By Gill Pringle

“For my first job at Marvel, I was Kenneth Branagh’s researcher on Thor,” Eric Hauserman Carroll tells FilmInk. Proving that the movie world’s newest powerhouse rewards talent and creativity, Carroll has now moved into the position of producer in just six years. He’s talking to FilmInk on the set of the Jon Watts-directed Spider-Man: Homecoming, which sees Marvel Studios reclaiming their titular superhero in a landmark deal with Sony.

It’s a big assignment for Carroll, who served as a creative executive on Thor: The Dark World before becoming a co-producer on the Agent Carter television series. This, however, is a far more complex cinematic beast. Not happy with the critical and box office response generated by 2014’s Andrew Garfield-starring The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony – who hold the right to Marvel’s most popular character – went to Marvel Studios looking to cut a deal. With a handshake that sent seismic rumbles shooting through the world’s geek community, Spider-Man was allowed to swing into The Marvel Cinematic Universe, first with an appearance in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and now with his own top-lining movie in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Importantly, Marvel sold the rights to Spider-Man (and many of its other properties, including The X-Men, The Fantastic Four and many others) way before it became a movie studio in its right and started making its own movies. “Those deals with Fox and Sony were made in the ‘90s when the company needed to make those deals to basically stay afloat,” Carroll explains. “I’m pretty sure if they hadn’t sold the rights to Spider-Man to Sony, and The X-Men to Fox, the publishing wing would’ve been sold to somebody, and could’ve even gone away. So, when Marvel Studios came around, one character that we thought we’d never get to play with is Spider-Man, because he’s the crown jewel, and Sony’s got a lock up on him. They’re making good movies, so why team up with us?’”

But while Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies with Tobey Maguire were sensational, by his third outing in 2007, the property was starting to flag, and Sony’s ill-advised, too-soon 2012 reboot and its sequel felt far too familiar to work effectively. Cue their pop culturally historic meeting with Marvel Studios. “It’s almost that feeling of your dad throwing you the keys to the Mercedes and being like, ‘Have fun,’” Carroll laughs. “This is the coolest thing ever! This is definitely a character that we begrudgingly thought would never meet The Avengers, but people were having so much fun with these movies that [Sony boss] Amy [Pascal] and [Marvel Studios main man] Kevin [Feige] started talking about it, and they just kept talking about it, until one day they were like, ‘Shit, let’s see if we can get everybody on board! Let’s see if we can do this!’ Once the conversation started, it happened fast; Sony was super cool about it, and Marvel and [Marvel owner] Disney were super cool about. This is a win-win, so everybody’s happy.”

Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

One of the major failures of 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man was that the producers and director, Marc Webb, opted to go back to the drawing board and tell the character’s origin story, just ten years after Sam Raimi had done exactly that in his first Spider-Man movie. Sensibly, Spider-Man: Homecoming takes a different approach to the story Peter Parker come Spider-Man. “We briefly acknowledge Spider-Man’s origin,” Carroll offers. “We aren’t changing his origin. His origin is the origin that we all know and love, and have seen in a couple of movies now. But we thought that going down that road again would hinder us. It locks you into a storytelling structure that is pretty rock-solid. I don’t know how you redo the origin story without having him bit by the spider at the end of the first act, and Uncle Ben dying around the mid-point. All of a sudden, you’ve got a movie that feels familiar. It’s in our best interests for this to feel new and fresh. Sony have been great too. They were literally like, ‘There are no creative limitations – just make the best movie using characters that you want to.”

Vitally, Spider-Man: Homecoming is staying away from many of the mythos-vital but overly familiar elements of the recent two iterations of Spider-Man.  “Mary Jane’s not in our movie,” Carroll says of Peter Parker’s most famous love interest. “We wanted every frame of this to feel new. When that first teaser trailer comes out, we don’t want people to be like, ‘Oh, that’s probably the scene where Peter is consoling Aunt May after Ben dies. Oh, that’s probably the scene where he’s feeling woozy because he’s just been bitten by the spider.’ Once you start getting into Mary Jane, who is so heavily explored in the first three movies, and Gwen Stacy, who is so heavily featured in the next two, or the Osborns, who are all over all five previous movies, it all just starts to feel familiar. We did hint to potential writers and directors that maybe we weren’t interested in hearing their Doctor Octopus story, or their Norman Osborn story right away, because again, it feels familiar, but that didn’t stop a couple of them from pitching us Doctor Octopus stories and Norman Osborn stories! But that works against people being excited to come see what is essentially a brand new take on this character.”

Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

And as we glimpsed in Captain America: Civil War, this is indeed a very different web-slinger. As played by British actor, Tom Holland, Spider-Man is – as he was originally portrayed in Marvel’s comic books – just a kid in high school dealing with his newly acquired set of extraordinary powers. “One of the mission statements on this movie is to tell the story of the ground level of The Marvel Cinematic Universe,” Carroll explains. “Everybody else who’s existed so far is a billionaire who lives in a penthouse, and literally at the top of Avengers Tower, or is even alien royalty. This was a fun opportunity to figure out, or tell the story, of what it’s like to be a kid who woke up one day and saw on the news that aliens were invading New York, and a superhero stopped them,” Carroll says, referencing the events of 2012’s game-changing The Avengers.

Further bolstering Spider-Man’s positioning in The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the presence of Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, in Spider-Man: Homecoming. “There is quite a bit of interaction with Tony Stark,” Carroll says of the character, who served as a mentor to the teenage Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War. “If you think of this in terms of other coming of age stories or movies about kids from that golden era of the ‘80s, Tony’s almost like the parent who goes out of town at the beginning of the movie and is like ‘Alright, don’t throw any parties while I’m gone!’ And when Tony does check in with him at the end of the first act, Peter is definitely caught in the middle of some youthful shenanigans, and then basically he comes back at the end and is like, ‘Hey man, what are you doing? I thought you were ready? Are you ready? Because you’re proving to me that I jumped the gun a little bit and maybe you should cool your jets.’ He’s a big part of the movie, and he’s in multiple scenes.”

Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr and Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Already tagged as the kick-off point of a new, high school-set trilogy, Spider-Man: Homecoming’s set-up in The Marvel Cinematic Universe could see the appearance of more superheroes in the follow-up films. “We’re totally open to Captain America or Thor appearing in a future Spider-Man movie,” Carroll says. “They’re in the same universe now. The characters could absolutely go back and forth if that’s what we decided was the best story to tell for any given film. We would love to do a trilogy.”

Spider-Man: Homecoming is released in cinemas on July 6.

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