There are few projects that should inspire a bad case of nerves for a screenwriter like Spider-Man: Homecoming.
The pressure was immense, with the landmark film bringing together two studios, attempting to right the ship after 2014’s Amazing Spider-Man 2 — and most importantly, launching the first Spider-Man movie to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But screenwriters Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley didn’t have the luxury of psyching themselves out. The pair, largely know for comedies such as Horrible Bosses and 2015’s Vacation, had just three days to put together a pitch for Marvel.
"There was no time to be nervous really. We had such a ticking clock in getting this thing made and also in pitching it," Daley tells Heat Vision.
As audiences are now learning, their take on Peter Parker involved plenty of humor and heart and de-emphasized some of the more melodramatic elements of previous movie incarnations. The end results were the screenwriters spinning webbing into gold, with Spider-Man: Homecoming getting a particularly enthusiastic response, even by Marvel standards. Goldstein and Daley earned screen story by credits and share screenplay credits with director Jon Watts, Christopher Ford and Chris McKenna.
In a conversation with Heat Vision, the pair discuss creating more believable high school characters for 2017, why secret identities can be kind of cheesy and how Michael Keaton’s The Vulture joined the fray in the Marvel and Sony film.
You didn’t have a lot of time to put together your pitch. What do you think it was about your take that landed you the job?
Jonathan Goldstein: I think it was the combination of the humor of it, along with the relatability, that we told a high school story that happened to have super powers. I think that’s something everybody can relate to. Just because you get superpowers, doesn’t mean you become an adult or sophisticated or can get the girl.
Jon Francis Daley: In many ways, it veers you into a more irresponsible and immature direction.
How did The Vulture come into play?
Daly: What we liked about The Vulture is he is very relatable in the sense that he doesn’t have powers himself. He is a regular Joe who feels cheated by the system, and the fact that there are people out there who are reaping the reward of superherodom.
Goldstein: We also wanted to keep it grounded in more down-to-Earth villains, no puns intended. Not world domination, just kind of like, "make some money."
How much seeding of a potential sequel did you put in your original script?
Daley: The sequel is so determined by the powers that be, that anything we planted may change.
Goldstein: There are Easter eggs and references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and all of that.
Daley: We made sure to set up some characters that I think will want to be revisited in the next movie.
Peter’s best friend, Ned, is sure to be a breakout character. People have noted he actually resembles the Ultimate Spider-Man character Ganke. Is that something you envisioned on your end?
Daley: We knew we needed him to be a relatable geeky dude who is friends with Peter, and so I think they nailed it with the casting.
The movie is getting a lot of praise for a more diverse and more accurate depiction of a high school. What were your inspirations there?
Daley: It’s a magnet school, so they are all pretty smart. Even the antagonists in the story, which is nice, because then you aren’t dealing with your typical dumb jock bully, which you’ve seen a million times before. I think the goal with all of it was to flip some of the conventions on their head and make these kids smarter, wittier and more in tune with the real world than the prior characters have been.
Goldstein: We go back to John Hughes as the touchstone for the high school movie. If you look at The Breakfast Club, he took a lot of types and put them in the room and realized there are layers to them and there are reason for the way they are. There’s much more than their clothes and typical treatment in these movies.
Daley. The love interest has depth and the geeky best friend has depth. The bully [Flash Thompson, played by Tony Revolori] is somewhat likeable and not just physically intimidating. What always bummed me out was, who cares if the bully is physically intimidating? You know Peter Parker could rip his limbs off. It’s false stakes in a way. Why not just have an antagonistic rich kid? One who lords his wealth over Peter. Someone who has more confidence than Peter.
Fans already know from the trailers that Ned learns Peter’s secret identity. How’d you decide to go in that direction?
Daley: We mentioned that with Marvel and we thought it would be so cool to have a sounding board for Peter. Somebody who is the devil on his shoulder.
Goldstein: That’s the kind of friendship model we wanted to play into. Also, one thing that was different from Spider-Man or Peter Parker from most of the MCU was the secret identity. Marvel made a decision kind of early on that we’re not going to have secret identities, it’s kind of cheesy. Clark Kent with the glasses. Why don’t they see that’s Superman? So we all kind of made the decision, let’s do away. It’s still Peter’s secret, but for purposes of the movie … it’s not really what we’re leaning into.
Daley: There was sort of an archetype of Superbad that I think we used a little bit. You have these two kids that don’t have a lot of confidence, but they are such best friends and you can feel that love coming between them, it’s just a nice model to play with.
Check back to Heat Vision Sunday for the spoiler-filled second part of our conversation with Daley and Goldstein.
Jonathan Goldstein (left) and John Francis Daley