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Spider-Man: Homecoming director on the film, bodega cats, and learning the secrets of the Marvel universe

Jon Watts shares what it was like to be behind the camera on the superhero hit

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Spider-Man: Homecoming is now, officially, a huge hit with critics swooning and a booming box office of $117 million in its first weekend. We caught up with director Jon Watts (Cop Car), who has own personal connection to Peter Parker — he was a student at New York University when Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man was filming, and would watch the bright lights from his dorm window — about what it was like to make what’s currently the No. 1 movie in the country.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This movie sure is a lot of fun.
JON WATTS:
Good! That’s what I really wanted most: to make sure that people have fun at the movie. It’s so nice now that it’s out — I was so worried about accidentally spoiling something before.

Homecoming does feel like a homecoming to New York City because it’s definitely the the most New York-y of all the Spider-Man movies — I mean, there’s even a bodega cat.
Yes! People didn’t know what I was talking about when I said there should be a cat out on the counter. If you are not from New York, you might not understand it. You don’t even know what a bodega cat is.

It’s sort of the most straightforward Save the Cat I’ve ever seen.
Exactly. I wanted to Save the Bodega Cat. I thought that would be funny.

It’s really nice to see Peter Parker in Queens where he belongs.
That was really important to me: he’s from Queens! All the other [Spider-Man] movies take place in, like, Times Square or the financial district. That’s the tourist version of New York City. Peter Parker was born and raised in Queens and I wanted to capture that as best as possible. The Ramones [on the soundtrack] are from the exact same neighborhood as Peter — Forest Hills. And that band loved Spider-Man, they even covered the theme song in the ’80s.

Whats also nice about Homecoming is that there’s a cause and effect within the Marvel universe. Like there would be no Vulture (Michael Keaton) if the events of The Avengers hadn’t happened.
I felt that even before I was involved in this movie. When I watched Marvel movies — or any big spectacle movie, I’d see extras in the background and think: what is their life like? How have they been impacted? In a perfect way Spider-Man allows me to explore the ground level of this crazy universe because that’s who Spider-Man is. He’s ground level, he’s a regular guy. That became the lens I was able to explore this crazy universe through. It was something I was already interested in, so it was fun to do it in a Spider-Man movie.

Chuck Zlotnick/Columbia Pictures

Keeping Peter so young was clearly another lens.
Yes! The fact that he’s 15 allows me to really have fun with it, that was a big thing that I kept coming back to when I would try to put myself in his shoes. Yes, there would be a lot drama and conflict but more than anything, if you are 15 and you can do what he can do? That would be really fun. In 1962, Spider-Man was introduced by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko to give a kid’s and regular guy’s perspective to superheroes. Like with the video diary [at the beginning of the film] — I wanted to literally show you what it’s like where he is. You’ve seen those heightened dramatic scenes in Civil War but for Peter, it’s just the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to him. He’d definitely be filming it on his phone! He might not post it, but he’d be filming it. [Laughs] It’s also a little bit of a nod for Peter being a photographer in the comics. 

Because he is a teenager you feel those stakes for him — like putting in an appearance at that party feels just as essential as stopping a bad guy.
Exactly! That is being a teenager — everything is an 11. Everything is the highest stakes so whether or not it’s going to a party, or talking to the person at school you have a crush, or joining the Avengers or fighting a super villain, they’re all at an 11. You haven’t learned how to differentiate yet. That’s such a big part of growing up and I wanted to capture that feeling.

I know Tom Holland had to go through a pretty long audition process — was it the same with you for director?
Oh yes, very long process. And I never really thought I would get it. The massive search for who should play Peter Parker was happening at the same time and basically Tom and I got the job the same day. For the entire process, it’s been us together. We got dropped into this big project together and we built the character. He’s just fantastic.

What is it like to be brought into the Marvel inner sanctum. Is there a room that reveals all the secrets to everything?
Well, there is this scroll. It’s an actual scroll they unrolled for me. One of my producers, Eric Carroll, it was his first job at Marvel to work on this timeline and to see where things line up and where they didn’t quite. It’s the most amazing thing because it starts, no joke, at the beginning of time. So you can see where all the events line up! Like, oh that’s when Captain America was born.

Wait, it begins at the big bang or what?
I can’t remember specifically but I think it has something to do with a Thor storyline. Or maybe Guardians. It’s the MCU version of the history of time. It’s a very long scroll. Longer than conference table. It’s a pretty amazing document.

Let’s talk about the Vulture and how incredible it is that Michael Keaton plays him.
Once his name came up it seemed like anyone else would be a second choice. I am amazed we got him. He was great. I loved working with him. The vulture is the first super villain Peter encounters in the comic. I thought it would be nice to go back to the beginning and go back to those roots. The idea of a vulture scavenging from all those battle scenes from all the other movies to build his own arsenal? That was an early idea that really worked and felt very cool. Michael had a good time building that character from the ground up, and trying to do something a little more complex.  That was a really interesting thing in the development of the story — you can’t just rely on the tropes of the villain being a murderer and killing a bunch of people. He has to be redeemable in some capacity in the end. It was a fine line to walk.

Would you ever allow yourself to step back from your job and just geek out?
Kind of the whole time! It was a constant geeking out. Rather than just try to hide that, I’d go with it. And I’d follow that for opportunities as a fan as far as I would want to see. Like, as a fan what would be the most surprising to happen?

So, the real question: will you return for the sequel?
For me it’s just one movie at a time. I can’t wait to see Infinity War because I know what they’re doing but I don’t know all the specifics but I feel like with Tom as Spider-Man in the Marvel Universe we’re just scratching the surface of what we can do.