After the gravitas of Avengers: Endgame, the stakes are lowered and things are looking up as Peter Parker takes on Europe and summer romance on a class trip. We speak to Spider-Man: Far From Home actor Zendaya to find out more…
After everything the Marvel Cinematic Universe put is through over the last few years with Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, things might finally be returning to normal with the latest instalment in the saga, Spider-Man: Far From Home. In theory, it should take several more years to build up the momentum enough to create a story that will shock, impress and devastate us as much as Infinity War and Endgame did, but that seems far from what Far From Home is going for. Instead of taking the hero to the end of days, the film is taking him on a class trip to Europe.
After all that went down in the last two Avengers films, and what Peter Parker (Tom Holland) went through personally – space travel, being turned to dust, coming back to life and losing his mentor, Tony Stark – the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man is essentially still just a kid who happens to have superpowers. He might have the weight of the world on his shoulders (or the weight of Queens, NY, at the very least) but he also has to juggle schoolwork, friends and family, internships and crushes, which would be more than enough for most normal teenagers. Though he’s looking for a bit of relief with the trip to Europe in Far From Home, he’s understandably still carrying the trauma around with him.
“I think about the amount of trauma that Peter Parker just went through, because he just watched so many people in his life go,” actor Zendaya tells us. “That’s a lot for a 16-year-old to deal with. That’s pretty crazy, which is why I think he is wearing that heaviness on his shoulders in Far From Home. In the trailer, it says that Iron Man is still everywhere; he is this massive character and a massive hero in their world, so everybody is grieving. Imagine what it must be like for Peter, to walk around and keep seeing Iron Man’s face everywhere? In that sense, this movie deals with a lot of baggage left over from Endgame, but it’s also very funny. At the end of the day, our movie is also very much like a comedy. There’s a lot of humour and there are a lot of laughs as well, which makes it different.”
After a somewhat disastrous attempt at romance in Spider-Man: Homecoming (finding out your crush-turned-prom date’s father is not only a super villain but actively out to get you tends to put a downer on things), Peter is crushing on someone else in Far From Home: the hero’s cartoon heart eyes are now pointing in the direction of Zendaya’s MJ. Over the course of Homecoming, MJ went from Peter’s weird loner classmate and decathlon teammate to his friend, but that relationship is about to shift even further as the two are swept up in a classic high school summer fling.
“I think [MJ and Peter] have a nice connection because he is an outsider and she is an outsider,” says Zendaya. “Plus, he likes her for who she is, which is quirky and weird. She has a dark sense of humour and he appreciates that in her, so their relationship grounds the story in the sense that it reminds us that he is still just a teenager.”
Though the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s MJ is short for Michelle Jones, Zendaya’s character is reminiscent of Peter Parker’s long-time comics love interest Mary Jane Watson (the name change was to throw people off the scent on the run up to Homecoming). She’s there to remind us of the Peter/MJ dynamic while she develops into an entirely new, and somewhat more modern, character. The original MJ might be an iconic figure in the Spider-Man canon, but she was often obsessed with Spidey; the MCU’s MJ is more of just an observant fly on the wall of his life.
“It’s weird because my character’s name is MJ, but I wasn’t allowed to say that for the entire press tour for the first movie,” laughs Zendaya. “It almost feels weird to say it now; like I am going to get into trouble. I feel like I am going to get an email from Marvel saying, ‘What are you doing?’ But no, it’s exciting to say that. It’s exciting to be back as I finally get to be on set more often and I know a little bit more about what is going on.”
After more than two decades of romance, the comic versions of Peter and Mary Jane finally married in 1987’s The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 and embarked on a long and complicated partnership, but Far From Home’s version of the love story is keeping things light and breezy.
“There is definitely a romantic element there, but they are only 15 or 16 years old, so they are trying to figure it out,” explains Zendaya. “Right now, it’s in that really awkward phase. There are a lot of great awkward moments between Tom’s character and my character. It was a lot of fun to relive those awkward days.”
Though awkwardness, particularly where crushes are involved, would be many teenagers’ nightmare, it sounds like it might be something of a nice break for Peter. “Assuming you’re aware of what happened in Avengers: Endgame, this second movie is about Spider-Man being forced to step up to the plate and fill a void for superheroes – but he is still young and there is a lot of pressure on him,” Zendaya says. “I think my character reflects the normal part of his life; a life that he desperately wants to have. He’s like, ‘There’s a girl I like and I want to experience that. Plus, I want to go on my school trip and I want to have fun.’”
Though many supporting love interests in comic book stories have taken the role of the damsel in distress in the past, that trend has slowly gone out of fashion, particularly in the case of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Pepper Potts became Rescue, Peggy Carter continued fighting without Captain America in her own ABC TV series, and Hope Van Dyne even got a title credit in Ant-Man And The Wasp. Zendaya insists that the case is no different when it comes to her version of MJ. She might not have superpowers, but that doesn’t mean she’s in distress.
“There’s definitely no damsel-in-distress here,” she says. “Going into the character, I think that was something that I was aware of, but I also think that our director and our writers were also very aware of it. They never wanted that and they never wanted to create that narrative. MJ is very smart and very perceptive, which is why she already has a sense that Peter is Spider-Man. I am not going to spoil anything by saying this, but she is definitely more helpful in this movie.”
Being more helpful this time round obviously means that MJ gets far more screen time, not being limited to decathlon meetings. “There were not too many physical challenges on set, but I did have a lot of fun,” Zendaya says. “There are a lot of things they literally won’t let me talk about, but this movie is much more exciting. I have a little Funko Pop action figure thing where I am carrying a mace. I can’t say why she is carrying a mace, but I can confirm she gets to be in on more of the action this time.”
Returning from Homecoming alongside Peter and MJ for the class trip are Peter’s best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), rival Tony ‘Flash’ Thompson (Tony Revolori), classmate Betty Brant (Angourie Rice) and teacher Mr Harrington (Martin Starr), as well as Stark Industries’ head of security Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and bodega owner Mr Delmar (Hemky Madera).
Many of Homecoming’s behind-the-scenes names are also back on board for the sequel, including director Jon Watts and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. However, Zendaya ensures us that we can expect something a little different with Far From Home.
“In some ways, I think the second movie is the opposite of the first movie,” she tells us. “The last movie was about Spider-Man training to be Spider-Man. More than anything in the world, he wanted to be Spider-Man. He wanted to prove himself and he did whatever he could to maximise his time being Spider-Man. This movie is the opposite, because he is running away from being Spider-Man. Obviously, Peter has been through so much in these Marvel movies. He’s like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I just want to be a normal kid. I want to experience a life where I can go on a school trip with my friends. I don’t want to be a superhero.’
“Far From Home is about stepping up to the plate, which is something I think all of us have felt at some point in our lives. If you have a gift, or if you have something that can help the world, there sometimes comes a point where you just have to step up to the plate and you’ve got to do it. I can connect to that. I am a normal person, but I have so much power with the influence that I have; with that comes a lot of responsibility and I can’t run from it. Instead, I have to face it. I have to embrace it and accept it – and do something with it. In that sense, I understand how Spidey feels.”
Spider-Man: Far From Home is out now on Netflix or buy it on Blu-ray here.