Interview: SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING Director Jon Watts on Batman vs. Spidey, Leaning on Iron Man and Resurrecting the Franchise

Featured Contributor; New York City, New York (@TheDivaReview)
Interview: SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING Director Jon Watts on Batman vs. Spidey, Leaning on Iron Man and Resurrecting the Franchise
Beloved as New York’s own wall-crawler is, no one was sure they wanted another Spider-Man movie so soon after the last disappointing Spider-Man reboot.  It fell to director Jon Watts to either resurrect or bury the franchise. Watts spoke with me about lifting up Spider-Man: Homecoming with the excitement and exuberance of his young cast, iconic superhero veterans, Batman intimidating Spidey, and many 1980s coming-of-age films.
The Lady Miz Diva: Since your previous feature, COP CAR, you’re regarded for bringing great performances out of young people.  The cast of SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is fantastic.  What is your secret to working with young actors?
Jon Watts: I don’t know specifically what it is.  Everyone’s different.  I guess for me, you just want to make sure that everyone feels safe.  That it feels like a safe space where you can screw up and it’s okay.  You’re not going to ruin the movie if you mess up your line, or if you try something that’s not maybe what’s scripted.  Making everyone feel like it’s okay to try out different things; it’s just like creating a space where everyone can try to make it as real as possible.
LMD: How was the tone set for this movie?  The previous Sony Spider-Man series was emo and serious.  It seems that for superhero films, the choices either to either go dark or go comedic.  What was behind the bright, uplifting tone of the film?
JW: I guess I just thought about how excited and enthusiastic I would be if I was 15 and I got those abilities, and how much fun that would be.  I was also very fortunate that the Russo brothers sort of set this up so elegantly in Captain America: Civil War and were able to jump past the origin story so that we were not weighed down unnecessarily by that heavy storyline, and we could just sort of jump into the fun part and run with it.
LMD: So, were not going to see an origin story?
JW: Definitely not in this movie!  {Laughs}
LMD: Yes, that ferry has sailed, but is there any plan for perhaps a flashback to see the spider in one of the sequels?
JW: I have no idea what we can do.  There’s one reference to it, but it was so nice to not show people things that they’ve never seen before and that’s something that we’ve seen before.
LMD: The previous Spider-Man series was not particularly well-loved.  Was there any intimidation because of that, or did you feel freer because you could start from zero?
JW: In a way.  I arrived with this really perfectly teed-up premise of 15-year-old Spider-Man has been plucked out of obscurity by Tony Stark, taken on this crazy adventure, and then just dropped back off in Queens without a second thought.  And for me, that was such a rich premise, I just took that and ran with it, and just tried to communicate that very early on.  Like when I was trying to get the job, that was the tone I wanted, that was sort of the structure of the story that was in my head.  And I feel like I got away with it {Laughs}.
LMD: There’s a lot of 80s references in this film: There’s that brilliant meta reference to FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF…
JW: {Laughs} Yeah, I thought if you’re gonna reference something, just do it, okay?
LMD: And the homecoming party has 80’s music - though I wondered how those kids would know “Space Age Love Song”?
JW:  Well, the theme is 80’s homecoming.  It’s real brief, but it’s on the school news at the very beginning when they’re talking about getting their homecoming tickets they say 80s homecoming. Cos otherwise, no, kids are not going to be listening to A Flock of Seagulls.
LMD: But I feel like that 80s parallel works fine because I left the screening thinking, ‘This is the superhero movie John Hughes would’ve made.’  Zendaya mentioned having watched the teen movies of the 80s.  How prevalent were those films in the research you asked of your cast?
JW: Well, I think John Hughes means something to specific generation – like that means high school, coming of age movies, if those are the movies that you saw - but not necessarily to everyone.  What’s interesting is that you talk to people who were younger - younger than me, at least – and their coming-of-age movies are like, Can't Hardly Wait and Clueless.  And so, if anything, saying “John Hughes” means “coming-of-age movie” to people.  
So, it was fun for me to show all those movies to all the kids in the cast, cos they hadn’t seen them.  And it’s not the cultural touchstone for everyone, but if anything, there is a spirit of a coming-of-age movie that will be universal because people are always going to be growing up.
LMD: How did you establish the balance between the action and Peter’s teenage coming-of-age story?  I never thought I would appreciate the non-action scenes in a superhero film so much.
JW: I guess that’s part of the writing process, is just making sure that it does feel balanced and that it never feels like one kind of movie is stopping and another kind of movie is starting.  Like letting the human level be what drives the action sequences, and then also in the action sequences, not losing sight of the fact that there’s a 15-year-old kid in there.  So, trying to keep that - those two things alive at all times - I think helps make it feel balanced, because it’s not so heavily weighted one way or another.  They’re all sort of mixed together.
