Screen Rant talks to Spider-Man: Homecoming director Jon Watts about what sets Tom Holland’s Peter Parker apart and the film’s MCU connections. It’s been more than two years since Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios struck a deal that would welcome Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with that officially coming to pass last spring when Holland made his debut as Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War. Next, the webslinger is starring in his own solo feature, Spider-Man: Homecoming, though he’ll be joined by other MCU staples Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau).
In broader terms, Spider-Man: Homecoming marks the first full film as part of the Marvel and Sony partnership – which, it was recently revealed, includes Sony keeping the profits from this Spider-Man film. As such, although Homecoming is the third version of Peter Parker’s Spider-Man that movie audiences have been treated to in the past two decades, it’s the first time the character exists in a world with the Avengers. And, Homecoming joins a cinematic universe that has been established across 15 films over the last nine years.
During the Spider-Man: Homecoming press junket this weekend, Screen Rant had a chance to sit down with Watts and discuss his first MCU installment, how it compares to previous Spider-Man movies, his inspiration from the Marvel comics, and the movie’s MCU connections.
Third Spider-Man series, third version of Spider-Man, did you draw any inspiration from the other movies?
Yeah, of course. I mean, they’re great. I was in film school when they were shooting the very first one, so like it was such a big – like I could see it being filmed from my dorm, actually, and it was such a big influence on how to make a big, fun movie. But, as inspiring as those movies are, the bigger motivation was to just try to figure out a way to show people things that they’ve never seen before. So, even though they were inspiring, they were also kind of a challenge to not retread any of that same world.
Especially when it comes to the villains, did you not want to use any of the villains that have been used in the past.
Yeah, there’s a conscious effort to just try to stay away from anything that feels too familiar or feels like it’s something that you’ve seen before.
And this is the 16th Marvel movie…
Is it the 16th? Wow.
Yeah, so did you go into Homecoming thinking of differentiating it from those movies in terms of tone?
Well it has its own tone built in, I feel, because y’know Spider-Man was created to give a regular guy’s perspective on this crazy world and he was introduced in 1962 and I feel like I’m in sort of a similar position where they’ve built this big, crazy Marvel universe and now I get to introduce Spider-Man to it and give just the regular kid’s perspective on this world of  films that they’ve already made. So one of the best bits of homework I gave myself was just to watch all the other movies.
Did you do it all in one?
Yeah, in order. And just like make notes about – was Peter born yet, what would he know about this, what was knowledgeable to the world, what was secret. Things like that. So I got to go in and do the ground level Spider-Man pass of all of those movies and that was so fun. I felt like I was writing fan-fiction or something.
So would you say that Peter is kind of like an insert for fans at this point, because he does come in when the universe is so established.
Kind of, yeah. That makes a lot of sense. He is a fan. He’s a fan of Tony Stark. I mean, he’s probably like 8 years old when Tony is on TV revealing to the world that he’s Iron Man, y’know, like eating a bowl of cereal or something. And it’s a really funny perspective to have and to be able to explore in the movies. Like, in the comics, one of the first things that Spider-Man does is he goes and tries to join the Fantastic Four – and a lot of people don’t know that, or don’t remember that, and when I read that again it just cracked me up. He doesn’t do it, because they aren’t going to pay him [laughs] and then he like gets into an argument with Johnny Storm. To me that’s so funny and it’s just a great reminder of who Spider-Man is, and how he fits in, and what made him pop in the first place.
Were there any specific comics that you drew inspiration from for this movie?
Some directly, some visuals that we directly tried to reference. A lot of things, just sort of tonally, trying to capture the spirit of the comics. It’s such a rich history of books that any idea that I could think of, they’ve already explored somewhere in some run of the comics. So in a way, I always used them as a reference point to go back to see how a writer did it in the ‘70s. And it was fun, because you felt like you had the support of that whole world of comics that you could finally draw from in a way that I don’t think anyone had been able to draw from before because Spider-Man had been separate.
So did you do any extra research for this movie, did you read anything new or re-read something you hadn’t read in awhile?
I started at the beginning. I just really started at Amazing Fantasy and just read them straight through as far as I could. I read offshoots too, like the Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, they’re like Archie that’s all about the high school flirty drama among all the characters. Those are really fun. I read all the Ultimates again. There’s some really dark, twisted runs that happened in the ‘70s, those are really interesting – didn’t really draw from those, but they were still fun to read them. Re-read all the McFarlane stuff. I just tried to read as much as I could, because you know you’re going to use it in some way.
One of the things that’s noticeably absent from this movie is the Uncle Ben story, which movie fans have seen twice so we all know it, but what was the motivation behind not including that?
Yeah, just not showing people what they’ve seen before. We’ve seen that twice and it’s a really heavy story that can’t help but influence everything that comes after it. The goal here was to try to show people parts of Spider-Man that we haven’t seen before. And I really wanted to double down on just the enthusiasm and the excitement of what it would be like to be 15 years old and to be able to do what he could do. And, the Russo brothers set it up so elegantly in Civil War that I felt like I was just taking that and running with it.
In terms of Homecoming, how much did the movie change from the pitch or first script to what we see on screen?
I would say a lot of details changed along the way, but fundamentally the concept of the film stayed the same. Things shifted around here and there, obviously first writers did a pass, my writing partner and I did the second pass, then as you go into production you have more writers working on dialogue, just changing things as production changes. So yeah there were a lot of iterations along the way but in terms of the overall tone and shape of the story, and where it starts and where it ends, that was always the same. There was no radical changes in post or anything like that, which is nice.
