Long before the MCU was dominating box offices around the world, Sony’s Tobey Macguire-fronted Spider-Man trilogy sparked the revival of the long dormant superhero movie. The studio sought to make lightning strike twice, rebooting the property with Andrew Garfield in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man. But after its sequel crashed and burned, it seemed the wordy web-slinger was done with the big screen. That is, until Sony and Disney combined forces to resurrect Spidey once more in Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War.
Fresh off the success and fan love, Spider-Man: Homecoming has Tom Holland starring as Peter Parker, the Queens teen whose incredible abilities empower him to fight back against the evil mechanizations of the metal-winged thief, The Vulture.
So how does this rebooted Spider-Man make sense in the sprawling MCU? How does he compare to the web-slinging Spideys we’ve seen on the big screen before? We took to Atlanta to visit the set of Spider-Man: Homecoming to find out all this, and much much more.
FORGET THE SPIDER BITE AND UNCLE BEN
Spider-Man: Homecoming picks up about five months after Civil War. So, Peter’s already had his spider sense and other powers for about 11 months. Marvel producer Eric Carroll stressed that they didn’t want to rehash plot lines moviegoers had already seen (twice) before. So, there’s no flashbacks to radioactive spider bites, no Daily Bugle side-gig, and while the late Uncle Ben is mentioned, he won’t be a defining element of Peter’s MCU story.
“We’re trying to tell is this sort of fun story of the kid who is doing all the wrong things for the right reasons,” Carroll explained. “And once you do that, it stops becoming a fun movie about a kid trying to be a kid. He’s mourning the loss of a parent.” Instead of retreading the origin and Uncle Ben tragedy, Homecoming will focus on Spider-Man getting a taste of the Avenger glory and heroism, and wanting more.
IT’S A SMALLER SCALE STORY, BUT STILL BIG ACTION
Though Spidey’s tangled with the Avengers, he’s not yet on their level, heroics-wise. For Spider-Man’s story to make sense in the MCU, he needs to have an adventure that’s big enough to thrill summer moviegoers, but small enough that it makes sense the Avengers wouldn’t swoop in to save the day or steal the spotlight. (Think Ant-Man.) So Spider-Man’s not saving the world as much as his corner of New York City.
“The other movies have shown what I described as the Penthouse level of the Marvel world,”director Jon Watts explained. Peter’s story is more studio apartment. All the essentials, less of the perks, like glory or cool quick-changes.
“When he’s in the alley changing into his suit,” Carroll shared, “It’s more like a guy trying to pull on long johns, than it is an awesome thing. And we think this is a fun twist on all this because putting on an onesie is not sexy. It’s not cool.”
“We’ve seen the sort of Norse God, we’ve seen the billionaire, we’ve seen the soldier – now we get to see the kid,” Holland said. “What would a 15-year-old boy do with super powers? So the opening act to the movie, you see Peter really trying do discover who he is and what he can do…And that was something I was very passionate about.”
PETER’S YOUTH AND ENTHUSIASM ARE KEY
Unlike the Peter Parkers who have come before, baby-faced Holland actually looks like a 15-year-old. Watts felt focusing on Peter as a more authentic teenager would help distinguish his Spider-Man from the past incarnations, noting, “the (Sam) Raimi one he’s only in high school for like ten minutes.” He added that to have “Peter Parker be a kid that opens up a lot of possibilities that are only really explored at the beginning of the other two versions of the films.”
Spider-Man: Homecoming rejoices in the high school world that brings Peter into contact with friends, crushes, parties, field trips, and bullies. Peter struggles to find a work/life balance between being the socially stumbling sophomore and the friendly neighborhood hero New York City needs to defend them from the assaults of the Vulture (Michael Keaton).
“This is a guy who grew up in a world where all these characters are real,” Carroll said. “Seeing it from the ground, what is that like? How is that different?” Essentially, imagine if superheroes were real, and not only were they your idol, but you–for one brief battle–got to be one of them.
PETER LIVES AN MCU FAN’S DREAM
Spider-Man: Homecoming kicks off with the super-powered teen enjoying a Stark-funded trip to Europe, complete with private planes, fancy hotel rooms, and some admittedly reckless explorations with his Stark-designed Spidey suit. Showing Parker reveling in his powers and new tech is a crucial part of Marvel’s arc for the character. Carroll said, “Of course, the Spider-Man mythos is what it is, and we’re very beholden to that. But at the same time, if you’re sixteen and you get Spider-Man’s powers, you don’t go straight down the ‘power of responsibility.’ You don’t go straight down the ‘heavy is the head-type’ thing.”
But after the relishing of his super summer in Europe, mundane reality crashes down hard in the first act. “After seeing all this amazing, glamorous stuff we–boom–hard cut to him back in his cold weather gear. Riding the subway to school. Crammed next to all the other students, riding public transportation to school and we’ll realize that he’s still waiting for his call from Tony. ‘Alright man, radio whenever you guys need me, let me know. I’m still here.’ Sends them a couple texts. Tries to get ahold of Happy, ‘Hey man, I don’t know if you guys lost my number but I’m still here, so just let me know. Whenever you need me.’ But that call never comes.”
IRON MAN HAS MORE THAN A CAMEO
Sure, you spotted him in a couple of shots in the trailer, and out of his Iron Man armor. But Tony Stark has a strong presence in Spider-Man: Homecoming, serving as a reluctant mentor to the high-swinging superhero he pulled from the minor league to the majors. Robert Downey Jr. has about five scenes in this film. But it’s not so much a father/son feel. Holland described Iron Man as a “big brother” figure to Spider-Man, adding “It’s a very different side of Stark than you’ve ever seen before.”
