There is a scene midway through Spider-Man: Homecoming that encapsulates the whole approach that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige and his small squadron of filmmakers are taking toward the web-head’s first solo movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Spider-Man, played by an incredibly enthusiastic Tom Holland, is on the move. Somewhere far off in the distance, bad men are testing alien technology in Queens. Threatening his neighborhood… or at least his borough since they’re actually in the suburbs during this moment. No matter!
With the mask on and the bad guys located, Spidey jumps into the night, raises his hand to fire a mighty stream of webbing—and then promptly watches it descend limply to the earth. On a neatly mowed chunk of golf course, at that. Again, this is the ‘burbs. So while still insulated in a multimillion-dollar superhero suit, Peter Parker runs across the 18th green like Bill Murray on a gopher hunt.
“There’s nothing for him to stick to!” Feige laughs when recalling the sequence. “Putting him in those kind of unique elements and being able to spin expectations on what Spider-Man’s environment is, is something we certainly wanted to do.”
For Feige, the prospect of making a Spider-Man movie in 2017—after five previous films for the character in the last 15 years—is hardly daunting in terms of creative reinvention. He was there at the beginning with the original Spider-Man trilogy that was directed by Sam Raimi and starred Tobey Maguire, and he’s been making superhero movies ever since. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) began in earnest with Iron Man (2008), and in the intervening years, Feige has kept some distance from the character. But that gap has only crystallized who Peter Parker was supposed to be and what new things Marvel could do with him if the opportunity ever presented itself.
“One of the fun things about working at Marvel Studios is it’s just a handful of us, who’ve been together for a very long time, who sit in rooms talking about what would be really cool,” Feige tells me during our chat on a sunny Manhattan afternoon. “So certainly there were always, ‘Oh man, if we were doing Spidey, we could do this.’ Very sort of casual.” Nevertheless, when the chance arrived to pitch those ideas to Sony producer Amy Pascal (including the title “Homecoming”), it became the entire basis for this latest iteration of the character.
In this vein, the most compelling creative aspect also turned out to be the best commercial one: throwing Spidey into a world of fellow superheroes. Feige of course has fondness from his time working on the original (and beloved) Sam Raimi movies. 2002’s first Spider-Man was only Feige’s second (uncredited) role as a producer. Yet now he views the Spider-Man of those films as very different from what the comics or, for that matter, the MCU could offer.
“The notion that we can do the first Spider-Man film set in our cinematic universe—we didn’t even dare dream of it existing when I was low-man on the totem pole, just happy to be there, on the Sam Raimi movies,” Feige recalls. “[With Homecoming] you get to see what Spider-Man was always supposed to be, which was not the lone superhero swinging around the canyons of New York City by himself, but a relatable young man in a world of these extraordinary heroes. Where the other heroes live in the big fancy towers of New York City or come from Asgard, or were frozen in ice, or are superspies. He can compete with the best of them because he’s so powerful, but he hast to go to school the next day. He has to finish his homework; he has to get home before Aunt May notices. That’s why he’s great, that’s why he’s so relatable.”
It’s also what brings us back to the image of Spider-Man not-so-comfortably prancing across a golf course.
“I would say when Sam was doing those movies, the notion of seeing Spider-Man soar through the big canyons of New York City in real-life was really cool and you’d never seen it before,” Feige muses. “Now you’ve seen it. So I think we said the notion of milking a single shot of Spidey swinging through the canyons doesn’t have much inherent uniqueness anymore. Which is why we said, and again go to the comics, there were really fun moments where he was brought out of his element. Which is why we wanted him to go on a field trip in D.C., which is why we wanted him to go to a party in the suburbs where he’s only got some trees and rooftops.”
These are all elements that come directly from the comics, many of them specifically from the earliest run of Amazing Spider-Man stories by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in the 1960s. Diehard fans likely recall the Vulture was the second villain Spidey ever fought on the page, and Michael Keaton has been moved up to portraying the winged foe as the very first. Peter Parker also got the bright idea in his first solo issue to join the Fantastic Four, not unlike how Tom Holland’s wall-crawler is instantly eager to become a fulltime Avenger in Spider-Man: Homecoming. These elements (and others we won’t give away) were all on Feige and director Jon Watts’ mind, and they each come shining through the movie in a unique way.
“He was a real kid in the ‘60s,” Feige says. “And you go back and read those comics, he referenced the Beatles, he referenced stuff I don’t even recognize anymore because it’s so old.” And that sense of up-to-the-minute youth in superheroic revolt is what Marvel Studios has strived to put into their version of the character. Peter Parker was memorably introduced as a computer nerd and dumpster diver in Captain America: Civil War, and that sense of modern geek chic is taken a step farther in Holland’s very first Homecoming scene, which is something of an extended selfie video about his time in Berlin during Civil War.
Feige remarks, “We never really date the movies, we never exactly say the year, but it’s basically the present day, which is why we love the notion, and Jon Watts’ idea, that Peter films this whole trip to Berlin and did a whole selfie video of it. So that was one thing, a real kid in the present day, but inspired by the real kid in the present day that Stan and Steve did.”
It’s thus a curiosity if this sense of cosmetic updates might apply to the rest of Sony’s Spider-related projects. While Marvel Studios is set to produce the Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel, in addition to including Tom Holland’s web-head in the next two Avengers films, Sony is also using their license to separately spinoff Spider-Man related characters like Venom, Black Cat, and Silver Sable into their own movies. While it is currently ambiguous whether Holland’s Spidey might show up in the forthcoming Venom movie that will star Tom Hardy, it’s also of interest if we could see any iteration of Venom or Black Cat in a Homecoming sequel down the road.
“I think what we’re most interested in, at least from my point of view, is exploring characters you haven’t seen before in his next films,” Feige says with some reservation. “[Like] the way we did with Vulture in this film. And his interaction with the other MCU characters is what this exercise is all about for us, which is what Civil War was, which is what Homecoming was, and the next two Avengers films and Homecoming 2. I think what they’re focusing smartly on is to make a great Venom movie; make a great Silver & Black movie that can exist on their own. I think they’re off to a good start hiring Tom Hardy!”
Still the future for just Peter Parker has plenty of mystery to it. Feige after all did become coy when I ask if we will learn more about this universe’s version of Uncle Ben in a sequel (he’s not mentioned in Homecoming). For now, the producer merely speculates folks assume they know what happened, and maybe they’re right. He’s not sure yet. But he does think the status quo for Spider-Man will change greatly between his first standalone MCU movie and a second one.
“The way Civil War informed what happened to him in Homecoming, what’s happening in Infinity War and Untitled Avengers will very much inform Homecoming 2, and what happens after that.”
While that sounds cryptic, one thing is for sure, he will likely be doing it all while still trying to stick the landing as a high schooler in a costume. It turns out that is what it took to be amazing all along.