“No matter how much we’d like to have this other scene with Daredevil, we just have to try to keep things focused on Peter’s journey.” —Erik Sommers
[This article contains full spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home]
The rumors that surrounded Marvel and Sony’s latest blockbuster have now been confirmed.
The highly anticipated Spider-Man: No Way Home, despite months of denials, does indeed unite three generations of superhero filmmaking. This includes the return of villains from Sam Raimi’s original trilogy and Marc Webb’s subsequent duology and, of course, the epic combination that is Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland swinging through the night side-by-side (to the sound of over $1.3 billion).
But while the ambition of this alone is awe-inspiring, actually pulling this off introduces some tough writing challenges. In a story so filled to the brim with characters, how does the plot make good on the promise of giving us all these people while also maintaining an intelligible, and satisfying, emotional core?
For screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, the key came in never forgetting how, ultimately, this story belonged to just one Peter Parker.
“They’re so great [the returning characters]. There’s so much we can do with them,” said Sommers. “But if we do too much with any one of them, it could end up robbing from what is, again, our north star: the journey of our Peter Parker, our Spider-Man. And everything has to be in service of that, no matter how much we love it.”
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The duo explain how they at first had many additional ideas for the returning characters. In fact, at one point, this included more scenes with the surprise cameo character Matt Murdock (otherwise known as Daredevil). But ultimately, the team chose to cut things down in order to prioritize moments that deepened the journey of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker.
But rather than take away from the fun of this crossover, the emphasis on how the returning characters affect Tom Holland’s Peter Parker confers a deeper significance back onto them. Because, after the younger Parker grows through these challenges, it’s clear that the mentors he met along the way were crucial to his new beginning.
“This was the ultimate crucible that he [Holland’s Spider-Man] had been through,” said McKenna. “And that he needed these two Spider-Men to come and help him, and keep him from doing something that he was ready to do on Captain America’s shield, I— it does to me feel like the origin of now.”
I recently got the chance to speak further with Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna about the process behind continuing past character arcs, choosing what to cut from the final film, and their thoughts on what the future of the Spider-Man multiverse could look like.
Below is a summary of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
So when we last saw Tobey Maguire’s and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Men, we left them in very different emotional states. What was the process like of going back to understand where they were, and then deciding what happens next?
Erik Sommers: Well, as soon as it was decided that we were going to have the other two Spider-Men, the first thing that immediately went into our heads is that they can’t just be the same, and they can’t just show up for no reason. You know, we have to honor those characters. Because we’re fans of those movies. But also, just from a writing perspective, there has to be a little arc there.
And then it was really just about rewatching those older movies and thinking about, where are those guys? I think for Andrew it immediately became clear that, okay, Gwen left him with these amazing words of what she wanted him to do, to hold on to hope and to keep going. But that’s a really hard task for someone who has lost someone and is blaming himself. So what if he struggled to keep up with those words? What if he struggled and he has faltered?
Chris McKenna: Yeah I think we all thought differentiating them was really important. You know shorthand, for me at least, became: older brother, middle brother, younger brother. So Tobey wanted to be coming from a place where he had been through a lot and come through it. And we liked the idea of Andrew still struggling with where he was after the events of [his] last movie.
And then both of them bringing this wisdom to Tom’s Peter in a time where he didn’t want anybody to be telling him that. I mean, I think Tom pitched the whole, “I don’t want to hear you talking about how you’ve been through the same thing.” Which really— I think for anyone who’s in that lowest point of their life, suddenly having someone try to impart wisdom to you— that’s the last thing you want to hear! But they do have wisdom.
Because Tom is on a story here that really is the creation of his own distinct Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I don’t think he had an origin story that was quite like theirs. I think May is the closest thing that he has to an Uncle Ben. Instead of trying to raise money for a car, he was trying to save these villains. [And] he was doing it against his own inner desire to just get what he wanted. And it gets [May] killed. And he’s struggling with…does anything she taught me mean anything? And it’s the other two showing up to be the last pieces of his own Peter Parker journey, which is helping him get to: it does mean something. She didn’t die for nothing. This is what we do. And Peter wouldn’t have gotten there without these other two showing up.
The other surprise appearance was Matt Murdock from the Netflix NFLX series. How did that happen? Were there ever talks of him playing a larger role?
Sommers: I think the idea came up pretty early on. Simply because the main driving factor in this movie is that it is the end of the last movie. His identity has been put out there, and it’s going to cause all this chaos. It just very quickly became apparent that he was going to have some legal troubles (Laughs).
So I think it wasn’t that long before someone on the team suggested, well it should be Matt Murdock who should be his lawyer! Wouldn’t that be cool? But then the problem is— well how do we have this awesome guy in it and not have him become, in a movie where we’re already bringing in all these characters, one too many?
McKenna: The fear was— why doesn’t he show up at Act Three if we have two or three scenes with him? So we really tried to limit him. We had other scenes with him, but people started fearing that then they were expecting Daredevil to show up. Which just— we were trying to keep it very unified so there were three heroes in the end. It just would have felt like something else if suddenly Daredevil—
Sommers: That’s the challenge. It’s the same challenge with every single one of these characters that we brought in. They’re so great. There’s so much we can do with them. But if we do too much with any one of them, it could end up robbing from what is, again, our north star: the journey of our Peter Parker, our Spider-Man. And everything has to be in service of that, no matter how much we love it. No matter how much we’d like to have this other scene with Daredevil, we just have to try to keep things focused on Peter’s journey.
That makes sense. Well, I’m excited to see where the MCU takes him from here.
Sommers: Me too!
A popular fan interpretation of the entire “Home Trilogy” is that this all now functions as one, epic origin story for this Peter Parker. Was that the intent?
McKenna: I don’t think it was anyone’s game plan from the very beginning. But I think there’s something really refreshing about him being reborn at the end of this. I mean Tony’s been taken away. Now May has been taken away. He doesn’t have the suit. He doesn’t have his loved ones. He’s completely anonymous. Not only do people not know who Spider-Man is, they don’t know who Peter Parker is!
Yet he feels spiritually refreshed and ready to take on the world. I think this was the ultimate crucible that he had been through. And that he needed these two Spider-Men to come and help him, and keep him from doing something that he was ready to do on Captain America’s shield, I— it does to me feel like the origin of now. Whether we see him or not, this seems to propel him into a place where he has been forged in a new way, in a way that he hadn’t been up until this point in the MCU.
Okay, one last question: Andrew Garfield’s return as Spider-Man in this film was a standout performance. And because of that many are asking for him to get the chance to make The Amazing Spider-Man 3. So, if you all got the call to write for that, where would you take it?
Sommers: Ooh boy!
McKenna: I thought he was incredible. I think that would be a great call to get. We haven’t gotten it, but I would love to see more of these. No matter how many times we’ve seen this movie I’m like, where do those two go now? Maybe less is more. Maybe it’s almost too much to lean into them. But I, as a fan, would love to see where both Tobey and Andrew go in the future.
Sommers: Yeah, I mean nothing would make me happier than to participate in, or even just to watch, a movie with one of these other two Spider-Men having returned from this journey and to see, you know, what have they learned from this and how’s that going to affect them? That would just be incredible.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is now playing in theaters. The film stars Tom Holland, Zendaya, and Benedict Cumberbatch and is directed by Jon Watts.