SPI­DER-MAN: HOME­COM­ING Tom Hol­land on his first solo out­ing as the web­slinger. Also: what other Tom Hol­lands think of the new Spi­der-man!

HOW A LIT­TLE-KNOWN DI­REC­TOR AND A BRI­TISH KID BROUGHT MAR­VEL’S MOST POP­U­LAR CHAR­AC­TER BACK INTO THE FOLD

Empire (Australasia) - - News - WORDS DAN JOLIN

In 1988, while grow­ing up in Foun­tain, Colorado, a ru­ral swathe of the Western United States in the foothills of the Rocky Moun­tains, the fu­ture Hol­ly­wood di­rec­tor was given a Mar­vel Comics Try-out Book. It in­vited its readers to pen­cil, ink, let­ter and colour a Spi­der-man ad­ven­ture, with the prom­ise of a pos­si­ble job at the pub­lish­ing house if they sent off the re­sults. Un­both­ered by the fact the DIY comic was al­ready a good five years old and the win­ners had long since been an­nounced, the young Watts dived in, spend­ing hours ob­ses­sively draw­ing the wall-crawl­ing hero. “That,” he says, “was my per­sonal in­tro­duc­tion to Spi­der-man.”

Ul­ti­mately, though, it was filmmaking rather than comics which dom­i­nated his cre­ative pas­sion. A few years later, in the early ’90s, his par­ents bought a new PC, which came with a CD-ROM ti­tled Cine­ma­nia. This dig­i­tal en­cy­clo­pe­dia in­tro­duced the teenage Watts to the film crit­i­cism of Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert, and in­cluded postage-stamp­sized clips of key scenes from movies such as Chi­na­town, Blue Vel­vet and The Trea­sure Of The Sierra Madre. He was hooked. He had to know more.

Soon Watts was making reg­u­lar, 60km jour­neys from his small town to the near­est video store. Weirdly, it was Tim Bur­ton’s Ed Wood that made him realise he could make films of his own. “It took all the mys­tery and glam­our away from making a movie,” says Watts, now 35. “It was like, yeah, any­one can make a movie. Just try it. Even if the grave­stone wob­bles.” So that’s what he did, rop­ing friends into making films with him us­ing a video cam­era, study­ing film at New York Univer­sity, then cut­ting his teeth on com­mer­cials and episodes of the Onion News Net­work.

It was Watts’ sec­ond fea­ture, 2015’s low-key and lit­tle-seen in­die crime drama Cop Car, which pulled him into Mar­vel’s or­bit (rather than his 2014 de­but, a hor­ror ti­tled Clown). De­spite be­ing scraped to­gether on an Ed-wood­ian shoe­string, Cop Car was no Plan 9 From Outer Space. The story of two run­away pre-teens who steal the wheels of a cor­rupt po­lice­man (Kevin Bacon), it’s like Blood Sim­ple done by Am­blin. “It’s un­be­liev­ably tense, un­be­liev­ably clever, un­be­liev­ably well done,” says Mar­vel Stu­dios boss Kevin Feige, who promptly in­vited Watts to what the di­rec­tor thought was a gen­eral ‘get to know you’ meet­ing. Un­til, out of the blue, Feige asked if he’d be in­ter­ested in Spi­der-man. That’s when the real try-out started.

IN A RARE

ex­am­ple of film stu­dios putting aside competitio­n, the Spi­der-manown­ing Sony Pic­tures agreed in early 2015 to give the Dis­ney-owned Mar­vel Stu­dios cre­ative con­trol of one of its most lu­cra­tive prop­er­ties. The friendly neigh­bour­hood crime fighter pre­vi­ously played by Tobey Maguire and

An­drew Garfield would be re­lo­cated to the wider cin­e­matic world of the Avengers.

For Feige, it has long been the clas­sic ‘whatif?’mar­vel­dream.now,with­the agree­ment of Sony’s then-head Amy Pas­cal, he was go­ing to in­tro­duce an all-new Spi­derman in 2016’s Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War, be­fore giv­ing him a stand-alone ad­ven­ture. The big chal­lenge was to make it feel fresh for au­di­ences; not only is this the sixth Spidey film in 15 years (and the sec­ond re­boot, too), but also the 16th Mar­vel movie since 2008. To help achieve this, Feige cast 20-year-old Bri­tish ac­tor Tom Hol­land, whose Civil War cameo thank­fully sent au­di­ences wild. But he also needed to find the right di­rec­tor.

