How do you follow up the biggest comic book movie of all time? Make things personal.
With Spider-Man: Far From Home, director Jon Watts charted the middle ground between the neighborhood action of his critically lauded Spider-Man: Homecoming and the Earth-shattering drama of May’s Avengers: Endgame. Pulling it off meant matching Peter Parker (Tom Holland) with a down-to-Earth opposite, which Watts found in … the dimension-hopping superhero Mysterio.
There’s more to it than that, but as anyone who’s seen Far From Home knows, it’s a movie chock full of twists and reveals. So to get the full, unfettered making-of story, Polygon spoke to Watts briefly about all things spoilers, including how he remixed the legendary Mysterio for his blockbuster purposes and incorporating callbacks to meme-worthy Iron Man characters.
[Ed. note: this post contains major spoilers for Far From Home]
How much of an effect on your process did Infinity War and Endgame have?
I was one of the chosen few who knew what was going to happen in Infinity War and Endgame. We developed this movie as those were being shot and edited. So yeah, I always knew what was going to happen, and I knew that I was going to be the person dealing with the fallout of those films.
Did your conception of the movie begin with Tony’s death or Mysterio as a new character?
There were sort of three building blocks that we developed a story around. One was obviously dealing with the events of Endgame and Tony’s death. The second one was just the idea of a European vacation. Then the third was Mysterio. So those are the three things that we knew that we were going to incorporate into this movie. The trick was just figuring out how to get them all to fit together cohesively.
I think everyone was pretty on board with Mysterio early on. The opportunity to do some amazing visuals was really intriguing to me. The question was just how were we going to reinvent him for this film while still being true to the character.
Mysterio’s “powers” feel like a director’s sandbox …
A sandbox, but also quicksand. When you’re in that world and literally anything is possible visually, it’s dangerous, and you could get lost. So for me was about really focusing in on a particular story point and an emotional entry point for Peter and Mysterio, to help sort of drive that sequence and to drive those visuals.
Was there a particular image you started with? That you had to get on screen?
I remember I did this like thumbnail sketch of a little Spider-Man surrounded by shards of broken glass that are showing various versions of his reflection with giant Mysterio looming above him. That’s where we started for that sequence. In a black void. There’s very similar comic cover with a tiny Spider-Man. He’s in an amusement park with a giant Mysterio looming over him because he’s fooled Spiderman into thinking that he’s tiny.
How did the “Peter Tingle” become a key part of Peter’s arc in this movie?
We didn’t want to get too granular when it came to the rules of Spidey Sense, but it was a simple enough thing to just have Peter get smacked in the face by that banana at the beginning of the film to let you know that this thing that he usually has, this thing that we’ve seen him use in previous movies, isn’t working as well as it should. The simple reason is that he needs a break. He’s sort of lying to himself about his feelings about Tony; he’s exhausted. I mean, since Homecoming, he’s been to space! He’s been blipped away and come back. He’s watched his mentor die. He’s been through a lot. So if his Spidey Sense/Peter Tingle is not operating at its optimum level, think it’s understandable.
How did you conceive a threat that would live up in a post-Endgame world but would still be defeat-able by a lone Spider-Man?
I cheated a little bit by having a bunch of fake villains for the first half of the movie to have him take on and “defeat,” only to be brought back to earth by Mysterio. I think the thing that is scary about Mysterio is his ability to shape reality and to control the truth and to make it so people don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. That’s a terrifying idea.
How did you land on giving Mysterio connections to Stark? I did not expect to see Peter Billingsley from Iron Man pop back up in the MCU!
Whenever I would watch really any movie, I’m watching the main story that they’re trying to tell, but every time there were some actors are secondary or tertiary characters in the background, I would always just think, like, What are they doing? Like, whatever happened to them? They’re still around, right? So what are they up to? When we started cracking this idea of Mysterio’s back story and how he was connected to Tony, it just seemed right to dig around in the Marvel universe and find out who else might be a part of his team. That’s such a memorable moment from Iron Man 1, it just felt right to bring him back.
I found the reveal to have a nice connection to Homecoming. Vulture was a blue-collar guy cleaning scrap after the Battle of New York. Mysterio is an ex-Stark Industries employee burned by an egomaniac.
I’m always trying to use Spider-Man to explore the ground level of this crazy universe. If Adrian Toomes was the guy literally on the ground cleaning up the aftermath of these crazy Avengers-level events, you know, Quentin Beck is the middle-management guy. He’s the guy behind the scenes making sure all the tech works. People only notice the people on the forefront and people on the magazine covers and on TV. But the reality is that there’s so many people working behind the scenes all the time to make our world go around. They can get forgotten in the mix. I thought that it made sense for Beck to be one of those guys.