By Leah Greenblatt
July 02, 2019 at 08:00 AM EDT
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It’s August in Italy, and Venice looks like a postcard. Market stalls and small cafés line cobblestone streets; flowers spill over wrought-iron balconies; a young bride and groom embrace by a tranquil canal. And then it hits: a seismic blast of malevolent, man-shaped water, sweeping the newlyweds off their feet like the world’s worst-conceived Six Flags ride. But who’s that swooping in to save the day? He doesn’t seem like a superhero — he’s not even wearing spandex — though he does look a lot like Tom Holland.

Just over six weeks into the Spider-Man: Far From Home shoot, the 23-year-old British actor is actually not far at all: The “canal” is a massive water tank located at a film studio just outside his London hometown, it’s two million-plus gallons tinted a fitting Venetian blue. But his Peter Parker, the kid from Queens–turned–arachnid-blessed enforcer, is a stranger in a strange land, and he’s not having the trip he planned.

“The film picks up on the last day of school,” Holland explains later in his trailer. “Peter and his friends go on a summer vacation to Europe, and it’s time for him to sort of hang up the Spider-Man suit and take a break. He’s very tired from recent events that have been going on in the MCU, as I’m sure you’re aware, and he basically just wants to go on vacation. That vacation is hijacked by [Samuel L. Jackson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. agent] Nick Fury, and it all goes terribly wrong.”

Wrong can be right, of course — for narrative tension, if not for a teen still mourning the loss of his beloved mentor, Tony Stark, and merely hoping he’ll finally get to kiss the girl. (“I didn’t get very lucky in the last movie, because my girlfriend’s dad was a supervillain,” Holland cracks of Michael Keaton’s Vulture. “He was Birdman and Batman all in one.”)

This time he’ll have to deal with another, albeit more mortal rival: “We’re introducing a new character named Brad,” says executive producer Eric Carroll, “And he’s the sort of dude that guys like Peter and I didn’t like in high school, because their hair was always perfect, they’re always in better shape, they read all the same books as the girl — or he’s lying about reading all the same books as her, who knows,” he laughs. “But either way, when you’re the boy who likes that girl, you hate to see her laughing at jokes he’s telling.”

“We’re also bringing back Martin Starr as the hapless Mr. Harringon,” he continues. “And J.B. Smoove as Mr. Dell, who are hilarious together and constitute what is, like, the worst chaperone team of all time. And we’re giving Ned a girlfriend for the first time. He and Peter were going to be bachelors in Europe, but now Peter is hoping to get Zendaya — or MJ, as we’re calling her now.”

Zendaya, 22, who returns as Peter’s wry love interest MJ, was excited to go deeper too: “I kind of always knew she was going to start out small and interesting,” she says. “But the cool part is that Peter likes her for all of her quirks and the weird things she’s into. I didn’t want her to go through some glamorous change and now people care about her.” Neither did director Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming), who provided his young cast with a syllabus of offbeat ’80s and ’90s pop culture references — including, for her specifically, the bone-dry delivery and brutal honesty of MTV’s Daria. Together they worked hard, she says, to make sure her character “never feels damsel-y.”

Which doesn’t mean MJ might not need to be rescued. The kids have hardly unpacked their bags in Italy before the towering water monster rears its ugly anthropomorphized head, wreaking havoc in the Renaissance city. “It’s like Peter and his friends think they’re going off on this teen road-trip movie across Europe,” says Carroll, “but that movie keeps getting interrupted by the spy movie or the superhero movie that got taped over it. So Peter keeps getting pulled in these two directions, because he just wants to hang out with his friends and spend time with MJ, and Fury’s like ‘Man, I need help. I can’t get ahold of anyone else so I’m sorry, we gotta do this.'”

Columbia Pictures

This time, though, Peter has help, in the form of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio. Brought on by Nick Fury in the wake of Avengers: Endgame’s five-year Snap — here, it’s called “the Blip” — Mysterio seems like the perfect father figure: thoughtful, bearded, sympathetic to young Peter’s plight. Plus he’s got cool superpowers and an even cooler look: somewhere between red-caped gladiator and reptilian Tron. (According to the film’s wardrobe department, Gyllenhaal had five Mysterio costumes made for production and Holland approximately 30 Spideys; none, for the record, is remotely conducive to bathroom breaks.)

For Peter, there’s also a new, more incognito “stealth suit” designed by Ryan Meinerding, who visualizes many of the most iconic characters in the MCU — a sleekly minimalist look Carroll describes as “more like something Hawkeye or Black Widow would wear.”

When it came to the man inside the Mysterio suit, Watt and Co. were happy to let Gyllenhaal bring his own ideas to the table. “Jake wanted this guy to come in with a backstory,” Carroll says. “And when s— gets heavy, he plays with it. He’s obviously a great actor, and this is the kind of stuff that really informs him.” (It’s hard to miss in an early scene, for example, that he’s wearing a wedding ring.)

As conflicted as Parker and Mysterio’s relationship may turn out to be, Holland says it was important to showcase Peter as a regular teenager still looking for guidance. “Mysterio in the comics is a huge villain and one of his most notorious foes, but he is actually in this film a teammate…. We live in a climate where there are so many superhero movies made every year, so it’s nice to have one about a 16-year-old kid who’s given these responsibilities that mostly only grownups have, and see how he deals with it.”

Without too many spoilers, it’s safe to say that Peter won’t make it Home quite as innocent as he set out — especially after the game-changing reveal of the first post-credits scene. But whatever comes next, Holland is ready. “I’ll do 26 of these movies if they ask me. I get to travel the world, I get to play a character that I’ve grown up loving my whole life. So if they want me doing this until I’m Hugh Jackman’s age,” he adds with a laugh, “then I will be.”

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  • 07/02/19
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  • Jon Watts
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