SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. Read at your own risk!
There are many great surprises in the runtime of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, but certainly one of the best is the big reveal of the new Doctor Octopus a.k.a. Dr. Olivia Octavius. The film sets it up perfectly, teasing the character early on without giving too much away, and by the time her extra legs emerge to strangle Peter Parker you're grinning ear-to-ear. It's an amazing moment within one of the best sequences in the film... which is why it may surprise many to learn that it almost didn't come together. As co-director Bob Persichetti recently explained,
I pitched it, and they were like, 'No.' I will say, it was the one moment where I was like, 'Why are you saying no?'... This is the one time where it took a long time to get certain people to come around, and go, 'Okay, it can be a female.'
I had the wonderful opportunity to dig deep into spoiler territory while discussing Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse with directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsay, and Rodney Rothman a couple weeks ago, and part of that discussion included an interesting dive into the evolution of Doc Ock's role in the movie. The character was included from the very beginning, always working with Kingpin to develop the Super Collider central to the plot, but it took a long time for the filmmakers to convince unnamed higher-ups that a gender swap was the way to go.
When the movie was just starting up, the original idea was to have a male Dr. Otto Octavius, but he wouldn't have been a direct/specific adaptation of any previously established take on the character. Instead, the filmmakers played around with some inspiration from The Big Lebowski and made him somewhat similar to Jeff Bridges' legendary character, The Dude. Of course, that was a very different version of the film, and would have had Miles Morales and Peter Parker going on a cross-country adventure, according to Persichetti:
Early on it was a male version... he was probably one of the least developed characters in the first draft of the script. He was kind of inspired by The Dude, and Alchemax was actually in Big Sur. There was a really crazy, old version where they came all the way to California.
It may seem like kind of a crazy idea to take Spider-Man out of New York, but considering we've seen it recently in Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Avengers: Infinity War, it's not really that far-fetched an idea. That being said, considering that the upcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home is also going to be set away from the Big Apple, it's nice that Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse keeps the action within the city that never sleeps.
Clearly the animated feature changed quite a bit from those early developments, but the movie's take on Doc Ock is still one of the most notable. Bob Persichetti noted that the idea really started to take form thanks primarily to inspiration from Kathryn Hahn, who would wind up voicing the character in the film. He was watching one of her movies at one point during production and came to the realization that she would probably deliver a fascinating take on one of the webslinger's greatest enemies:
Honestly, I will say: Kathryn Hahn, I love her deeply, and I was watching something with her, and I was like, 'You know, it would be really cool if we made a female Doc Ock.' It'd be really cool. And who could carry both sides of it? Who can be the ridiculous, funny, buttoned-up scientist that you would never expect, and then who could be this weirdly sinister, threatening, highly intelligent supervillain?
Bob Persichetti was excited by the new approach, and from the reactions by Rodney Rothman and Peter Ramsay they both gave it the thumbs-up, but it hit a brick wall when it came to approvals from higher-ups. Apparently there was hesitance about changing the gender of one of Spider-Man's most iconic villains, and it was something that the filmmakers had to fight for to include.
Looking at the totality of the situation in retrospect, it is somewhat hard to fathom what the conflict was. One of the central points of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is that it is set in a separate universe where recognizable elements of Spidey's world aren't fully recognizable, and having Dr. Olivia Octavius instead of Dr. Otto Octavius is a great flip with that idea in mind (especially because of the aforementioned surprise factor that it offers). This very much seems like the result of textbook bad studio thinking -- the same kind of thinking that prevented Wonder Woman from getting her own film and stopped Iron Man 3 from having a female villain.
This story fortunately has a very happy ending, with Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse bringing a fantastic new vision of a classic character to life with thrilling results. Bob Persichetti also added that things all smoothed out behind the scenes as well, with plenty of acknowledgement that Dr. Ock's big introduction to the action is one of the blockbuster's great highlights. Said the co-director,
I think in the end everybody was very happy with what it turned out to be. And that sequence at Alchemax, I think it shockingly became a lot of people's favorite sequence. There's so much good in there, and she brings so much interesting performance to the table.
It's not only a great surprise, but a great character treatment, and one that will be exciting to see over and over again rewatching Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. The film, which also stars Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, Lily Tomlin, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, and more, is now in theaters everywhere -- and is worth seeing on the big screen multiple times. Between viewings, be sure to keep coming back to CinemaBlend, as we still have a lot more coverage for this feature heading your way in the coming days and weeks.