*Warning: The following article and audio interview contain major spoilers for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse*
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse greatly expands what the previous movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse introduced, by thwarting Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) in a Spider-Society, where different versions of Spider-Man save their timelines by preserving “Canon Events.” Composer Daniel Pemberton returns from the first movie and explains, in an interview with Awards Radar on Zoom, that his approach to the score for this installment was in line with how the film expands its worlds:
“The first film very much dealt with Miles and his journey. The second film expands the universe. Massively, you get all these different worlds and characters. From a musical point of view, there was so much more to play with. Similarly, the film introduces new art styles for each universe, which meant I had to do the same with the music. Each universe has its own kind of sonic palette, and each character has its own sounds and melodies. You try to create this incredibly rich and complex world where everything can interplay with each other. The big thing about this movie is that if you write a theme for one character, you have to somewhat connect it with other characters, which makes it a massive game of 3D chess.”
Pemberton also discussed the process of scoring the opening track of the movie, where Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) plays the drums with her bandmates (voiced by Ayo Edebiri, Nicole Delaney & Antonia Lentini). The composer explained that he wanted to start the film in the same way as the first but instead flipped expectations and tried something completely different:
“I’ve always thought the openings of the Spider-Verse films to be very important. In the first one, I thought we created something really cool with the rise that goes into the scratch. I was always trying to pitch the filmmakers that we would start each movie with the same track, and it would be like James Bond, where you get the Gunbarrel. I thought we could have that for Spider-Verse. However, because everyone likes to push boundaries, the filmmakers wanted to try something new. They were very much like, “Let’s make people think they’re going to get that and then flip it.” Phil Lord was a big advocate for trying to do that and push the opening with Gwen. I think the drumming was a good way to surprise people and instantly take them to a different place.
We tried some stuff early on, and I wrote several pieces to fit the opening theme. But it wasn’t a lot of fun initially because the track used to be quite mopey because Gwen is not in a good place now. But it didn’t make sense because we were starting the film on a bit of a downer. Suddenly, we found the piece at the beginning and end of the film, and it was one of the first pieces I wrote for this project. I wrote it on day one, and we forgot about it. We threw it in the bin along with a million other things. When we were trying to work out how to solve this opening to make it more exciting, we suddenly found this piece, and we were like, “Oh my God, that’s it.” It wasn’t easy as that, but that’s the short version of how we did it.”
Pemberton also discussed the film’s ending theme, which “bookends the beginning and end of the film. Of course, that’s on purpose. There are so many connections in this music. If you have nothing to do with the rest of your life, you could spend a long time trying to work out all the things I’ve tried to do, and I’m very conscious and protective about the score. Even in the first film, certain sounds are referenced in the second film. There are more obvious things like melodies and themes. The first sound you hear in the first film turns out to be the sound of the multiverse. You hear that when Miguel O’Hara [Oscar Isaac] explains it for the first time. It is trying to take noises that represent characters, which some are very recognizable, like the Prowler [played in this movie through different iterations by Donald Glover, Mahershala Ali, and Jharrel Jerome], and Miguel, for example. There are also certain sounds that represent canon events, the portals, Miguel’s tech, the family, and so many different things, and they’re all trying to work together. It’s quite exhausting to get this whole thing to work. However, I think we all managed to do it quite well.”
There was a lot more to discuss in our audio conversation (seen below), including his collaboration with directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson, the process of scoring the world of Mumbattan and the Canon Event track, balancing out the score with Metro Boomin‘s original songs, his process on scoring action sequences and many more.
You can now check out the full conversation below and see Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse in theatres.
[Some quotes have been edited for length and clarity. Parts of the audio conversation have also been slightly edited.]