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[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Sony/Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.]
A hero is only as good as his villain, and Spider-Man: Homecoming is the rare movie to really deliver on that.
Screenwriters Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley contributed to a number of inventive decisions for the film, such as Spider-Man (Tom Holland) actually being afraid as he scales the Washington Monument or giving him an A.I. pal named Karen (voiced by Jennifer Connelly).
But the pic’s most startling scene is also its most intimate, one that doesn’t rely on set pieces or action. It’s a tense moment in which Peter Parker makes a discovery about the Vulture (Michael Keaton), giving both of the film’s stars their meatiest work in the movie.
In a conversation with Heat Vision, Goldstein and Daley dig into that revelation and more, including what Spider-Man’s life looks like following that final Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) scene, how they managed to introduce a number of villains without overcrowding the movie and the classic Spidey comic book moment Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige championed.
With the Washington Monument scene, you actually fear for Peter, and you really do think he might fail, which is quite rare for these movies. How did you craft that?
Jonathan Goldstein: We wanted the movie to focus on him coming to terms with his new abilities and not yet being good with them, and carrying with him some real human fears and weaknesses, like a fear of heights, because nobody ever dealt with that before. You just sort of assumed, “He gets bitten by a spider, he’s totally comfortable on top of tall buildings,” but why did that have to be the case?
John Francis Daley: Also, when you start small, it gives you such a place to go. Even within the context of this movie, I don’t think you would feel that fear of heights or even the vertigo the audience feels in that scene if you establish him as swinging from skyscrapers at the top of the movie. We really wanted to dive into the evolution of this character and spend some time in those early stages, because even though it isn’t this origin story where he’s bitten by a spider, which we’ve seen a million times, it is sort of an origin story of him finding his place in the Marvel Universe.
We knew he’d have a cool suit, but I don’t think we knew Karen would be such a fun take on JARVIS. How did she come about?
Goldstein: That was part of the decision to bring in Tony Stark, have him play a larger role in this. By giving the suit capabilities like those of the Iron Man suit, it made him more integral to Peter, so that way when Tony does take the suit, it means that much more. He’s lost access to all these special abilities that haven’t been in the prior movies.
Daley: There were multiple meetings when we were first outlining stories, just working with Marvel and [director] Jon Watts, where we were talking about all the cool things the suit can do, like it comes on loose and then it fits to your body. It felt like a natural way to play with the parameters of the suit and the fact that there are so many web-shooter combinations. It really plays into the wish fulfillment for kids, where you get a shiny new toy that has all sorts of fun stuff and you’re still learning about it. And by the same token, it’s also intimidating, like being given a car and not any lessons on how to drive it. So he’s constantly at odds with his suit and not quite knowing how to operate it yet.
The standout scene doesn’t involve anything big or fancy. It’s just Peter, Liz (Laura Harrier) and her father, the Vulture, in a car. What were your inspirations there?
Goldstein: Some of our favorite scenes are where the villain doesn’t yet know, but the audience does and you watch the villain realize who he’s with, and that’s sort of both of them discovering who the other is. There’s just inherently great tension to that.
Daley: It was a scene we were sort of giddy when we first came up with it, because it’s taking the obvious tension of meeting the father of the girl that you have a crush on, and multiplying it by 1,000, when you also realize he’s the guy you’ve been trying to stop the whole time.
Goldstein: Jon Watts did a really nice job. You think you are on a high-school movie track, and then you are slammed right back into the superhero/villain story. And the two converge very nicely there.
Ned (Jacob Batalon) was great — from being the guy in the chair to having to lie and say he was looking at porn in the computer lab. Was that your line?
Goldstein: I don’t think the porn line was ours.
Daley: The whole notion of him being the guy in the chair was a running gag we came up with, because it’s really just playing into the movie trope you’ve always seen. It’s not like the characters in these movies aren’t familiar with these tropes. They exist in “the real world,” presumably.
Goldstein: Simon Pegg in Mission: Impossible.
Daley: Exactly. There are so many characters like that guy in the chair, it was just nice to make fun of that convention.
