Like many other superhero movie fans out there, I suffer from a serious, life-altering condition known as Spider-Man Fatigue (SMF). I'm a fan of the early-2000s franchise starring Tobey Maguire, and I willingly sat through Andrew Garfield's take on Peter Parker in 2012 and 2014. But when I heard Marvel and Sony had combined forces to tell a new version of the young web-slinger's story for a third time, I audibly groaned. Another one? Seriously? Then, I saw Captain America: Civil War. This Spider-Man, played by 20-year-old British rising star Tom Holland, is only in the movie briefly but seems immediately lighter and funnier; he meshes perfectly with Tony Stark and the rest of the gang. Could it be? Could Marvel have finally found a way to stop my sceptical eyes from rolling at each mention of a new installment to his story?
To figure out, once and for all, whether I'd be able to enjoy a sixth Spider-Man movie, I flew down to Marvel's Pinewood Studios in Atlanta, where the team behind Spider-Man: Homecoming filled me and a group of other journalists in on what's in store for Peter Parker this time around. We arrived on production day 46 of 74 and were treated to tours of a few sets — including a massive portion of the Washington Monument that Peter climbs and a full-size (but still partial) replica of the Staten Island Ferry designed to split in two for a fight scene — and an enlightening conversation with Eric Carroll. The co-producer and director of development for Marvel explained to us the basic story of the film and what Homecoming is trying to achieve with this iteration; chiefly, they want it to feel fresh and new while still going back to basics in terms of Peter's story.
Later on that day we got a better idea of just how basic Carroll meant, when we watched Michael Keaton and Holland film a scene in an old, empty warehouse, where Peter Parker confronts the Vulture dressed in a very, very basic version of his suit (which you can see above). After chatting with Keaton, Holland, Carroll, director Jon Watts, and more members of the production team who've helped bring this movie to life, I can confirm that any fellow sufferer of SMF needs not fear: Spider-Man: Homecoming is going to leave us all with our jaws on the floor.
- This will be the youngest Peter Parker yet. At just 15 years old, Marvel has given us a glimpse at Peter in all of his awkward, nerdy, angsty glory. As we saw in Civil War, he's not only figuring out the limits of his powers, but also learning how to balance his life as a student and friend, as well as a superhero. "[It's] the whole aspect of keeping him grounded and making sure the audience sees a kid as a superhero," Holland explained. "Because we've seen the sort of Norse god, we've seen the billionaire, we've seen the soldier, now we get to see the kid. And one of the most important themes of the movie is, what would a 15-year-old boy do with superpowers? So, sort of opening act to the movie, you see Peter really trying to discover who he is, what he can do, which is something I feel like we haven't really explored massively in the previous movies — is seeing Peter make mistakes and try and rectify them and try and learn exactly what he can do."
- They're staying true to his Queens, New York, roots. If you hear "Spider-Man" and immediately conjure images of him slinging his way around Manhattan's tallest skyscrapers, think again. "If you think of New York, you always think of Manhattan, so it's a very conscious tonal choice to say he is not in Manhattan," production designer Oliver Scholl told us. "Manhattan is always across the river, it's where he aspires to be. That's where the Avengers' tower is — across the river looming in the sunset. But he's not there yet."
- So, no skyscrapers for Peter? This Spider-Man is still unsure of his powers and therefore isn't keen on jumping off 40-story buildings. "Spider-Man starting out — he's not irrationally afraid of heights, but he has the fear of heights that all well-balanced people do," Carroll said. "So he's going to work up to becoming the Spider-Man we know he will someday. But we will not see him swing down Fifth Avenue in this movie. We will not see him 40 stories off the ground acting like that is not the most terrifying thing he will do that day." Luckily he'll be much more at home in the low-rises in Queens.
- Aunt May is getting a face lift. Following in the footsteps of Rosemary Harris and Sally Field, Marisa Tomei is the next Aunt May. She won't be wearing a white wig or sitting for hours in the makeup chair to make her look older, though; this Aunt May is "more of a big sister" figure to Peter, who encourages him to go out and be social.
- Uncle Ben will be basically non-existent. Although Holland kept information about Uncle Ben's role in this Peter's story under wraps, Carroll confirmed that the character will be alluded to at best. Here's hoping we never have to see Uncle Ben bleed out on a sidewalk somewhere ever again, right?
- The Avengers are responsible for creating the Vulture. Remember all of that talk about how superheroes are never held accountable for all of the destruction their giant battles cause? Well, Keaton's Adrian Toomes (aka the Vulture) is a direct side effect of The Battle of New York. Toomes owns a salvage company, which is hired to clean up the Avengers' damage around Stark Tower. He's elated over scoring such a big contract, only to be told another company — called "Damage Control" — is handling the job instead. As a blue-collar family man just trying to get by, he's furious. This is what eventually sends him on a collision course with Peter.
- The Vulture salvages his gear from The Battle of New York. Although Toomes and his men are kicked off the project pretty soon, it's still enough time for them to steal some alien tech they find amid the detritus. This is how Toomes is able to build wings for himself, and how some of his men — who later become Marvel villains the Tinkerer and the Shocker — get their own powerful tools.
- The Vulture is a totally new kind of Marvel villain. Loki and Ultron might have been hell-bent on taking over the world, but the Vulture has smaller goals in mind. "He's somewhat of a victim," Keaton said Toomes's motivations. "He takes things in to feel like a victim. And some of it is justified actually, because he believes that there is an upper echelon of society and people who are getting away with a lot and have everything, and there was a whole lot of folks who are working hard and don't have much. Does that sound familiar to anybody, given the political climate?" In the same warehouse where we watched Keaton and Holland film, we got to take a stroll through Toomes's workshop, which is covered in crayon drawings from his children.
