Like so many others, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers grew up loving Spider-Man – from the animated TV series and action figures to Sam Raimi’s live-action movies with grown-up Tobey Maguire. But when the writing team (“The Lego Batman Movie”, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”) was recruited to work on “Spider-Man: Homecoming” in 2017 with Tom Holland, about six weeks before production, their attention wasn’t on the web-slinger. It was about the villain of the film, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton).
“I think everyone knew the villain needed help,” Sommers says. “We have certainly worked a lot on this. “
Fortunately, McKenna and Sommers’ efforts on “Homecoming” ended up being a five-year odyssey with the friendly neighborhood web-slinger. They are the only screenwriters credited on 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and the highly anticipated “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which opens worldwide on December 17 and aims to bring at least this chapter to the Peter’s trip to a loved one. The duo shared with Variety some highlights (spoiler free!)
Swinging by the seat of their pants
On “Homecoming,” McKenna and Sommers quickly learned that working with Marvel Studios (which co-produced Holland’s “Spider-Man” films with Sony Pictures) can be an exercise in establishing tracks after the train leaves the station. Originally, Peter and Toomes weren’t supposed to fight until the third act, but the writers felt that the characters had to fight much sooner.
So, while filming a scene in which Peter and his classmates leave for a school event in Washington, DC, the two found themselves offering a confrontation during a truck theft to director Jon Watts and the producers. Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal who would upset the plan established for what would happen after the arrival of the children.
“I remember standing in front of Kevin and Amy and everyone in the video village and telling them, ‘There’s going to be this truck, and they’re going to use this thing,’” Sommers laughs. “They agreed that was what the movie needed.”
The added scene not only required finding a new location and collecting trucks for Toomes to steal them, but it also changed the way Peter gets stuck in a giant warehouse run by the Damage Control Department.
“There was a version where he would walk in and pretend to be with the school paper,” McKenna explains. “I don’t remember what draft it was. But it really didn’t quite work.
“It was just trying to create a face-to-face showdown between our hero and our villain, and then let him ruin one of these heists,” Sommers adds. “Kevin, Amy and Jon Watts, more than anyone, could have just said, ‘Okay, yeah, let’s do it.’ And even though we were already in production, all of a sudden there was a new sequence they were working on.
Getting the inside track on ‘Endgame’
The writers began work on “Far From Home” shortly after “Homecoming” released in 2017 – meaning they must have been educated on “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” for years. before their release.
At first, McKenna downplays the amount of information he and Sommers knew about. “It was on a need-to-know basis,” he said with a smile. But what they needed to know were two of the movies ‘biggest spoilers: Peter turns to ashes after Thanos’ disappearance in “Avengers: Infinity War” for five years, and Tony Stark dies in the climax of “Avengers: Endgame.”
The Blip phenomenon left the writers to play with what it would be for Peter and most of his friends to suddenly reappear in high school five years later.
“We were really, like all ‘Spider-Man’ movies, tackling the most important things from the ground level,” McKenna explains. “What was that fun?” What would it look like? How would this affect the school? Some children are said to have aged, some are still the same age.
Tony Stark’s death, on the other hand, obviously played a central role in how the writers shaped Peter’s story in “Far From Home.”
“He had lost someone very important to him,” says Sommers. “It got us thinking, ‘How is the villain from this movie going to make his way into Peter’s life and earn his trust? Well, he’s going to use this loss that Peter suffered, try to exploit that and fill that void for his own reasons.
Embrace the origins of comics
That nosy villain is Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). In “Far From Home,” Beck uses elaborate real-time visual effects to trick Peter into believing he’s a superhero on a mission to defeat giant, rampaging “Elementals” – all so he can put the blame on him. hand over invaluable weapon defense technology that Tony Stark bequeathed to Peter.
“If you go back to the original comics, it’s Mysterio,” McKenna explains. “He’s a special effects artist and he’s the one who’s trying to cheat Peter from the start and become a hero.” Because this reputation is so well known to comic book fans, McKenna and Sommers initially resisted using it.
“We were like, ‘Well the character can’t be just that because everyone’s going to expect it,’ McKenna says. “And then when we pull the rug out from under Peter, everyone’s going to say ‘Well, duh.'”
So they explored other options for Beck, including one that leaned even more on the Blip. “He was a guy who had all these powers because he was a thief one day in this high-tech [firm], and everyone just passed out and they ended up with all this awesome technology, ”McKenna says.
Ultimately, they landed on the idea that Beck could claim he came from an alternate universe as a “carrot” that would bring down everyone, including the public, in his story that he is. a superhero – and it worked. “Right after the movie came out, we had a reunion with Chris Pratt,” McKenna explains. “And Pratt was like, ‘I bought it. I thought Gyllenhaal was a good guy! ‘”
Exploring Peter’s Identity
Alternate universes are heavily weighted in “No Way Home”, in which Peter and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) face villains from at least two other “Spider-Man” realities. But the writers have pondered many possible scenarios outside of the multiverse, including one involving the arch-nemesis of Spidey Kraven the Hunter. (In fact, at one point, Kraven was the villain in “Far From Home,” instead of Mysterio.) The brief split between Disney and Sony over the character, which meant that Tom Holland’s Spider-Man couldn’t more living inside the MCU, also prompted McKenna and Sommers to get creative.
“We’d have meetings about it and we were like, ‘Well, what would this movie be if it wasn’t in the MCU? ”McKenna said.
“It was like every time a limitation was imposed on you,” adds Sommers. “Then it creates possibilities and stimulates all kinds of creative discussions. Fortunately, they came to their agreement before we got too far away, and we were able to join the old team. “
Through each draft of what has become “No Way Home,” McKenna and Sommers have consistently maintained the guideline present in all three films: Peter struggling with his identity as Spider-Man. Only, at the start of this movie, Mysterio told the world and made Spider-Man a villain.
“You have the impression that he settles down, comfortable in his skin, and then boom, everything explodes completely because his identity is revealed”, explains Sommers. “Now he’s just jostling himself. “
“So now he has to, once again, grapple with what it means to be Peter Parker, what it means to be Spider-Man,” McKenna adds, laughing. “It’s like therapy, talking about that stuff!” “