Goldstein: And to be able to place it organically in a high-school computer lab. We specifically said it’s got to be a swivel chair, and multiple computers.
Daley: At one point, I think we had a runner between Peter and Ned, where Peter is like, “Why do you need multiple computers? Why don’t you just use different windows on the same computer?” He’s like, “Because it’s not as exciting!” Even the whole thing where he’s pulling the specs of the Audi to tell him how to turn the lights on, that was contrived. “Pulling up the specs.”
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had a Sinister Six setup, and that didn’t go so well. Here we’ve had plenty of villains, like Shocker and Scorpion. How did you make sure not to overdo it with the additional villains?
Daley: I think if you treat it all as an origin story, not just of our hero, but also of our villains and you see where they come from, it just gives them more humanity and relatability. Otherwise, you’re just dealing with a mustache-twirling evil genius who has millions and millions of dollars to create his evil technology. All of a sudden, you don’t care about that person or relate to them in any way.
Goldstein: It’s all for the intention to make this movie exist in a much more grounded, and in some ways, a low-stakes world, where it’s not about world domination, or these abstract things. It’s just a guy with a beef who’s trying to provide for his family. We also felt this is a starter version of Spider-Man. If you put him up against Doc Octopus or someone like that, he’s going to get his ass kicked.
Daley: Or he’d call the Avengers. That’s the other thing. We have to acknowledge the existence of the Avengers in this world, so if the threat became world-threatening, you would obviously bring in the big guys to handle it.
How did you decide that he wouldn’t take up the offer to join the Avengers?
Goldstein: It’s part of the overall arc for where Peter is in learning that he doesn’t need the suit to be a hero, nor does he need membership in the Avengers to be a hero. He is his own guy, and the ultimate embrace of that is turning down an offer from Tony Stark.
At one point, you have Peter buried under rubble, which has to be a top five iconic Spider-Man moment from the comics. I was quite moved by that scene, and that must have been quite tricky to adapt.
Daley: That allusion was something Kevin Feige really wanted to put into this script, because it sort of embodies the internal struggle that Peter Parker is facing throughout, where he is his own greatest enemy in some ways, to have to accept himself before he can do anything helpful for the world. We have him starting the scene with such self-doubt and helplessness, in a way that you really see the kid. You feel for him. He’s screaming for help, because he doesn’t think he can do it, and then in the context of that flashback, he kind of realizes that that’s been his biggest problem. He didn’t have the confidence in himself to get himself out of there.
What does the story look like going forward now that May knows Peter’s secret?
Goldstein: It just sort of diminishes what is often the most trivial part of superhero worlds, which is finding your secret. It takes the emphasis off that, lets her become part of what’s really his life, so it’s not cloak-and-dagger stuff. It’s how does he best use these powers to help the world, help himself and his family and act responsibly. What’s funny is, when we first went in to Marvel, we said we were imagining that Aunt May would be a Marisa Tomei type, and they kind of exchanged a look, because they were already secretly in negotiations with her. So things worked out well; we were all on the same page.
Daley: It sets up a fun storyline of having this maternal figure, who is supposed to protect this kid, but also knowing this kid is so much stronger than she is, and in fact his job is going to be to protect her, presumably.
If you had to pick one moment you are most proud of from the movie, what would it be?
Goldstein: For me, it’s probably the sequence in the car with Keaton, where you see him realizing. There’s just so much fun in what’s going on in Peter’s mind is he’s finally got the girl of his dreams. They are going to the dance, and he thought he had it made, and then to realize this terrible truth of who she is and who he is. It’s a blast.
Daley: It’s fun to hear that audible reaction from the audience as they discover it. We started as purely comedy writers, and the biggest show of validation that we could get is to get laughter from the audience when we have a joke that works. And the equivalent of that in the sort of dramatic realm is to get a gasp from the audience with a bit that they didn’t see coming. It’s so satisfying to see people kind of get emotionally caught up and surprised by what happens.
For more from Goldstein and Daley, check out part one of our conversation here.
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