DUBAI: When Arab News visited the “Spider-Man: Far from Home” set last summer, the notoriously secretive Marvel couldn’t tell us much. We knew Spider-Man was alive, of course, as he was standing in front of us, even though he had just died in “Avengers: Infinity War.” We didn’t know how he came back to life — or how this film would follow “Endgame,” the paradigm-shifting finale of the Avengers series released in April. We didn’t even know when the film was set. Throughout the day, our peek into the process was meticulously managed, with cast and crew on guard not to give any secrets away.
Tom Holland, who plays Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has been famously loose-lipped with spoilers in the past. As he takes a break from battling a giant water monster on the streets of Venice, Holland seems a lot calmer about the whole process than he used to be — even if Marvel isn’t totally sure he’s learned his lesson.
“That’s why all these people are staring at me so intently. I know a lot about this movie obviously — I read the script and I know it from top to bottom, but I have a handle on the old spoilers now. I’m getting better at dodging questions,” Holland tells Arab News.
Luckily for him, Holland never gave away the biggest secret of all — Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr, met his end in “Avengers: Endgame.” His shadow looms large over “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” after Iron Man and Spider-Man forged a father-son style relationship over the course of the four films they appeared in together.
For director Jon Watts, it was that loss that fueled the emotional core of the film.
“Once you know that Tony is gone, that gives a you a juicy emotional story to tell. Loss is such a big part of what makes Peter Parker who he is, as explored in fascinating ways in the comics. The fact that we were dealing with the loss of his mentor in this film allowed us to really delve into the classic themes from the comics,” Watts tells Arab News.
Without Iron Man guiding him, Spider-Man quickly bonds with a new older friend, a hero called Mysterio, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. On set, the chance to work with the Oscar-nominated actor had Holland buzzing.
“Jake is awesome. Every year, I sit down with my agents (and discuss) which actors I’d like to work with, which directors I’d like to work with, and Jake Gyllenhaal is always at the top of my list. So it’s a real dream come true. It’s also nice that we get to play friends on screen, because it helped us become better friends offscreen as well. It’s been an amazing process working with someone that I look up to so much,” says Holland.
The film marks the first foray into the world of superheroes for Gyllenhaal, one of the most respected actors in Hollywood.
“I think the Marvel Universe is pretty incredible,” he says. “One of the only superpowers you have as an actor is the ability — if you have the opportunity — to make a choice. Mostly you’re just being told what somebody else wants you to play. It felt so different from anything I’d been doing. I like to switch it up, and it was a perfect switch-up. Perfect timing.”
Also helping to fill the void left by Downey Jr’s departure is Samuel L Jackson, who appeared in the first “Iron Man” film in 2008 as Nick Fury, and has become a key figure in the 23-film MCU. In “Far from Home,” it is Jackson’s Fury who must recruit Spider-Man to fight the deadly monsters that have been popping up throughout Europe. Playing off Holland’s comedic energy, Jackson finds a different side to the character than we’ve seen before.
“Being the straight man is not something I’m used to — I like telling the joke, or being the butt of the joke,” says Jackson. “Being awkwardly off-kilter is something that Nick Fury is not used to. It’s interesting to see him in that place, almost asking this kid to do what he needs him to do rather than this is what’s going on and this is what we need to do about it. I’m trying to lasso him in and convince him he can’t be the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man any more. It’s bigger than that.”
Much of the tension between Fury and Parker comes from the fact that Spider-Man doesn’t want to be fighting monsters at all — he’s a high school kid who wants to go on a European holiday with his friends. Along for the ride are Zendaya (MJ) and Jacob Batelon (Ned), both returning from the last film, “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” According to Zendaya, the onscreen closeness between the cast mirrors real life.
“Me, Tom and Jacob — everybody’s like family. They’re going to be my friends forever. We’ve all gotten really, really close. It’s like coming back to school. We’ve had a really long summer break and now we’re back together,” says Zendaya.
Zendaya’s MJ is very consciously a departure from the kind of love interest that we’ve seen in the comic books and other superhero films.
“So many of the female characters in the older comics are purely defined by the color of their hair, so I saw this as an opportunity build this character back from scratch,” says Watts.
Zendaya herself welcomed MJ’s departure from stereotypes, never wanting to fall into classic tropes such as the ‘damsel in distress’.
“Women are different. We’re versatile. We have different kind of interests. I like that that’s being showcased. She’s got a different look and way of seeing the dynamic [between her and Spider-Man],” says Zendaya.