When Jon Watts was hired to direct Sony’s latest attempt to reboot Spider-Man with 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming— this one set in the MCU — few people had heard of let alone seen his earlier films Clown or Cop Car. (The latter is a decent thriller starring Kevin Bacon that you should definitely check out if you have a chance.)
The sequel Far from Home takes place right after the events of Avengers: Endgame where half the population of the MCU has been snapped back into existence five years after Thanos erased them. Among those snapped back is Tom Holland’s Peter Parker and many of his school chums including Ned Leeds (Jacob Battalan) and Zendaya’s MJ. That’s why Peter is excited when his class is being taken to Europe on a “science trip,” because it will give him a chance to have fun and also tell MJ how he feels about her. Unfortunately, Peter’s plans are waylaid when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) shows ups and asks him to help the mysterious Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a hero from another dimension who has come to earth to protect it from a series of deadly Elementals.
Travelling from Venice to Prague and then back to Berlin and finally London, Far from Home gives Peter a chance to step up, following the “retirement” of two of the most high-profile Avengers, although sometimes, he just wants to be a normal high school kid.
The Beat spoke over the phone with Watts a few weeks back, as he called in from the movie’s London-based junket. Believe me, I tried my best to trip him up and get some future MCU poop, but he handled even my leading questions with aplomb.
THE BEAT: Obviously, there’s a lot of overlap with Endgame while you were making this movie, as shown in the trailer with some Endgame stuff being dealt with in Far from Home. Was that in the writing stage that you knew that was going to be part of the movie? At what point did you know that you had to deal with some of the repercussions of Endgame?
Jon Watts: I was one of the people who knew very early on what was going to happen in Infinity War and Endgame, so I knew that was always going to be my responsibility to make the movie that comes out after Endgame and deals with all the fallout of the things that happened in that movie. I also was challenged with all of that while also finding a way to maintain the light-hearted tone that we had established in Homecoming. That was always a tricky creative challenge is how you balance these two things, this fun, high school feeling from Homecoming and these extremely heavy themes of loss and world-changing consequences that are the fallout from Endgame. That was one of the many challenges.
THE BEAT: Whenever I talk to a director making a sequel, I always wonder about the decision to do a sequel. I myself don’t have kids but I assume it’s like having a second child after having the perfect first child. I’m not sure if that’s a good analogy, but you must go into a sequel thinking, “The first one did great and everybody loves it. Now I have to do better or at least as good.” Is that hard as a director to not have that mindset while making a sequel?
Jon Watts: I sort of used it as almost an emotional entry point for the story that we were telling. Homecoming was really about a kid who wanted to step up, and the world was saying, “No” to him. “You’re not ready,” and that’s how I felt making Homecoming, like, “What am I doing making this giant movie? I’ve only made these tiny little indie movies.” But then Far from Home is about suddenly the world looking this kid and saying, “Okay, step up. You’re next. What are you going to do?” and him being like, “I don’t know if I’m ready” and you’re suddenly filled with all these doubts. I tried to embrace that and use that as a way for me to hopefully understand the character and tell a story that was emotionally resonant.
THE BEAT: I especially liked how MJ’s character was fleshed out. I think we got to learn a lot more about the characters around Peter, which is amazing since he’s still the focus, but MJ especially. Did anyone in particular suggest that we learned more about her this time?
Jon Watts: In Homecoming, we’re meeting everyone, except for Peter and Aunt May, for the very, very first time, so you have to establish the character, you show where they are, how they fit into the world. Then on the second movie, all that hard work is done and you get to just spend time with the characters and find out more about them. That was really nice, especially MJ. We always knew that she was going to be a big part of this world and a big part of this story. She’s barely in Homecoming really, so this was the movie for her to really show who she is, and it’s nice to spend more time with her.
THE BEAT: In the comics, Peter’s relationship with women was so important, and you really have to get it so that the audience/readers like those women as much as Peter does to make them believable.
Jon Watts: Yeah, exactly, and also, obviously, the way a lot of the female characters are portrayed in the comics is very dated, so there is a responsibility to update that in a way that makes sense to the story … and isn’t just based on their hair color. (chuckles)
THE BEAT: This is the second movie in a row where Peter is taken out of New York. Has that been a very conscious thing to take him out of New York because there are five other movies set in New York and you want to show Spider-Man in different lights? Or was that just part of storytelling that didn’t take that into mind?
