In the Oscar-nominated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a half-century of wall-crawler media and merchandising tie-ins are used as fodder for in-jokes and gags, providing a running set of callbacks that delight in-the-know fans. The meta call-outs include comic books, animated TV shows, the endless succession of live-action Spider-Man movies, and half-melted popsicle bars with dead gumball eyes, making for a pretty complete highlight reel — with one exception.
The Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the epic flop that could have served as both setup and punchline to a pretty solid joke, was entirely left out of Into the Spider-Verse. It was a curious omission given the slightly anarchic and nothing-is-holy tendencies of co-writer Phil Lord and his producing partner, Chris Miller ... and indeed, the musical's absence wasn't from a lack of trying. In a movie populated by many different iterations of Spider-Man, each a celebrity in his or her own reality, the disaster-prone production was still supposed to be an oddity.
"There used to be a Turn Off the Dark joke in the movie, but there just wasn’t time for it. There was a moment before Miles [Morales] came back to Aunt May’s, after he found out about the Prowler," Miller told SYFY WIRE this week, in an interview otherwise about their upcoming LEGO Movie sequel. "They’re all hanging around waiting for him, and they’re all talking about Spider-Man in their various different universes. And Peter B. Parker said, 'Yeah, there’s a crazy musical that Bono did in my universe,' and they’re all like 'That’s crazy!'"
Bono and the Edge, the driving forces of U2, famously provided the music for the infamous wreck, which was the most expensive in Broadway history when it opened in 2011. It took years of acrimonious development to even reach opening night and was plagued by ongoing mishaps, firings, and terrible reviews before it finally flamed out and closed down in 2014. Though it signaled the beginning of mega pop culture's takeover of Broadway — Harry Potter, Mean Girls, and even Magic Mike are now musicals — it still seems, even now, like a fever dream.
That surreality made it good fodder for Lord and Miller — along with directors Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, and Bob Persichetti — but the timing of its placement was ultimately harming the narrative.
"Unfortunately, the urgency and pacing of the movie didn’t have time to slow down and have everyone just chatting about musicals," Miller explained, laughing.
Of course, the movie never takes itself all that seriously — there are still plenty of jokes around that time, Lord pointed out.
"We needed to do a Rubik's Cube joke," he cracked. "Much more important."