On Day 67 of Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s 72-day shoot, Spider-Man is taking a nap on the Staten Island Ferry. That’s where Yahoo Movies first spies the new wall-crawler, Tom Holland, when we step aboard the moored ship serving as the Homecoming set one brisk September morning in New York last year. While director Jon Watts and various crew members bustle about preparing for the next shot, the web-head is sprawled on a wooden bench, his trademark red-and-blue suit partially covered by a robe that’s closer to Venom’s all-black ensemble. Faster than you can say “symbiote,” places are called and Holland bounds up from his spider nap, taking his spot in the frame and shadowboxing to get his blood pumping. “If it’s the first shot after a break, I like to do pushups or shadowbox,” the 20-year-old actor tells us later. “I do that to psych myself up. And obviously, he’s such a high-energy character. There’s nothing more boring than a dull Spider-Man.”
Spider-Man is going to need plenty of energy to survive this particular scene, which serves as Homecoming‘s centerpiece action sequence, as well as a major turning point in the life of the fledgling teen hero Peter Parker. As a sign of its importance to the narrative, the ferry sequence is heavily featured in the most recent Homecoming trailer, where we see precisely how Spider-Man’s greatest triumph instead turns into his biggest public failure. “It goes from bad to worse,” Holland admits in between shots. “Peter is still a kid — he’s a superhero that’s learning what he can do.”
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Parker’s childish enthusiasm is what lands him in this mess. Having spent the first half of the movie on the trail of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a salvage company owner who has adopted the high-tech guise of the scavenging criminal the Vulture, the teen confronts his quarry’s gang aboard a Staten Island-bound ferry. Overconfident in his abilities and relying too heavily on the toys built into his Tony Stark-designed suit, Parker screws up his biggest solo supervillain brawl when a Vulture-caused explosion splits the boat in half. As the bad guys get away, Spider-Man stays behind, using his webbing to hold the ferry together. That’s when Iron Man shows up to bail Peter out … and read him the riot act. In the wake of that disaster, Stark demands his Spidey suit back, forcing his protégé to continue pursuing Toomes in decidedly low-tech clothing.
While they’re a big part of this sequence, and Parker’s life in general, there’s no sign of Toomes or Stark on the Homecoming set. Both Keaton and Robert Downey Jr. filmed all their scenes in Atlanta, where the crew constructed a full-scale facsimile of the distinctive orange ferry to shoot the bulk of the sequence. Now the production is using one of the actual ferries for pickup shots — filming under the fake title Summer of George — and Watts, for one, is thrilled by how closely the real thing resembles the replica. “Everything, down to the rivets, is the same,” he says. “It makes me feel very comfortable here.” Of course, real New Yorkers would notice the small ways this particular boat has been Marvel-ized. In place of ads touting real N.Y.C. tourist spots, there are posters hawking the 2018 Stark World Expo, as well as the Battle of New York Memorial Museum, which carries the tagline, “…Remember Always.”
Those details are vivid reminders that Homecoming marks Spider-Man’s first solo outing within the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, after being introduced as a member of Team Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War. And Parker is still desperately eager to please his billionaire mentor, which makes his failure aboard the ferry all the more painful. “At this point in the story, Peter is at one of these crossroads where he should probably be asking for help,” explains co-producer Eric Hauserman Carroll. “But he’s so hell-bent on making a name for Spider-Man in a world populated with superheroes, he acts a little rashly here. It turns out okay, but only because he gets help from his friend Iron Man. And it’s not pretty.”
Holland previews the tongue-lashing to come while shooting a quick scene in which Spider-Man sees Iron Man approaching through the ferry window. “You know how your dad acts when you ring the doorbell [after being out late]?” Watts asks his star between takes. “He’s happy you’re safe, but he’s also going to kill you.” When Watts gives him the cue to spot Stark, Holland’s mask-covered head falls in embarrassment, and he yells, “Damn it, I’m out!” That’s not actual dialogue from the film, by the way; Holland says he frequently improvises lines to enhance his performance. “When I’m in the mask, I can basically say whatever I want,” he explains. “There’s a microphone in the mask that’s recording, but we’ll probably ADR [automated dialogue replacement, or dubbing] everything. Like in this scene where I’m looking at Iron Man, I said, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to kill me.’ Nobody will ever hear it, but to say it helps my physicality.”
Parker’s strained relationship with Stark may further deteriorate when and if he discovers that Stark inadvertently created the Vulture. As Carroll explains it, Homecoming opens with a flashback set immediately following the first Avengers film, when Toomes hopes to turn his salvage company’s fortunes around by sweeping up the Chitauri debris left over from the Battle of New York. But then the Stark-created operation Damage Control — a superhero salvage firm with a long history in Marvel Comics — swoops in and blocks ordinary guys like Adrian from handling discarded alien technology. “Toomes is feeling a little screwed by the system, so he keeps a truckload of the stuff he’s salvaged and uses it to build some pretty amazing tech to beat Damage Control to more [gear],” Carroll says. “Our Vulture really is a vulture in this movie, which is awesome. You see his whole arc, from honest working guy to [villain].”
Although the ferry fiasco is a setback for our hero, Spider-Man and the Vulture will tangle again another day. Back on set, Holland has to mop up the mess his character left behind. Exiting the frame as if to face Iron Man’s angry music, the actor almost walks smack dab into a lighting stand. “Ooh, there’s a stand there,” he says, just barely dodging it. Near collisions are a hazard of wearing Spidey’s mask, which significantly hampers his vision. “I’m basically blind,” Holland says, laughing. “We were shooting another sequence in a school bus yard, and I nearly took myself out by running into a side mirror on a bus. I dodged it by millimeters, and I think that’s the scene we’re going to use in the movie, because it looks as if I really have spider sense. But it was nearly game over that day!” Look out — there goes the Spider-Man.
Watch Holland talk about the craziest stunt he performed in the movie:
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