- Holland's performance is inspired by both of the previous Spider-Mans. Holland is definitely doing something new with his character, but he wasn't afraid to pick and choose elements from Maguire and Garfield. "It's difficult to not take any influence from Toby and Andrew because they both had such great versions of the character," he said. "I think from Toby, I'm taking the kind of less cool side of things, whereas Andrew is very cool and very sort of contained. I thought his Spider-Man was fantastic. When he was in that suit, I thought he really came to life, and so those are the two things I'm taking from both people. But for me, it's just making sure I feel like a kid on set and really, really be the kid that everyone wants to be, you know? To just have fun with it, and see a superhero really enjoy having his powers."
- A classic '80s comedy inspired a key fight scene. Bueller? Bueller? That's right, there will be a sequence of Peter chasing bad guys through a neighbourhood worthy of Ferris Bueller. Hopefully he'll use his web to get around instead of stealing his best friend's father's Ferrari.
- The cast had to watch a John Hughes movie marathon to prepare. Spider-Man: Homecoming is first and foremost a coming-of-age tale, so Watts turned to the master of such stories: John Hughes. "He gave us a lot of movies to watch," Holland said. "God there's so many movies, and we basically just all sat down in my house in Atlanta, all the cast, and we just watched them all in one day and just had like a Dominos day. It was amazing . . . Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty in Pink, there were loads of them."
- Which is good, since the characters will be in high school for a while. High school will be "a big aspect" of these films, according to Carroll, which Watts echoed. "In the (Sam) Raimi one, he's only in high school for like 10 minutes," Watts said. "But I wanted to make a high school movie, so the opportunity to do it with Spider-Man was pretty exciting." Homecoming takes place in Peter's sophomore year, which means a trilogy might end with Peter graduating. Fingers crossed Spider-Man: Prom is next.
- Holland went undercover at a high school in the Bronx to get the full experience. "I sent him to the Bronx High School of Science, because that's the kind of school that Peter Parker would go to," Watts revealed. "He was so blown away by how hard the kids worked, how smart everyone was, and the thing he remarked on was just everyone was exhausted, and that's what I remember from high school." Holland went all-in on the experience, too, donning a fake name and accent to blend in. "I am in no way a science student, and some of the teachers would call me up in front of the class and try and get me to do equations and stuff. It was so embarrassing," he recalled. "But it was actually really, really informative, because schools in London are so different. I would go to school every day in a suit and tie, it was just boys, and to be in a school where you can be free and let loose and be with girls was so different." Holland swears that no one figured out his secret identity, but we have a feeling he's going to have a harder time being anonymous once Homecoming premieres.
- Tony Stark is an important part of Peter's growth. "Their relationship is so great in Civil War that you kind of feel you have to keep exploring that," Watts said of his choice to make Tony a big part of Peter's story. Holland says Tony is "more like a big brother than he is a father figure" to Peter because of their banter. "He picks on him," he explained. "And he kind of is down on him quite a lot, but then there is that level of him caring about him like his own. And Robert [Downey Jr.] has really brought something lovely to the character. A very different side to Stark than we've ever seen before."
- Tony is a little too overprotective of Peter, according to Peter. After seeing how clumsily Peter handled certain aspects of his team-up with Tony in Berlin, "he doesn't feel that [Peter is] ready yet to be an Avenger," Holland said. "I think he might have thought that what happened in Germany was too much for Spider-Man at that time, so he is very persuasive and he's constantly trying to get Peter to stay in Queens, and save cats out of trees, and stop the burglar, and blah, blah, blah, and nothing of this scale."
- Say goodbye to Harry Osborn. In an effort to make Homecoming feel fresh, Carroll said that "our goal was not to see what's already been seen." This means Peter's BFF-turned nemesis will be missing, along with Oscorp and the Daily Bugle. Fortunately Peter finds a friend and confidant in classmate Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon), who will no doubt ground the blossoming superhero.
- Say hello to a sick new suit. According to Carroll, Peter's suit (courtesy of Tony) will include features like "a heater, lights, surveillance data, airbags, taser-webs, and multi-web shooters." Not too shabby for a 15-year-old from Queens, right?
- Holland does not share Peter Parker's reflexes. There's a scene in Homecoming that sees Peter handling liquid webbing, but it didn't take long for Holland to be barred from playing with it. "As soon as they gave it to me I dropped it and it smashed everywhere. It's literally day one," he laughed. "It was this clear liquid and then I poured this yellow liquid into it, then mixed it, and it would go fluorescent white. I was like 'Oh this is the coolest thing ever' and just smashed it everywhere. So, they immediately took it off me and I wasn't allowed to play with it."
- Holland confirms that Zendaya is the perfect actress for the job. When news first broke that Zendaya might be playing iconic Spidey love interest Mary Jane Watson (although she's been referred to as "Michelle" so far), some despicable corners of the internet decided to throw a tantrum over the fact she isn't white. Fortunately Holland can attest that of anyone tasked with dealing with these particular haters, Zendaya probably does it best. "Z is so powerful and so strong-willed that it's not going to shake her at all," he said. "She has such a large following on Instagram, and the majority of those people all love her. I feel like our generation is moving past this whole [idea] that you can't cast someone who's not of the right race for a character, and I really think we're breaking through and changing that, and Z is perfect for it." We have to agree.
See Spider-Man: Homecoming when it hits cinemas on July 6!