New Spider-Man has viewers seeing double
After six movies in 16 years and a top-selling video game just released, it might appear that the Spider-Man story has been well and truly told.
You know how it goes: geeky New York teen Peter Parker gets bitten by radioactive arachnid and wakes up to find he has superhuman strength and the ability to climb walls, then discovers that with great power comes great responsibility and swings from buildings nabbing bad guys as the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.
But in fact, ever since the late, great Stan Lee dreamt him up in 1962, Spidey has come in many shapes and sizes, so many in fact that an all-encompassing term was coined four years ago for a comic book storyline to gather them together: the Spider-Verse.
That term has now inspired a new animated movie opening this week, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, that not only includes a couple of versions of Peter Parker, but also a Spider-Woman, a robot anime Spider-Man, a Spider-Man noir from 1933 and even an anthropomorphic pig called Spider-Ham.
The visually-spectacular tale of alternate universes colliding - masterminded by Chris Miller and Phil Lord of The Lego Movie fame - is all told through the eyes of an African-American-Latino teenager called Miles Morales, who is also bitten by the spider and learning how to use his powers when the other versions crash his world.
Morales was a big deal when he was introduced in 2011, inspired in part by the election of the USA's first black president, Barack Obama, three years earlier. Many, including the Marvel figurehead Lee, welcomed the injection of some diversity into the comic book world, which went on to feature an African-American Captain America, a female Thor, a Korean-American Hulk, a female Captain Marvel, a Pakistani-American Ms Marvel, a Mexican-American Ghost Rider and an African-American Iron Man. Predictably, other detractors called it political correctness gone mad or a publicity stunt.
But one teenager who sat up and took notice was actor/musician Shameik Moore, best known for his roles in indie hit Dope and Baz Lurhmann's short-lived but funky-as-all-get-out Netflix drama The Get Down. Four years ago in a burst of philosophy inspired positive thinking, the now-23-year-old African-American actor wrote "I am Spider-Man" in his journal and now provides the voice of Morales in Into the Spider-verse.
"When I was younger I saw a version where Miles Morales made a quick appearance in a Disney show or something and I felt like I was him, like somebody drew my face on the screen," says Moore. "Ever since that it has really impacted on me and I have always been interested in Spider-Man.
"That's one of many things in that journal. Later on that year I ended up premiering the movie Dope at Sundance and Phil Lord was there. He saw my performance and was interested in me being Miles Morales. Then it took six or eight months until we finally inked it and I was Miles Morales."
While Moore welcomes the diversity of Into the Spider-verse and the fact that now young girls and non-white children can relate to a beloved superhero that's closer to their own person experience, he's at pains to point out that no one is trying to replace the mythology that has existed for close 60 years. He's more interested telling new stories - acknowledging the success of this year's Black Panther - and believes creativity and originality are the keys to representation, on film or anywhere else.
"I am happy to be playing the black one but I didn't not like Spider-Man because he was white," he says.
"To be honest, I didn't even think about it. Like when I watch James Bond - those are some of my favourite movies and the fact that he's white meant nothing to me. I didn't think that I wasn't cool, or I couldn't be a version of 007. I never wanted to be 007, I wanted to be in a movie like 007 - I want my own franchise and I have always been that way.
"I'm black, so I feel like I can say it but there is no point in representation if we are just taking from other people. So if I am like, 'Hey, 007 is white, let's make him black', where's the creativity in that? That's lazy and just taking from another culture and that's not what we should be about."
To that end, Moore plans to stay firmly in control of his own career. He's already setting himself career goals years into the future and instigating his own projects. Having already juggled his twin passions of music and acting in Dope and The Get Down, he's planning to devote next year to his music. While he was disappointed that The Get Down didn't quite hit the mark with viewers and was cancelled after just one season, he says his experience with Luhrmann, his wife Catherine Martin and their production team was invaluable.
"People pay to go to college for that type of experience and I got paid to be with him for two years," Moore says.
"I got very close to Baz and the DP Will Rexer, CM handling all the wardrobe. I saw a real set and got to learn a whole lot about everything - and seeing the final product, I am a sponge, I know that about myself. It's all about who I am around and what we are doing and I take their energy and learn superfast. If I spent two years on set with someone like Baz Luhrmann, then I am just going to show you what that means."
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse opens on Thursday.