Spider-Man: Homecoming is a miracle of a movie. It really shouldn’t exist. With every studio under the sun vying for its own superhero franchise, Sony Pictures has merely one property under its ownership, and that’s Spider-Man. But after a franchise reboot in two The Amazing Spider-Man films that failed to reach the critical and commercial heights that Sony was expecting, studio head and producer Amy Pascal was finally able to close a deal that until then was a pipe dream—sharing the Spider-Man character with a rival studio. Indeed, the partnership on Spider-Man: Homecoming sees Sony financing and distributing the film while Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige take the creative lead, in return letting Spider-Man exist as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and pop up in those Disney-distributed films from time to time.
So when I was standing on the set of Spider-Man: Homecoming in August 2016 I A. Was ecstatic to get to see the ins and outs of making a Spider-Man movie, and B. Still couldn’t quite believe these studios had come together “for the greater good” to craft a film that puts quality above competition or profit points. And quality, indeed, was on everyone’s minds while I was on set, and it was clear that the Marvel Studios folks were incredibly excited to finally get the keys to the Ferrari, so to speak.
We’ve now seen two trailers for Spider-Man: Homecoming, but I’ve learned quite a bit more about the story and approach to the film than this marketing has let on. I wouldn’t dare spoil any surprises, but below I’ve hopefully laid out Marvel’s case for why the world needs yet another Spider-Man movie, and how Homecoming fits into the larger MCU.
The film picks up a few months after the events of Captain America: Civil War, where we were first introduced to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, and director Jon Watts’ entire theme for the film is a coming-of-age story. Indeed, Parker finds it hard to fit comfortably back into his uneventful life in Queens after having been flown across the globe by Tony Stark to battle the likes of Captain America, Ant-Man, and Falcon. It’s a bit like returning from summer camp, only to find you’re still an awkward teen at your high school.
Parker attends the Midtown School for Science and Technology, which is populated by a bunch of bright young kids but is still plagued by the same issues that affect every teen. It was important to Watts and Co. to focus heavily on Parker’s high school life, and to reflect an accurate portrayal of modern day teens in that everything seems like the biggest deal ever.
Parker struggles to straddle his two lives, one as Spider-Man fighting low-level crime on the streets, and the other as Peter Parker. Stark gave him an upgraded Spidey suit, but when Parker starts trying to tackle bigger fish in the criminal world, Stark sternly tells him to stick to pickpocketers and such, going so far as to enact a “Training Wheels” program on his suit that limits his abilities.
Enter Adrian Toomes, played by Michael Keaton. Toomes is a blue collar villain in the MCU—a guy whose salvage company was put out of business by the Department of Damage Control that just so happens to be funded by Tony Stark. Toomes is described as being akin to Tony Soprano—he doesn’t want to rule the world, he just wants to get what he feels he’s owed as a successful business owner. He and his team make a living out of scavenging alien technology and debris left over after Avengers fights, and indeed his Vulture suit was crafted out of some of this found technology.
How Vulture and Spider-Man first cross paths is left under wraps for now, but suffice it to say Peter Parker wants to prove himself as a genuine superhero worthy of being an Avenger, and doesn’t go out of his way to ask Iron Man for help.
There was a palpable excitement over this teen-centric story from those working on the film, and indeed Watts gave Holland and his co-stars a litany of 80s coming-of-age films to watch as homework. As for whether Zendaya is actually playing Mary Jane, producer Eric Carroll assured us that Zendaya is playing a character named Michelle, and when we see the movie her name will indeed be Michelle.
But Zendaya’s casting was part of a conscious decision on Watts’ part to fill out an ensemble that reflected what a real Queens high school would look like today. In other words, your entire student body is not going to be white—it’s going to be a diverse swath of kids, and that was something that was important to Watts in putting the cast together for this movie.
All of this only scratches the surface of what I learned during my brief visit to the set—where I also got to see Keaton shoot a scene in Toomes’ warehouse with Holland’s Spider-Man. Below you’ll find a series of interesting nuggets of information that I gleaned from my time in Atlanta, and along with links to full interviews and more pointed stories.
I’ve had my issues with some Marvel movies in the past, but I can confidently say that I walked away from the Spider-Man: Homecoming set optimistic that Watts and Co. have put together something that’s unique not only in the MCU, but also stands apart from the previous five Spider-Man movies we’ve seen over the last 15 years. If Watts’ character focus and John Hughes-esque tone shines through in the finished film, we could be in for something really special.