LMD: When people ask me why I prefer Marvel to DC comics, I always say one of the reasons is because Peter Parker is from Forest Hills, the Baxter building is in Midtown – these are myths set against the backdrop of reality.  I know it was a mix of exterior and studio shooting, but I feel like you worked so hard on the topography of Queens, and also properly representing the diverse population of Queens.
JW: I tried my best.  I lived here for a while, so, I just wanted to actually be outer-borough, and not be like Times Square.  {Laughs}
LMD: But it’s Forest Hills, as opposed to a sort of fictional place like the Eastern European country from the last Avengers movie, or in some fantasy realm.  Was that meant to ground us in the reality of Peter’s journey?
JW: Yeah!  And it’s just where he’s from.  I mean, like, if we’re reintroducing Spider-Man to this world, let’s do it in his home neighborhood, right?  I mean, you still do get to take him out of his comfort zone; he’s taken to the Washington Monument, he gets to go to Germany, things like that. But for me, I thought it would be really nice to see what a “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” would actually look like.
LMD: I think we’ve become so used to all action being CGI, I was surprised to see some great wirework here.  What was behind your decision to go “analog,” as opposed to doing all your action digitally? 
JW: It’s always best to start from a place of realism when you’re doing any visual effects.  You want that real-world reference to start from.  And it also - one of the amazing things about Tom is that his physical performance in that suit is so recognizable, that I need it to be him in the suit.  If it’s not him in the suit, you can tell.  So, I had him in that suit, dangling from wherever, as much as possible.  And even if it does become a big VFX shot, I still had Tom’s performance drive it through motion capture, as you can tell that it’s him.
LMD: Flushing, Queens’ own Jon Favreau has more screen time in this film than in any of the IRON MAN movies.  As he directed the first and one of the most successful entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with IRON MAN, did you pick his brain at any time?
JW: Yeah, we talked about it a little bit.  The nicest thing in the world if you’re a director is to be directing another director, because they totally get it.  They know what situation you’re in; they probably know what you’re trying to get, and they can help you out in the field.  And he’s so funny, he such a good improviser, he’s so funny.  So, I enjoyed shooting with him so much.  That was an absolute blast.
LMD: During the press conference, I asked Messrs. Keaton and Downey as veterans of the superhero genre, with all the fan and media attention that entails, what their expectations were for the younger cast, since they are going to be catapulted into the spotlight after this movie opens…
JW: Oh yeah, that was such a good question!  {Laughs}
LMD: Thank you.  The way you’re speaking of Jon Favreau makes me wonder how Mr. Keaton and Mr. Downey were on the set?  Were they helpful to you and the young cast? Were they open?
JW: They were so great.  I mean, Robert was in a situation where he is Iron Man, so when he shows up, it’s like you’re looking to Iron Man for what you should do next.  He’s playing the role of Peter’s mentor, and it’s also in a way someone for Tom to look up to in his life.  It was a different situation with Keaton because he was the villain, and I think he was intimidating for Tom, and that was a really funny thing to see those two go head-to-head.
LMD: While the action in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is very exciting, it’s not terribly dark or scary, and the teenagers ae amazingly pure and wholesome for a bunch of kids from Queens.  Peter says one muffled, perfectly understandable curse, and there’s an aborted swear from another character toward the end.  Was the very family-friendly feeling to this movie intentional to bring the youngest viewers into the theatres?
JW: Not really.  I wasn’t trying to make it family-friendly as much as I was just trying to tell this one specific story.  Things like that didn’t come up as much that might steer in whatever direction that would make it not family-friendly.  But, no, I never tried intentionally to make it family-friendly.  It’s nice that it is.
LMD: So you’re doing the next one?
JW: Am I?  I guess so?  
LMD: Are you?
JW: I don’t know that I’m officially doing anything yet.  {Laughs}
LMD:  “Spider-Man will return.” When? 
JW: I believe the next time we’ll see Spider-Man will be in Avengers: Infinity War.
LMD: Is Marvel just playing with us now with the easter eggs/post credits scenes, i.e. Captain America?
JW:  Did you like that?  Were you mad?
LMD: At first I thought it was so clever, and then I was like, “Dammit.”
JW: {Laughs} I - yeah, yeah.  I feel like we’ll definitely get a reactions for that one.
LMD: Were you free to make up anything you wanted for that?
JW: There was always a lot of things that could be the very final tag.  That was a last-minute one. That was a last-minute sort of like improvised thing that we came up with that I hope people aren’t furious. {Laughs} I hope people think it’s funny.
LMD: What would you like SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING to say to the audience?
JW: I guess more than anything else, I like that tells a story about how it’s okay to screw up.  Like, even Peter Parker screws up.
This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.
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BatmanJon WattsMichael KeatonRobert Downey Jr.Spider-Man: HomecomingTom Holland

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