Jon Watts: We knew that we wanted to do a European vacation. Weirdly, a big inspiration for that was when we were on the press tour for the last movie, and I remember being up on some rooftop in Rome doing some press event with Tom Holland, and the stuntman in the full Spider-Man costume was across the way on another rooftop? Just seeing Spider-Man with Rome in the background, I thought that was a pretty striking visual, so maybe we should take Spider-Man on a European vacation next time.
THE BEAT: And next thing you know, you’re shooting all over Europe… including Prague.
Jon Watts: Maybe I just wanted to go back to Europe. (laughs)
THE BEAT: I’ve been to Prague and I did recognize a lot of those locations. The Tower of London, I haven’t been there in a long time, but the interior looked exactly like one of the exhibits there. Did someone just meticulously recreate it, or did they let you shoot some of it inside?
Jon Watts: Well, because we blew it up… (laughs)
THE BEAT: Yeah, I guess that wouldn’t be allowed.
Jon Watts: It isn’t the actual location, but we did our own sort of simplified version of the Crown Jewels vault and then rigged it with a ton of explosives, so that we could smash it up. Didn’t want to make the Queen mad.
THE BEAT: You’re back in London now, so obviously, you don’t want to get kicked out.
Jon Watts: I don’t know if she’s seen the movie, so… fingers crossed!
THE BEAT: I don’t want to spoil anything but there are a lot of connections to the rest of the MCU in this one, just like in Homecoming, where you mentioned the events of the first Avengers movie. This one, you still have pretty deep connections. Are you privy to the relationship and the terms with the Spidey-sharing, because you expect there to be another Spider-Man movie, you expect Tom to be in another Avengers/MCU movie. How far can you go? Does having Kevin Feige involved allow you to do almost anything you want?
Jon Watts: (laughs) I mean, I’ve been in a fortunate place where everyone seems to be on board with the ideas that I want to do. I’ve never really felt a ton of push-back, but it’s such a great creative team to be working with. You do kind of feel like you can do anything, and you never really feel those kinds of limitations. As long as it’s cool, you’ll get the support you need.
THE BEAT: Even in the comics, there was always editorial things where you couldn’t use certain characters because they were involved in stories in their own comics, although Spider-Man and Wolverine would appear in a lot of comics to help sales. I wondered how that conversation goes when you have other filmmakers involved, and a lot more pieces.
Jon Watts: They’re very cool. If you’re making a film where it’s going to have these connections, they loop you in early on about the other projects that are in development. You know what they’re planning on doing, so you know what you can use and what you can’t use or what they’re going to be using on something else. It’s a cool process, and just as a fan, I also love knowing what all the other movies are going to be about, too. (laughs)
THE BEAT: Was there ever going to be more than one villain in Far from Home? In Homecoming, you seemed to be setting things up with the Scorpion with a cameo and a few other things and without spoiling anything, there’s maybe a tease for a Spider Slayer in this one. Were there going to be more villains?
Jon Watts: I feel like we’re just setting the table. I don’t want to limit the things that we can do, but it is nice to just be building out this world and knowing these characters are out there, even if they’re not immediately going to come back, we know that we’re there, and we know that if we ever need to or want to, all options are on the table.
THE BEAT: Spider-Man does have one of the best rogues’ galleries out there. Maybe him and Batman are tied? Do you have any villains from your own fandom that you’d like to explore that hasn’t been explored yet? There’s not that many big ones left.
Jon Watts: I feel like I get extra points for making a movie that has a version of Molten Man and Hydro Man and even sort of Cyclone in there as well. Those are some pretty deep cuts from the Rogues’ Gallery. But you know, Typeface, obviously, is my favorite of all the Spider-Man villains, followed by Gideon Mace, Jackson Weele… (laughs) I was joking about all of those by the way. Do you know Jackson Weele?
THE BEAT: I remember there was a Big Wheel character from the ‘70s or ‘80s?
THE BEAT: I remember Big Wheel ‘cause I had that comic. Is there going to be a third movie for sure and are you going to direct it? Do you start that as soon as you figure it out or do you have to wait until the Monday after the 4thof July?
Jon Watts: I like to think about it one movie at a time, but of course I have some ideas of where we might go after this.
Spider-Man: Far from Home opens nationwide on Tuesday, July 2.