How did you balance the MCU elements with keeping the story focused on Peter and making sure it stayed a Spider-Man movie?
Well, it’s Peter’s movie first and foremost, he’s just set in that world. So I just tried to do my best to let Peter’s story lead it. Fortunately, it does connect to the Marvel universe in a really organic way, I hope. So you do get to experience the larger world without losing sight of the main story, which is Peter’s.
For Vulture we get this really great actor in Michael Keaton, was he who you pictured for Vulture?
Yeah, I mean, the moment his name came up, it was like no one else will be as good as that. So then it just became like, how do we get him?
Were there any other comic book villains that you considered before Vulture?
Yeah, we talked about a couple other characters, but Vulture felt like the pretty obvious choice.
How did you decide on the secondary villains, like Shocker?
That emerged a little bit more organically, because we didn’t want the Vulture to be one lone guy staring into a mirror and cursing Spider-Man. He has this whole operation so we didn’t think about it like, who are the other super villains, it’s more of just who are the other characters in his side of the world, and then is there a way that you can connect them to something in the comics.
We get some really fun Captain America cameos in Homecoming, how did those come about?
Do you remember – I think I’m older than you, but do you remember the President’s Fitness Challenge? Did you have that in school?
Yes, I did.
When I was thinking of what would a Marvel universe high school look like, I was like their version would be the Captain America fitness challenge. So it started with that, then we just started joking around about like, what if he did more videos? As soon as that door opened up, I just couldn’t stop brainstorming more and more things. Then I made a very – I think you see it for like a split second in the movie, but we made a whole detailed DVD case of like, ‘Rappin’ with Cap’ or ‘Rappin’ With the Captain’ and it was just like messages from Captain America to the youth of today as if somehow the government had Captain America make all these PSAs for kids. And we shot so many more than are even in the movie. [They’ll be] on the Blu-ray.
Can you tease any of them?
There’s so many about just everything – brushing your teeth. Just, anything you could think of, we had poor Captain America do it. Those were so much fun, just making them in the moment, just really trying some stuff out. Chris [Evans] was so game, it was really fun. I think that was the very last thing we shot.
Because you’ve got Iron Man, Peter Parker, and Captain America, were there any other Marvel heroes you wanted to include or Avengers cameos you wanted to have?
Yeah, there were a lot of possibilities along the way, just sort of in the writing process you get to a point where you’re like, you don’t want it to just overwhelm people with like a series of cameos and things like that. No, there’s a lot you can do and I hope I get to do more in the future.
Yeah, there were a lot of easter eggs in this movie.
Yes, I love easter eggs, so I just loaded them up.
Were there any that didn’t make the cut?
Let me think… No, not really. If there’s anything that didn’t make the main cut, it will be on the Blu-ray. But nothing massive, I feel like I got all of my favorite little easter eggs in the movie in one way or another.
I know that there are two post credits scenes, did you know what they would be from the beginning, did you work with Marvel on those?
It was kind of an organic process. My first priority was making sure the movie worked and was the strongest thing possible, and then there were a couple of contenders for what the post-credits scenes should be. Sometimes it was like, should that be part of the body of the movie or is it better to come after the credits sequence? But the very, very last one was my favorite and was a last-minute addition to both write and put in the movie. But once that clicked, I think it might have been my editor’s idea, once that clicked – there’s nothing better. It’s worth waiting for.
So moving on to the sequel of Homecoming, if you direct it, do you want to continue on with that Iron Man and Peter dynamic?
Yeah, I think that’s inevitably going to be such a big part of Peter’s life, but I also do think it’s sort of the starting point. Like you were saying, there are so many other elements and characters in this universe for Peter to interact with, I can’t wait to see what else we can do.
What else do you think Peter can learn from the other Avengers?
I like to think of what he could learn from Black Widow, but then I think like he would be too nervous to even get a single word out. If he was around her, that would be really funny. Yeah, seeing Spider-Man and Captain America together, not fighting each other, I think would be fascinating. Like there are great moments between the two of them in the comics and to see what that would be like in this world would be pretty cool.
So Sony’s doing their own Spider-Man universe with Venom and Black Cat, which of those movies are you excited to see?
I mean, I’m excited to see all of them. I know Ruben Fleischer, who’s doing Venom; we’ve known each other since [our] music video days. So like the idea of Tom Hardy being Venom is pretty cool, I’m really excited. I don’t know as much about the other movie yet, but yeah I’m so immersed in just the Spider-Man universe that I can see the potential in all of those movies.
So, if there’s one thing that you could change about Spider-Man: Homecoming, what would it be?
One thing I could change about it? It’s nice that jumps out to me when you ask me that. There’s not like, oh that one thing, I don’t want to say. It all worked out really well, I’m really happy with it.
One last question, what do you want to do next?
Take a break. Take a nap, maybe.
A young Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who made his sensational debut in Captain America: Civil War, begins to navigate his newfound identity as the web-slinging super hero in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, Peter returns home, where he lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), under the watchful eye of his new mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Peter tries to fall back into his normal daily routine – distracted by thoughts of proving himself to be more than just your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man – but when the Vulture (Michael Keaton) emerges as a new villain, everything that Peter holds most important will be threatened.
Directed by Jon Watts. Produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal. Screenplay by Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley and Jon Watts & Christopher Ford and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers, Screen Story by Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley, Based on the Marvel Comic Book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
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