(SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead if you haven’t seen “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”)
What happened to the bees during the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s galaxy-shattering snapture?
“Spider-Man: Far From Home” writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers brought those kind of important questions straight to Marvel Studios for the most recent Spidey installment. Oh, and they also had to shoulder the weight of Tony Stark’s death, and the repercussions from that end-of-days moment from “Endgame” — and then channel all that through the lens of high school students. So how did they do it? Variety had a very spoiler-y chat with the writing team, and while neither of them will confirm what Nick Fury was doing in space or if they’re even signed on for a third Spider-Man flick, we did uncover some of the more pressing issues about Jake Gyllenhaal’s beard.
What are some of the blip repercussions you struggled with when planning “Spider-Man: Far From Home”?
Chris McKenna: It was a very collaborative process. We sat in the room with Marvel and Amy Pascal, the team — [director] Jon Watts, obviously. We were told the big things that happened in “Endgame” that we would be having to react to. So obviously there was the time shift and then there was the totality of it all. Those were the two big things we had to be coping with as we moved forward. But also, our main mandate was just making sure to have as much fun as possible with this movie… after the bummer of “Endgame.”
Specifically, you have Aunt May raising money for people that were displaced by the blip. What sort of blip nitty-gritty did you get into as a writers?
Erik Sommers: You spend a lot of time in a room with the team just talking about all this stuff. There were some things we definitely talked about a lot. “Okay, let’s say you were in an airplane and you blipped and then you come back, but the airplane is not in the same place anymore, so do you just blip back in the sky? And then is it half of all life? Does that mean, like, cats and animals? And what happens to the bees? They’re already having so much trouble, the bees.” So we got bogged down in the nitty-gritty.
What answer did Marvel give for the airplane question?
McKenna: We were told that when Bruce [Banner] brings everyone back that he accounted for that, that was part of his wish. Everyone came back safe and sound. We don’t have to worry about people falling out of the skies.
And the bees?
McKenna: The bees were fine too. They all came right back to their hives.
But animals did disappear during the blip.
McKenna: All life forms. Even down to the bacteria in your digestive system. We were wondering if we could make a whole plot point about people’s digestive systems that were really screwed up.
Because Peter is a hero on the ground level, we wanted to see everything in the most trying part of a person’s life in a way which is high school. We really wanted to get into the nitty-gritty of it all, but in the most fun and the most realistic way to deal with these great cosmic things that happened in the previous movies.
So much of this film is about manipulation, con artists and conspiracy theories. Why were you guys drawn to this specific storyline?
Sommers: When the whole team decided we were going to go with Mysterio, and obviously so much of Mysterio has to do with deception, it just seemed like a natural progression to move the story in that direction. Especially since Peter is also — sort of — lying to himself about not wanting to step up and not wanting to face the new reality that he finds himself in. It just felt very organic that everything was about deception and lying either to yourself or others.
What was the process for building Mysterio with Jake Gyllenhaal? Do you re-write this character after someone like Gyllenhaal is cast or do you write it for him?
McKenna: We worked with Jon Watts and the producers long and hard on the script and then we were lucky enough to get Jake. And Jake had his own thoughts, which were just great and really brought the character to another level, making [Mysterio] more of a character he felt comfortable inhabiting. We sat in the room with Jake a few times and went over all the scenes together.
What were Gyllenhaal’s ideas or thoughts on Mysterio? What did he want to change or add?
Sommers: Jake just really liked the idea that he was manipulating everyone’s love of superheroes and that need for heroes. He also wanted to make sure that the front half of his character played as realistically as possible. We all wanted everyone to believe that what we were seeing is what we were getting. We really wanted to make everything as specific as possible so it really did seem like this was a man out of time and out of place coping with a really insane situation that he tragically had gone through.