“They told me the cen­tral con­cept, which was re­ally just as sim­ple as, ‘It’s set in a high school,’” says Watts of that first meet­ing. “Well, I had been writ­ing a comin­gof-age movie of my own, so I’d been watch­ing ev­ery sort of high-school movie that ex­ists:

400 Blows, the Apu tril­ogy and Todd Solondz’s Wel­come To The Doll­house, in ad­di­tion to [the films of] John Hughes and Cameron Crowe. I found my­self very well-versed in the lan­guage they were speak­ing.”

Over the next few get-to­geth­ers, he pre­sented some home­made an­i­mat­ics which de­picted, for ex­am­ple, Peter won­der­ing if his dan­ger-de­tect­ing Spi­der-sense was go­ing off or whether he was just hav­ing strange feel­ings be­cause a girl he fan­cied walked past. He also con­cocted a “fake trailer mood reel” in which he cut Mar­vel movie clips to­gether with scenes from high-school films (“Nick Fury yelling at you as though you’ve fallen asleep in class”). Im­pressed by his re­source­ful­ness, Mar­vel gave Watts the job — re­port­edly over the more ex­pe­ri­enced likes of Jared Hess and Jonathan Levine.

When Em­pire first meets Watts on set in Queens, at the end of Septem­ber 2016, shel­ter­ing from the New York rain on a raised plat­form at 75th Street-el­derts Lane sub­way sta­tion, we won­der if he wor­ried about tak­ing on a char­ac­ter al­ready so fa­mil­iar. Wasn’t this merely a re­boot of a re­boot?

“If there was any feeling of that, it was im­me­di­ately washed away when I started talk­ing with the Mar­vel crew about what they had in mind,” he says. “And then it be­came,

‘Oh my God, what can’t we do?’ There are so many pos­si­bil­i­ties when you say, ‘I’m not gonna tell an ori­gin story — I’m go­ing to put it in this uni­verse that al­ready ex­ists.’ And then when they told me about in­tro­duc­ing him in Civil War, and how Tony Stark was gonna pluck Peter Parker out of ob­scu­rity — the eight-year-old Peter had seen Stark say, ‘I am Iron Man,’ on TV — I was like, ‘Oh, I’m so in.’ This is go­ing to be a com­pletely dif­fer­ent Spi­der-man than any­one has ever seen be­fore. And it’s gonna be the clos­est to the spirit of what Spi­der-man was in the first place. It’s not a re­boot at all. It’s a re­turn to where he be­longs.”

Hence the title? “Right. Yes.” Watts laughs. “Oh! Did we do that on pur­pose?”

WHAT MOST OB­VI­OUSLY

marks Home­com­ing out from pre­vi­ous Spi­der-mans is the MCU con­text. “For the first time,” says Feige, “we can see the en­vi­ron­ment in which he ex­isted in the comics.” But this isn’t just about Tom Hol­land shar­ing more scenes with Robert Downey Jr. It’s about high­light­ing what makes Spi­der-man dif­fer­ent from other su­per­heroes.

“The ge­nius of [cre­ators] Steve Ditko and Stan Lee back in the day was say­ing, ‘We have this world full of heroes. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a kid who’s as strong and as pow­er­ful and as noble as any of them, but still has to do his home­work?’” Feige ex­plains. “You got bits of that in the other [Spi­der-man] films, but you’ve never had him as young as he is in our film.”

In Home­com­ing, Peter is only in his sec­ond year of high school — namely Mid­town High, a mag­net school for high achiev­ers in sci­ence and maths. He’s had his amaz­ing spi­der-pow­ers for less than a year, and his time is torn be­tween im­press­ing his first crush, oc­ca­sional comic-book love in­ter­est Liz Al­lan (Laura Har­rier), by join­ing her Aca­demic Pen­tathlon team, and im­press­ing his new sorta-men­tor Tony Stark. “I al­most feel like he’s au­di­tion­ing to be­come an Avenger,” says Hol­land, when we meet in his trailer be­neath the sub­way tracks. “And some­times he does the wrong thing.”

The ac­tion un­furls on what Watts de­scribes as “the ground level” of Mar­vel’s cin­e­matic world. “I re­mem­ber lov­ing John C. Reilly as Corps­man Dey in Guardians Of The Galaxy,” he ex­plains. “I won­dered what his day-to-day life must be like. I’ve al­ways thought that when I watch these huge movies. I’m like, ‘Okay, I get what all the big su­per­heroes are do­ing. But what is it like for that guy?’ Home­com­ing be­came my op­por­tu­nity to play with that idea.”

