Screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers have played a pivotal role in the success of Sony and Marvel’s latest take on Spider-Man. The “Home” trilogy, as fans are now calling it, can truly be seen as their shared brainchild with director Jon Watts, having written on all three and sticking with the iconic character through thick and thin in these last few years. And if the smashing box office success and widespread critical acclaim of Spider-Man: No Way Home is any indication, this journey that’s now trekked across multiple Marvel universes has definitely been worth it.
But how does one craft a story as monumental as No Way Home from the ground up? What decisions have to be made when bringing back a slew of iconic characters from separate films all the while bringing the current series to a momentary end? We were fortunate enough to pick No Way Home apart in this regard with the writing duo themselves. Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers are no strangers to superheroes and roaring blockbuster fare, having also written on Ant-Man and the Wasp, The Lego Batman Movie, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Those films may dabble in their own fair share of multiversal/crossover shenanigans, however, as they tell us, No Way Home provided far greater challenges, especially when they didn’t know if the threequel would be in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or not when Disney and Sony briefly split their shared Spidey deal in 2019.
Read on as we dive into the makings of Spider-Man: No Way Home with writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers! We cover what almost could have been, the evolution of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, and how the duo tried their best to pay tribute to the previous Sam Raimi and Marc Webb films.
So to kick things off, you’ve two had a major hand in shaping this Spider-Man trilogy from beginning to end. No Way Home sees Peter as more as an adult than ever, as he’s now in his senior year and forced to deal with the fallout of his actions from the previous films. How did you approach tackling his maturity and growth this time around?
Erik Sommers: We knew that we were going to be dealing with that just because of where he was in his high school years. But I think the main concern coming in was just knowing that at the end of the previous movie, we had created a situation where his identity had been exposed to the whole world. So we knew that with whatever happens in this movie, we were going to have to address that. And we knew everything that Peter did in this movie – including graduating from high school, moving on to college, etc. – was going to be affected by the fact that he was no longer anonymous.
So then it was just a matter of sitting down and really thinking what the story was going to be. Pretty early on, we knew that getting into college was a big milestone and life event that we could really grab on to and show that, you know, he had plans. He had one set of plans as Peter Parker, but now because of his Spider-Man life and what happened in the last movie, that was completely blown to pieces. So what’s he going to do now?
Speaking of developing the story, both Jon Watts and Tom Holland have gone on to say that there were multiple ideas for the movie being thrown around early on, of course, with the Sony and Disney deal falling through at one point and with them not knowing if all the returning actors, such as Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina, would sign on or not. I’m curious as to how you saw this long process through?
Chris McKenna: Again, we knew that we were saddled with the idea of his identity being revealed. We didn’t know, like you said, whether this was going to be another Sony Marvel movie or not, whether it was solely going to be Amy Pascal producing, and if we were going to be brought on as writers, how would we tackle that without working with Marvel and the MCU? We did know that there were going to be all these repercussions [from Far From Home]. Would it be Peter getting arrested? Would it be Peter on the run? Would he be a fugitive? Would he be going to school or not for his senior year? Would it be under the whole spotlight of everyone as he was trying to make his way through senior year at Midtown? Kind of like how it ended up being in [No Way Home].
There were definitely a lot of questions that we had because we didn’t know if we were going to be able to use any of the MCU characters. So we started kicking around ideas, we definitely had some ideas that we were talking about with Pascal and Sony before the Disney deal went through. But, really, it was coming from where we had left Peter at the last movie. And knowing that we were heading into his senior year, we wanted to come at it in a real way of Peter Parker having real teenage problems. You know, he just got his first real girlfriend and now the whole world knows his identity and thinks he’s a terrible person. So we were really piling up his problems. The whole idea of how he was going to finish his senior year… under the possibility of being tried for murder, for multiple felonies (laughs), that was something we definitely played around with.
So when you guys do find out that you can use the MCU once more, how naturally did incorporating the multiverse and heroes like Doctor Strange come about? Marvel Studios has been building the concept of the multiverse in other projects, did you guys get filled in on these plans in any way?
Erik Sommers: Really, it’s a group of people. It’s us, Jon Watts, Amy Pascal, Rachel O’Connor, Kevin Feige if we’re lucky, in the room together and really just talking about well, what’s the best story to tell here? There were a lot of ideas discussed for how to deal with the fact that Peter’s identity had been exposed, and it didn’t start at the multiverse. It just started by asking, how is this going to affect Peter’s life and what would be a fun story to show and dramatize that? It was actually a while before the team arrived at the idea of doing the multiverse.