On set of Civil War, Holland and Downey began to establish this fraternal dynamic, when the Iron Man star offered the new Spidey some advice on acting. “I remember doing that scene with Robert,” Holland recalled, “And I asked one of the prop guys, ‘Can you walk me through what we’re doing here? Because I was unscrewing a DVD player,’ and Robert was like, ‘Dude, I don’t know what Tony Stark does. He’s like, just act, dude. You got this.’ It was great!”
SPIDER-MAN MEETS HIS FIRST NEMESIS
Before Spider-Man was jetting off to mix it up with the Avengers in Civil War, the origin story of his first nemesis began with The Avengers. Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s cold open begins with Adrian “The Vulture” Toomes, a blue-collar businessman who has an understandable grudge against New York’s untouchable billionaire playboy. Using Chitauri technology snatched from the ruins of the the Battle of New York, he’s got his sites on stealing back from Stark Industries the opportunities he feels have been stolen from him.
But we’ve got an in-depth piece all things Vulture, so let’s move on to…
SPIDER-MAN UNCOVERS NEW POWERS
While fiddling with the suit Stark gifted him in Captain America: Civil War, our teen hero is pretty miffed to discover a “training wheels protocol” that keeps Peter from accessing all of the suits abilities. It’s Stark’s way of making sure Spider-Man can walk before he can scale skyscrapers. But the kid’s an engineering protégé, who made his own webbing. So it’s not long before he breaks the lock, and swings to a new level of crime fighting thanks to fancy features like holographic interfaces, parachutes, and an array of goodies the cast and crew kept mum on. But Holland did tease, “I’m definitely excited for you guys to see stuff that Spider-Man has never done before.”
Of course, it’s that reckless behavior that has Stark reappearing to snatch away the supped-up suit, leaving Peter to face Vulture in the shabby DIY job you saw him hide away from a prying Iron Man in Civil War. So ahead of the fight of his life, Spider-Man is back to his pre-Avengers tech.
SONY LEARNED THE MARVEL MODE OF PLUS
Sony producer Amy Pascal told us its basically unheard of for three major studios to team up the way Sony, Disney and Marvel did for Homecoming. “Everybody did it because they wanted Spider-Man to be great.” Pascal said, “The character is great and people love him. That’s good for Disney. That’s good for Marvel. And that is certainly good for Sony. So, the fact that all these companies were willing to work together to make that happen..I think that’s pretty miraculous.”
Key to this collaborative process was Marvel’s refusal to accept good enough. “They are meticulous. They are relentless,” Pascal said. “One of the great things is you’re in a meeting with them, and they go, ‘Okay, it’s good– but how do we make it better?’ I’ve never heard that before! It’s like,’ Good? Done!’ Or ‘Good? We can’t afford it’… or They’re like, ‘Okay. It’s really good. How do we make it better than this? How do we go tot he next place? How do we–the word I learned from Kevin (Fiege)–how do we plus it?” That’s their favorite word at Marvel. ‘Are we plus-ing a scene?'”
“It’s just ‘Best idea wins,'” Watts concurred, “That’s been the philosophy on the movie. And it doesn’t matter whose idea it is, it’s always worth trying. Whatever is great, you kind of know it. Being free to explore that and finding stuff has been really fun and it’s been really collaborative on every level.”
“COLORBLIND” CASTING WAS CRUCIAL
Another element of plus-ing came in casting, where the filmmakers searched far and wider to bring together and inclusive cast that would bring authenticity to this grounded Spider-Man story.
“I lived in New York for thirteen years and it should look like a school in New York,” Watts said. “It shouldn’t look like a school in the Midwest in the 50s. So I pulled a bunch of pictures of kids and documentary photos of kids in schools, and that was part of my pitch and everyone was really into that and followed through with the casting, which is so, so cool, I love the kids.”
Among those kids are Latino actor Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson, biracial actress/singer Zendaya as Peter’s pal Michelle (more on that here), biracial ingénue Laura Harrier as Liz Allan, Filipino-American Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best pal Ned Leeds, as well as Abraham Attah (Beasts of No Nation) and Donald Glover (years ago a fan favorite for a race-bent Spider-Man casting) in supporting roles.
“It was colorblind initially because it was everyone, like any kid ever,” Watts said of the auditions. “We just put them on tape…and it was an opportunity to be like, ‘Well this kid is great, we don’t have a specific role for them. But maybe we should create a small role for them or think of a way to incorporate them in some other capacity.’ When you’re developing the story and the script while you’re casting, you can keep an open mind to look for the best kids. That’s what they did.”
“I don’t want to sound like we were trying to be politically correct, because that would be a drag,” Pascal said of the decision to create an inclusive ensemble. “But it was really important, because it’s the world that we live in.”
Tom Holland surrounded by giddy journalists/MCU fans.
FOCUS IS ON GREAT FUN, LESS RESPONSIBILITY
Asked what influence he took from previous incarnations of the character, Holland said, “It’s difficult not to take influence from Tobey and Andrew because they both had such great versions of the character. I think from Tobey I’m taking his sort of less cool side of things, whereas Andrew was very cool and very sort of contained. But then with Andrew, I thought his Spider-Man was fantastic. I thought when he was in that suit, I thought he really came to life, and so there are two things I am taking from both people.”
“For me it’s just making sure I feel like a kid on set,” he continued. “really be the kid that everyone wants to be, and just have fun with it, and see a superhero really enjoy having his powers.”
But if this is a pluckier less distraught Peter Parker, does great power still come with great responsibility? To that, Holland cracked a smile and said, “That’s Tobey’s line, not my line.”
Spider-Man: Homecoming hits theaters July 7th.
What are you most excited to see in Spider-Man: Homecoming?
Don’t miss the rest of our Spider-Man: Homecoming set visit coverage: