On the UK set of Spider-Man: Far From Home last summer, one question was on the minds of press: How does Peter Parker’s next solo adventure deal with the cataclysmic events of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame? We didn’t get to find out, obviously. But we did learn how a different scale for Jon Watts’ Homecoming followup will bring Peter back down to street level—even as he goes on the road trip of a lifetime.
Fans who have already dashed to the box office to see how Avengers: Endgame would bring the 11 years (so far) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe adventures together know a couple of major things will impact Peter Parker coming into his next solo movie.
Firstly, Peter Parker is back—and so are his friends and family—after the events of Infinity War saw him and untold others snapped away in Thanos’ culling of the universe. Secondly, Peter’s mentor Tony Stark is now gone, having paid the ultimate price to defeat Thanos once and for all.
The events of Avengers: Endgame are things that we, on set in the summer of 2018, could only begin to wildly speculate about as Sony and Marvel began to lift the lid on Peter’s next big adventure—back then, it was still simply Avengers 4. While we didn’t learn about those things specifically, we did learn quite a bit about what to expect from Spider-Man’s globetrotting new adventure.
It’s the quote that has defined Spider-Man—been his greatest strength, or sometimes even a reminder hung restrictively around his neck—ever since Stan Lee and Steve Ditko first brought Peter Parker to life in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15. These are the watchwords that, for nearly 60 years, have guided the legacy of one of the most (if not the most) beloved superheroes on the entire planet, whether in comics, games, TV shows, or over the course of several movie reboots. Dealing with that responsibility is an internal struggle that has lent even the most fantastical of Spider-Man’s adventures a grounded, human core.
In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tom Holland’s debut as the latest cinematic take on Peter, we saw the teenaged Parker fight so hard to prove to Tony Stark that he is worthy of the responsibility his power can bring him. But on August 21, 2018, gathered press on the UK set of its follow up Far From Home learned that one big problem facing Peter in this film will be the fact that sometimes—as much as he wants a break from that responsibility—it’s something he’s always going to have to deal with wherever he goes. And where he’s going in this case? All over Europe on a school trip.
“This film is very much him trying to take a break from the responsibility of being Spider-Man, which is taking over,” Holland himself told us. “Which is quite funny, because, the first film, we were really keen to show Peter Parker enjoying his powers and really wanting to be Spider-Man. Now, we have a Peter Parker who still loves the aspects of Spider-Man, but just needs a break. Just needs a holiday, like everyone does at times! And that’s not possible when you’re a superhero and have responsibilities to save lives.”
That sense of great responsibility rubbing up against Peter’s desire for rest and relaxation—and time to grieve—drives a lot of Peter’s arc in Far From Home.
“[This movie] is about feeling, when you’re growing up, to so badly want responsibility and to step up and given the responsibility, suddenly you wake up and realize you are being treated like an adult,” director Jon Watts—returning after he entered the Marvel universe with Homecoming—said in a conversation we had over the phone after visiting Far From Home’s set. “And then you’re like ‘wait, I actually liked being a kid, and now I have to do all this stuff?’ You have to get a job...You want so hard when you’re a kid to be treated like an adult, then one day you suddenly are and realize it was possibly much better when people were treating you like a kid. But when you cross that threshold, there’s no going back.”
The conceit of the trip means that Far From Home will be bringing back a few of the younger stars from Homecoming as Peter’s fellow holidaymakers. Jacob Batalon, Angourie Rice, and Tony Revolori all return as Ned Lees, Betty Brant (who will apparently strike up a whirlwind romance with Ned on the flight over), and Flash Thompson, as will Zendaya as the object of Peter’s desires, Michelle—or as she is going by now, M.J. “Zendaya, Jacob and I sort of become this trio on camera, and it’s this great dynamic,” Holland said. “We all get on so well. The characters haven’t really changed, at all. So, for us it’s a nice stepping off point to explore new things with the characters.”
But joining the core unit of kids this time around is fresh face in Crazy Rich Asians’ Remy Hii, playing Brad, a potential rival to M.J.’s attention for Peter. “He is the kind of guy guys like me and Peter hated in high school,” Far From Home executive producer Eric Carroll told us. “His hair is always looking right, the clothes always fit the way they’re supposed to, he always would have something funny to say, and he’s read all the same books as M.J.—or at least he lies and says he’s read all the same books as M.J.”
Brad’s inclusion in the unit means Far From Home can tap even further into the high school vibe Homecoming stood out with, introducing a relatable drama that’s been a part of Spider-Man storytelling since the character’s earliest days.
“If you really look back at the old Spider-Man comics, that side of it is really as important as the superhero,” Carroll continued. “It’s almost this winning combination that people loved about Archie, and throwing it into a superhero comic. So, we want to keep that alive when we introduce the character of Brad—he’s not the stereotypical bully, but, he is an obstacle. He’s not mean-spirited. He doesn’t pick on Peter or shove him in lockers. He just happens to make the girls Peter likes laugh a lot, which makes Peter uncomfortable.”
In a trip that will see the movie venture everywhere across Europe—from Venice to Prague, from the Swiss Alps to Berlin, to the Netherlands and, as you’ve seen in the trailers, London—it won’t really just be high school hijinks and a potential rival that makes Peter a bit uncomfortable. Part of it will be that, for the first time in the MCU, Peter will cross paths with Nick Fury (played by the returning Samuel L. Jackson).
“I always wanted to put our idealistic teenage hero Peter Parker against a jaded, world-weary super spy like Nick Fury,” Watts said, adding that Fury will play a similar role to the one Tony Stark did in Homecoming, but with a harder edge coming from his shadowy world of spycraft. “I always thought that would be such a great combination of conflict and relationship to explore. That was something that was in my very, very, very first pitch and my very first meeting at Marvel—I was like, ‘I want to see this kid go up against this bad motherfucker,’ you know? Tony Stark is like the cool, supportive rich uncle. Nick Fury is more like the mean, new stepdad. And I just thought it would be really fun to see those two worlds collide.”
Nick—who will be joined by Maria Hill (played again by Cobie Smulders) for the adventure—is no longer an agent of SHIELD of course, but a little thing like his top-secret-spy organization crumbling from within doesn’t stop him from his duties. “Nick’s still doing what he does—operate out of the shadows,” Carroll noted. “There’s even a line in the movie where he’s kind of like, ‘any other interesting case files come in?’ So it sort of seems like he’s just trying to keep the planet safe in the way he does.” The latest case that has Nick and Maria all over the world, and eventually in Venice, is a threat seen pretty clearly in the two trailers for the film: elemental creatures rising up all over the planet for reasons unknown.
While in the movie those creatures are simply known as the Elementals, the four monstrous beings all have inspirations from characters Spider-Man has fought across his entire comic book history. The water and fire elementals seen in the trailer, as speculated, are directly inspired by the villains Hydro-Man and Molten Man, respectively, smaller-scale villains Spidey first fought in the ‘80s and ‘60s, with two more elementals also drawing from that comics legacy. After Homecoming gave Peter a more traditional, personal villain in Michael Keaton’s Vulture—who, we were told (contrary to rumors) will not be re-appearing in Far From Home, and neither will any allusions to a Miles Morales existing in the MCU—the creative team wanted to take on another, weirder legacy of spider-villains.
“There’s this other subset of Spider-Man villains that are awesome, and we’d love to bring to the big screen, but it seems like maybe a whole movie about Hydro-Man might not be the way to go,” Carroll noted, but for Watts, turning to these larger than life villains not only meant Far From Home’s action could be ramped up, it presented new situations that Peter couldn’t just web or gadget his way out of.
“I’ve always loved Hydro-Man and Molten Man and his ability to have a giant, elemental kind of creature for Spider-Man to fight against,” the director told us. “Anything that makes things more difficult for him and opens up visual opportunities for me, I’ll run at bat.”
Those visual opportunities first begin to really open up when Far From Home reaches Venice and Hydro-Man strikes, forcing Peter into action. Scenes we saw being shot for this moment feature briefly in the first trailer for the film, as Peter—clutching a small gift bag containing something he bought for M.J.—darts around crowds of fleeing pedestrians as he, just armed with his webshooters, attempts to both fight off Hydro-Man and keep his secret identity secret.
“So he’s watching all of this, deciding what to do—he’s on vacation, he’s not wearing his red and blue suit under this, he’s just got his web shooters with him.” Carroll told us of the sequence. “He’s got to make a decision of whether he’s going to run into action and maybe risk his secret identity or not. And of course, he’s Peter Parker, so he does—he does this really cool parkour-y thing, running up on top of the Rialto Bridge...and gets clobbered.”
It’s here, as seen in the trailers, Peter comes face to face with Far From Home’s other major addition from the comics: the infamous master of special effects and illusion, Quentin Beck, better known as Mysterio. First introduced in the comics in the pages of June 1964's Amazing Spider-Man #13, and played by Jake Gyllenhaal in the movie, Mysterio is one of Spider-Man’s oldest and most iconic foes, a long time member of the Sinister Six. But Far From Home is introducing this icon of supervillainy with a bit of a twist. This time around, he’s not a crook: he’s actually a brand new superhero.
“Mysterio enters the comic as a hero,” Watts noted, referring to Mysterio’s first scheme in Amazing Spider-Man #13, where he debuts as a crimefighter looking down to take down Spider-Man after the hero is accused of going a spate of robberies (comic spoilers: it was a setup by none other than Mysterio himself). “So, I always took it right back to the source material and what made that character exciting initially. But in terms of how we ended up with Mysterio in the first place, I mean, I wanted to put a character on screen that we hadn’t seen before...of the big, iconic villains, Mysterio was the one who jumped to the top. Because of who he is, what he may-or-may-not be able to do, it’s really opened up a lot of possibilities for the kind of story we can tell with him.”
That twist on what we know of Mysterio is Far From Home’s biggest strength in introducing a familiar, beloved character. Now instead of being another foe, Quentin Beck becomes a figure that Peter can bond with once they’re thrust together on Fury’s mission.
“It’s very much big brother, little brother,” Holland said of the relationship between Mysterio and Peter. “And Nick Fury is the head teacher who is constantly telling me off. Because I don’t really want to be there. I want to go on holiday. Mysterio is always the one sticking up for me, patting me on the back and telling me I did a good job. Which is funny, there’s really funny moments in the film where I feel like I haven’t done the job, and Mysterio’s like, ‘Good job, kid!’ And I’m like, ‘really?’”
So far, the transition to superhero rather than supervillain hasn’t really changed one thing though: Mysterio’s costume. While deeply faithful to his comic book appearance—right down to those boxy gauntlets and the fishbowl helmet—getting up close and personal with Mysterio’s gear reveals design elements that enmesh him into a decade’s worth of Marvel movies. “There was references to try to keep it in the Marvel world,” associate costume designer Michael Mooney said. “So we’re going to get influences from Thor and from Iron Man—we had some Black Panther in there. Just to keep it all in the same realm, to say, ‘this little superhero lives in the same world with the rest.’”
As to whether or not Mysterio will reveal that not all is as it seems with his alleged heroism—or even if that twist could happen in Far From Home—Marvel and Sony were playing it close to their vest.
“We wanted to find our ‘in’ and similar to what we did with Mordo in Dr. Strange,” Carroll noted. “We wanted to give them time to have relationships so when and if we get to do something different with Mysterio, it really feels like a betrayal...and we’re hopefully setting the stage for something really spectacular and that feels really Spider-Man, which is, again, if we get to do something else with this character, then they’ve already got this really personal relationship.”
With new friends, new foes, and a bunch of new locals to swing Peter Parker around in, Far From Home at times seems like it’s...well, far from Homecoming. Finding the tonal link to its predecessor was important for Holland in particular. “This one’s kind of if Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spectre had a baby,” he told us. “It has the sexy aspect of being in Europe, of having the spy mission undertone, but at the heart of it, it’s still a very similar film to Spider-Man: Homecoming in the sense that, it’s really about Peter and his friends and the lighthearted humor that they have.”
Beyond the Hughesian banter, Far From Home wants to balance the new it’s bringing to the table with some more familiar faces beyond Peter’s circle of school friends: primarily, Happy Hogan and Aunt May, whose stories will dovetail quite interestingly. Scenes we saw being worked on later in the day included Happy, as well as several of the Midtown High kids, being menaced by an unknown threat in none other than the famous Tower of London—and as each teen blurted out what could be their final regrets, Happy noted that his might be the realization that he’s caught feelings for “Spider-Man’s aunt” (“Ohh, wow, interesting. We haven’t filmed that yet!” Favreau noted, when we asked about Happy’s potential new romance.)