Just from a screenwriter’s perspective, one of the biggest challenges with these type of crossovers is juggling screen time. And you’ve got a jam-packed cast with all these returning villains that everyone is dying to see again, how do you divide who gets the spotlight at what time ?
Erik Sommers: Very carefully. Because, I mean, you want to give everyone their due, and just as a fan, you want to see those people as those characters and have fun with them. But at the end of the day, it’s a Spider-Man movie – you have to be telling the story of Peter Parker, and everything has to be in service of that. So there were a lot of painful decisions made, you know, we would have loved to have done this and that and “Oh, wouldn’t be great if these two villains could do this!” But it has to be in service of Peter’s journey, and you have to keep things moving. There were definitely a lot of what we call “little darlings” – little moments and things that you really just love – but sometimes you have to let them go
But I think you guys still have some fun with throwing in old lines and callbacks from the previous Spider-Man films for the fans. How did you decide which of these nods you were going to feature?
Erik Sommers: I mean, it’s a balancing act because we love those previous movies, the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb ones, and we want to pay homage to them and make the fans happy. But you don’t want to just do lazy fan service for its own sake because it’ll ring false at some point. It’s a balancing act and at every point, again, you have to be thinking about the story. So if you really want to hear this villain say the line that he said in that other movie, you can’t let that drive you in terms of finding a moment for that. If you just go looking for that and you spend all this time, you’re going to end up writing some scene that maybe doesn’t even need to be in the movie.
You just have to keep focused on telling Peter Parker’s story, and then hope that you find opportunities for those moments in there. We were working with a lot of smart and talented people, and just poring over these moments again and again, crafting things and trying to find those moments where we could include that kind of stuff in a way that felt like it was organic. We weren’t just doing it for its own sake.
Moving on from the villains, one of the major draw-ins to this Spidey trilogy has been Tom Holland relationship to Zendaya as Peter and MJ. Obviously, they just got together at the end of the last movie, and now they’re whole world is upside down. How did you go about pushing their relationship even further in No Way Home?
Chris McKenna: We knew that we wanted to expand on the relationship and as you say, in typical Peter Parker fashion, as soon as he gets a girlfriend, his life blows up. Obviously, Zendaya is so great as MJ and she and Tom have such great chemistry that we wanted to have that be so much of the emotional centerpiece of this movie – having them trying to make their relationship work in the midst of this chaos. At first, it’s the fallout from Far From Home, then Peter feels so bad that her life is being affected by all this so that’s why he turns to Doctor Strange. There’s an element of sacrifice, and even though things kind of blow up in their face yet again, the two of them are really trying to make it work because they really love each other.
So we knew that we wanted to interweave that throughout the movie; they think that they can get through this and then have a normal relationship, or as normal as things can be, but now there’s a bunch of new challenges that they have to get through together. We knew that we were going to have to try to test them as much as we could. We didn’t want it to be like they were fighting or anything like that, we just wanted them to be really trying to get through the storm together and hopefully have a little bit more of a peaceful, less turbulent time to finally enjoy each other.
You’ve two have accomplished so much now by closing off this trilogy. What hopes do you have to keep on writing for Spider-Man in the future or any other MCU projects? Jon Watts is obviously moving on to Fantastic Four, do you have such plans in mind?
Erik Sommers: I love this Spider-Man and I’ve had a great time, and so I hope there are more and I hope that I can be involved. But one thing you learn doing this is that you never know what’s going to happen. Of course, there’s also the matter of whether or not Sony and Disney would want to make a deal to make another movie together, the matter of whether or not the actors want to do it. There are so many variables that are totally out of our control. So it would be great but we just have to sort of keep a wait-and-see attitude about these things. Because, you know, there’s so much happening that you have no control over.
Chris McKenna: Obviously, we’ve been honored and thrilled to be a part of these three movies and Peter’s journey. If there’s more and we get to be a part of it, that would be great. It’s been thrilling but we have other projects that we’re working on. We have an original Sony [film] that we’re attached to direct and we’re working on that right now. So if it’s in the cards, we’ll see. With all of these, we’re grateful for each one that we’re able to work on.