’s not falling, he’s becoming one with the city that he will now have to protect.
And the sound design is still taking its time. The silence drags on as Miles falls, shattering the sense of peace from that one brief moment above.
Miles is in a state of chaos as he falls, flails, and spins, and the air shoves his limbs around. We can hear his clothes rustling and the wind in our ears. We’re there with him, freefalling, and we wouldn’t know what to do in this moment either.
The beat kicks back in, but the full track is still held in check. The momentum and tension are building. The danger of Miles hitting the ground is growing. We know what’s coming, and we feel a blast of adrenaline as we anticipate it.
Because this is when Miles makes a second decision after jumping from the building. He’s locked in.
Miles falls toward the screen, into us, as the beat kicks back in. He leans into the fall completely, bringing his arms in close to his body. He’s now moving even faster, but he’s in control. He knows where he’s going.
Another short flashback then shows Aunt May give Miles the webslingers she made for him. “They fit perfectly,” she says, referencing an earlier scene, when Miles buys the knock-off Spider-Man suit from Stan Lee (!!!) and asks what happens if it doesn’t fit. That won’t be a problem here since, as the earlier shot in front of the glass proved, the suit fits now. This is Miles’ time.
Miles extends his arms upward between his legs, narrowing his eyes to until they’re almost closed. He’s barely even looking, let alone aiming with any precision. Instead, he shoots his web on faith, just like the fall itself. It’ll work. It has to work. It’s now or never.
The sound is rising in this moment, but the soundtrack is still waiting it out. The shot rests on Miles’ face, because the editing is now teasing us. We know he’s going to hit something at any moment.
The music stays low, even as the web flies all the way up the side of the building. We see the action in a wide shot and from a distance in which the web would realistically be invisible. We must suspend our belief to feel the impact, but we feel it all the same. He didn’t just shoot his web accurately — he connected that web to the top of the tallest building in the city, and the whole city was able to see.
The music doesn’t come back in until the last possible moment, hard and loud. Suddenly, everything has changed.
Can’t stop me now
Triumphant horns play, and the camera flies across the city buildings, facing down at Miles who swings directly at us, exposing the Spider-Man emblem on his chest. The symbol takes up the majority of the camera’s view for a moment. The blue city lights are contrasted by the ground, which is lit in orange and reds. This is how Spider-Man sees the world: The sky is peaceful and blue. The ground is dangerous, metaphorically on fire. The floor is lava, and it’s better, safer, for him to be in the air.
The air was, just a few seconds ago, a place of fear and uncertainty. Like I said before, everything has changed.
We now have time to marvel at and celebrate the moment after the big reveal and the dissipation of the anxiety and anticipation. I’m in awe of how well the creative team behind the movie manages to convey Miles’ personality in his version of Spider-Man.
“I run better than I swing,” Miles tells Peter when the younger Spider-Man makes his first attempts at webslinging earlier in the film, and that preference is used in this moment to keep his personality, including both his strengths and his flaws, front-and-center as he learns how to be Spider-Man.
This part of the scene originally ended with a moment where Miles slammed into and passed through a moving truck before falling to the ground.
“After falling to the ground he struggled to get up and he heard the other spider people echoing for him to get up again,” Leviton explained via Twitter. “He gets up and swings away. End of scene. This even got animated.”
The idea was to subvert your expectations about the big moment, that huge breakthrough where Miles Morales becomes Spider-Man for the first time. But it never felt right to them.
“This was only a few months before release, we scrambled in edit to mock up a more triumphant ending using boards and shots from older versions of the same scene and other old scenes,” Leviton said. “In some cases we just wrote text on the screen to describe what we wanted to see. It was turned over to layout/animation and they made the rough mock up into the epic ending you see now.”
It paid off.
Miles runs, leaps, and uses parkour much more often than the original Spider-Man, and those actions are highlighted in this scene. Some of his steps are still a little clumsy, but he makes it work. We get hints of who he will become as his confidence grows.
This scene also subverts another shot from earlier in the film to reinforce the “Miles Rises” theme that informed these sequence.
Instead of falling from the building alongside the on-screen text of “AAAAAAH,” Miles now leaps upwards in an identical shot, turning his battle cry into a “WOOOOOO.” It’s a nice reversal of fear into excitement.
We are shown more beautiful shots of Miles traversing the city in creative ways, bringing out his unique personality as he runs sideways on building walls.
We now arrive at one of the more clever touches in this already dense scene:
We’ve also seen this shot before, but Spider-Verse echoing itself is nothing new at this point, even just within this sequence. Miles had previously jumped off the building next to this one; the Trust Us Bank was previously almost off-frame, but this time, he runs straight at it to make the final leap that he could not manage before.
And finally, we arrive at this beautiful shot at the end of the scene:
The transformation concludes by adding Morales’ comic book cover to the pile of all the other Spider-People, and we get to finally breathe again after this wonderful journey.
Thus concludes a true example of cinematic majesty: a scene with so much detail, symbolism, and cross-referencing knowledge of not only previous scenes in the movie, but also what we know about the character from other takes on Spider-Man in everything from comics to video games.
This scene does everything it needs to do with the amount of skill and grace that … well, that usually wins Academy Awards.
Jennifer Scheurle is a multi-award-winning game designer and public speaker currently working as a lead game designer at ArenaNet. She’s writing a book on hidden game design for CRC Press and is known for her previous work in collaboration with NASA.
All views expressed here do not represent ArenaNet or its employees.