According to Favreau, Happy will essentially join Peter and his friends as a chaperone throughout segments of the trek across Europe. “[Peter’s] sort of—and by extension all these kids—are in my charge. Because, by association with Peter, they’re drawn into a world that’s a lot more dangerous than the high school I experienced, and what these kids should be going through,” Favreau told us after running through several takes of his revelatory scene about Aunt May.
He continued, “[Happy and Peter] went through a lot together, you know? And I think that Happy’s relationship with Tony—[and] Peter’s with Tony and Happy—he’s always been loyal to Tony. Going back to the books, too. It’s something that was—remember, I started playing this because I just wanted to give myself a cameo as basically an extra in the first one. And what’s really super strange for me is that it’s how all of this has evolved into something so...how should I put it? Every little thread plays out into other things.”
Speaking of Marissa Tomei’s take on Peter’s beloved Aunt May, she will play more of a role in the film’s establishing scenes before he jets off on vacation. But it’ll also be made clear that after Homecoming’s last-minute shock of her learning Peter’s secret identity this time around, May will fling herself right into the swing of her nephew’s crimefighting career—a suggestion that actually came from Tomei herself.
“We want to do something different than just having her be the doting grand-matron sitting at home worrying about her nephew,” Carroll told us. “And [Marissa] was like, ‘Well, what if she’s an activist and what if she’s like, this is great! Oh my gosh, you should drop out of school. You could be like, the face of the Red Cross.’” That gung-ho attitude also means that May and Peter’s relationship has evolved to a more equal understanding, according to Holland, even if she does worry. “She’s in on it. She kind of understands his power. She understands that he’s safe, most of the time,” the actor noted. “When he’s being a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, a little harm can come to him, but when he takes on bigger foes, I think she’s just as worried as she was in the first one.”
While Favreau and Tomei will serve as connective tissue between Homecoming and Far From Home, as we now know with Endgame’s recent release, one returning face will no longer be possible: Tony Stark himself. But while Tony won’t have a role in Far From Home, his spirit in the film lives on, through other means, according to Carroll. “His presence is very much felt. And [Peter] still obviously references this is the suit Tony gave him. Tony and Happy help him out in many ways along this movie—he’s very present, he’s just not in the movie.”
The absence of a major connection to the wider MCU in Tony Stark, or the cataclysmic scale of huge movies like Infinity War and Endgame might, on the surface, make Far From Home feel like a surprisingly low-key conclusion to one of the biggest, most hectic “phases” of the Marvel movieverse so far—even as it deals with some wild comic book concepts.
But for both Watts and Holland, that intimacy is part of what not only ties Far From Home and Homecoming more strongly together but also what makes Spider-Man stand out as a character within this wild universe of Earth’s (and the galaxy’s) mightiest heroes.
“The Avengers movies feel so removed from what we were doing in Homecoming, and Far From Home, especially,” Holland said, reflecting on coming off the back of Peter’s induction into the wider Marvel world in Infinity War. “Our films are about people who are so grounded in reality— very real—and then when you get into the world of the Avengers, it’s a complete opposite show. You have characters from all over the galaxy mixing with each other. And it’s a very different feel, on set. Because you have people who are blue and green—there’s Iron Man and stuff, it’s pretty crazy. But this is a bit more low-key...I always describe these movies as like, the biggest indie movies ever made.”
“I always think of it—small is the wrong word—but just as a character-based story,” Watts concluded. “Peter Parker is such an interesting character. Instead of thinking about it in the context of the larger universe, I like to think about it in the context of Peter Parker’s emotional journey. Where was he last time? Where did he end up? Where is he going to go now? And so, in terms of how to incorporate that in terms of the larger mythology, that was always a part of it, but for me, I just try to focus on Peter’s story. And make it the strongest story that I can tell.”
We’ll find out just where the next chapter of Peter Parker’s story takes him when Spider-Man: Far From Home hits theaters July 2. And keep your eye on io9 for more from our time on set.
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