It’s not just ‘reg­u­lar’ kid Peter Parker and his friends who live on that ground level. It’s also the film’s vil­lain: Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture. As well as be­ing un­used in pre­vi­ous in­stal­ments (though ru­mours over the years have linked John Malkovich and, mind­bog­glingly, Larry David to the role) and of­fer­ing Watts a “nice, back-to-ba­sics” feel (what with the winged, el­derly vil­lain be­ing only the sec­ond bad guy Spidey ever en­coun­tered), Toomes also pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity, as Watts puts it, “to see if you could take a reg­u­lar guy and turn him into a vil­lain”.

That guy’s “reg­u­lar” job, it turns out, is clean­ing up su­per­heroes’ mess. Ac­cord­ing to co-pro­ducer Eric Hauser­man Car­roll, we first en­counter Toomes as part of the crew re­pair­ing New York af­ter the events of The Avengers… only to have his alien-tech-sal­vaging crew edged out of busi­ness by a new or­gan­i­sa­tion called Damage Con­trol (named af­ter a Mar­vel mini-se­ries from the late ’80s), just as he’s got him­self into heavy debt. “That puts him in a pretty des­per­ate sit­u­a­tion. So with one of the trucks they’ve al­ready loaded up, he and his crew, with the help of a char­ac­ter called the Tinkerer (Michael Ch­er­nus), start steal­ing more of this ex­otic tech — Chi­tauri, Dark Elf, even some Stark stuff — to retro-fit and sell on the black mar­ket.”

This con­cept ap­pealed to Michael Keaton when Mar­vel ap­proached him to play Toomes. “It’s such an in­ter­est­ing take on a vil­lain,” he says. “Adrian Toomes has a very strong ar­gu­ment to make, which is: ‘Ev­ery­body has taken theirs,

and they’re in the power po­si­tion. Well, I’ve been a hard-work­ing guy all my life. What about me?’ That gave me a good start­ing point.”

Even af­ter his ex­pe­ri­ences play­ing Bat­man and Bird­man, bring­ing the Vulture to life for bouts with an in­ter­fer­ing young, web-sling­ing punk was an ex­haust­ing process for the 65-year-old. “Thomas is a tough guy to keep up with, man,” Keaton laughs. “He can go.”

HE SURE CAN.

On 1 Oc­to­ber, Em­pire is in­vited to the Franklin K. Lane Ed­u­ca­tional Cen­ter on the Queens-brook­lyn bor­der to watch Peter Parker skip school. As only

Peter Parker could.

To­day, Tom Hol­land is in Parker civvies rather than Spidey span­dex, and stands on one side of an im­pos­ing, wrought-iron spiked fence. A crane tow­ers over­head, with two wires stretch­ing down from its tip to a har­ness be­neath Hol­land’s costume. Poised and fo­cused, he stretches his neck from side to side and prac­tises a bal­letic jump­ing pose that’s a lit­tle rem­i­nis­cent of Trin­ity from The Ma­trix, and cer­tainly a re­minder that this kid once played Billy El­liot on a Lon­don stage.

Watts calls ac­tion, and Hol­land strolls oh-so-ca­su­ally to­wards the fence, away from the en­trance of the campus, which is stand­ing in for Mid­town High. He casts a furtive look over one shoul­der, then leaps, both arms and one leg raised. The crane tugs him air­wards, up and over those spikes (which look no less wor­ry­ing for be­ing sheathed in foam pad­ding) and back down the other side, into a pile of card­board boxes and crash mats. No Spi­der-stunt­man re­quired.

This is the fi­nal thing which makes Home­com­ing dif­fer­ent from all that’s gone be­fore. Not only is Tom Hol­land the youngest ac­tor to play Peter Parker, he’s also gen­uinely gym­nas­tic. Ac­cord­ing to Feige, “Ev­ery­thing you see is ei­ther Tom in a suit, or Tom do­ing all the mo­tion cap­ture for what would be­come the suit.”