McKenna: He had a beard! He wanted a beard. He was right. It was one of those things. He knows as an actor what plays and what doesn’t. What we really wanted was someone to really be an alluring, father-figure replacement for Tony [Stark]. Jake knew how to do that, from his performance all the way down to his hair. If you look at him, you think, “Oh! I want that guy to be my new dad.”
Both Mysterio and Vulture from “Homecoming” are these wild, classic comic book characters which don’t seem like they’ll work in a movie translation. And yet, Vulture was turned into this blue-collar working man trying to do right by his family and Mysterio into a jaded, ex-tech guy. How do you take these outlandish characters and ground them in the reality of 2019?
Sommers: The villain story is a big challenge… we’re drawing on a character who is everything you said, and how do we make him more grounded, how do we make him more real, how do we make him fit into the MCU? It’s always a big challenge and it really just comes down to spending a lot of time in the room, going over different versions, looking at source material and discussing it over and over. You just sort of just grind away at it. That’s what we did. We spent a lot of time in a windowless room with Jon Watts and the folks from Marvel and Pascal just [asked], “What about this, what about that?” We talked about it in different iterations, went down different roads and eventually settled on the version we ended up with.
McKenna: Ninety percent of it is casting. I mean, Michael Keaton (Vulture), you’re going to believe anything he says. Jake, you’re going to believe anything he says. I don’t mean to go to this well again, but I will go back to the beard. It came out of a logical place for Jake. Jake was like, “Well, this guy is supposed to be a soldier from another world, he’s not going to be stopping and shaving. He’s not going to be clean-shaven.” And we were like, “Yeah, you’re right.” So, again the beard. It’s about mostly facial hair. That was the hardest thing to crack.
The biggest thing that everyone was buzzing about online was the return of J.K. Simmons. Tell me how you guys made this happen.
McKenna: I had never seen the original Spider-Man movies and I pitched him and everyone said, “No… We can’t do that!” I’m still waiting for Sony to get me my free copies, but they never gave me the free copies. Once we realized that news would play a huge part particularly in the undergirding of the movie in terms of facts and fantasy, facts and fiction, then we played around with the idea that Mysterio would be pulling one con at the end. It became clear that it would be a perfect entree for J. Jonah Jameson. And then we were thinking, “How do you top J.K. Simmons?” And you know how you top J.K. Simmons? You get J.K. Simmons.
When you wrote the script, did you specify, “to be played by J.K. Simmons”? Would you have done it with anyone else?
Sommers: No, honestly. That idea had a lot of traction early on in the process. We always hoped that it would be him. And then the decision was, in what form? Was he going to be like he was before? We decided that maybe a better reflection of how things have changed, how media has changed, would be instead he’s more of this Alex Jones figure now. That was the big decision.
It plays nicely into your conspiracy theory theme. Were you nervous about taking the Bugle and twisting it into what is seemingly Infowars?
Sommers: I don’t think so. We thought it would be a fun thing to try. I’m nervous about so many things, but not nervous about that.
Another final reveal was Skrulls returning as Nick Fury. The team has been vocal that Nick Fury’s superpower is suspicion, so this is why the Skrulls were used, because they wouldn’t pick up on Mysterio. But, why integrate the Skrulls at all? Was that something that came from above?
McKenna: It’s funny, there was a very, very early iteration of the Mysterio story that actually did involve the Skrulls that we kicked to the curb early in the story-writing process. Because this really became a con artist movie, essentially, we really went along with how many ways can we deceive the audience? How many twists and turns can we have? It seemed like it was an idea that Jon Watts had kicked around early on that we embraced as something people would love to have. There’s always one final twist, and we would be living up to what we were trying to emulate and celebrate.
How integral are the Skrulls to phase four? Are you guys prepping “Secret Invasion” right now?
Sommers: We do not know. I hope so, that would be cool. I’d like to see that.
McKenna: We are currently driving on our way to Marvel, we don’t know why or what they want. They don’t even show us the menu for lunch.
Does lunch just appear?
McKenna: Yeah, and then we have to eat the food blindfolded. That’s how Kevin Feige operates.