It’s been, Hol­land ad­mits, a pretty bru­tal shoot. “I was on wires nearly ev­ery shot. Up­side-down, flip­ping around, climb­ing walls, swing­ing, flying, all sorts.” The movie has three ma­jor ac­tion se­quences, in­clud­ing a fight at the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment, a cli­mac­tic bat­tle on the out­side of a jet scream­ing over New York City, and a spec­tac­u­lar res­cue at­tempt in­volv­ing the Staten Is­land Ferry, for which a four-storey, hy­draulics-mounted replica set was con­structed at Pinewood At­lanta Stu­dios.

They are all, prom­ises Watts, “big se­quences with lots of mov­ing parts”. De­spite the fact he’s never done ac­tion be­fore — “I’ve shot, like, one gun­fight in Cop Car” — it sounds like he’s tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from the right sources. “I like how Spiel­berg di­rects ac­tion se­quences, be­cause you know ex­actly what’s go­ing on, and they have lots of fun lit­tle mini-sto­ries within the larger story, which is slowly es­ca­lat­ing over time. Like the fight on the air­plane in Raiders, or on the tank in Last Cru­sade.”

Hol­land may be able to go (as Keaton puts it), but to­day is the sec­ond-to-last day of prin­ci­pal photograph­y and he’s pooped. “I’ve loved it, don’t get me wrong,” he says, chomp­ing on a cream-cheese bagel. “But it has beat me up. The hard­est thing is jump­ing from high places and land­ing in a Spidey pose. My right knee is just done. It needs a big old break, my right knee.”

DOESN’T SOUND AS

if it’s go­ing to get much of one. In Fe­bru­ary, Hol­land re­turned as Spi­der-man for Avengers: In­fin­ity War, and there’s more to come. “There’s a strat­egy that goes through the next four films,” says Feige, re­fer­ring to Home­com­ing, the two In­fin­ity War Avengers films and “what­ever Spi­der-man: Home­com­ing 2 will be called”.

Not even the world-threat­en­ing an­tics of Thanos can stop Peter Parker’s ed­u­ca­tion, it seems. Early on, Feige and his team agreed that they wanted to keep him in high school for as long as they could. “Harry Pot­ter be­came the ex­am­ple,” he says, “though Peter’s clearly not as young as Harry was in his first film. There’s cer­tainly a fun po­ten­tial three-film struc­ture that can be had, be­tween sopho­more, ju­nior and se­nior year.”

As for Hol­land him­self, he’s in no more of a rush to grad­u­ate. “It’s been a dream come true, man,” he en­thuses. “I’ve wanted to be Spi­der-man since I was a lit­tle kid. You know, I even had Spi­der-man bed­sheets.” He de­scribes putting the full, Stark-built suit on for the first time as “a mag­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence” (even if a loo-break re­quires a 45-minute warn­ing) and con­fesses to making web-shooter noises — “Fsssewww! Fsssewww!” — behind the mask ev­ery time Spidey wrist-squirts his sticky flu­ids.

He also cryp­ti­cally men­tions an idea he’s had which, if adopted, would see him play­ing Peter even be­yond the cur­rent four-movie plan. “Peter Parker is a char­ac­ter we see [in the comic books] as a 15-year-old boy and then as a 35-year-old man,” he says when Em­pire re-joins him in April, at Sony Pic­tures Stu­dios in Cul­ver City, Los An­ge­les. “So I have an idea of what I’d like to do, and I’ve pitched it and it’s al­ready been taken into the board­room. It would be re­ally cool if it pans out be­cause it means I would be Spi­der-man for a very long time.”

We’ve seen a lot of Peter on screen of late, but Hol­land in­sists the char­ac­ter still has plenty of places to go. “By the end of the movie,” he prom­ises, “we’re not even a third of the way through in fig­ur­ing out how his pow­ers work.”

Hol­land has proved him­self. Jon Watts may have aced his try-out. But Spi­der-man him­self still has plenty of grow­ing up to do.

SPI­DER-MAN: HOME­COM­ING IS IN CIN­E­MAS FROM JULY 6.

Bash ma­chine: Spi­der-man sur­veys the ATM car­nage. Be­low left: Pro­ducer Kevin Feige and Hol­land love hear­ing Robert Downey Jr’s jokes. Be­low right: Iron Man and Spi­der-man head out for a night on the town.

Right: Michael Keaton as su­pervil­lain Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture, with his side-kick Phineas Ma­son/the Tinkerer (Michael Ch­er­nus). Be­low: Keaton ready for ac­tion in his Vulture suit. Bot­tom: Oh, what a tan­gled web Spi­der-man weaves.

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