Introducing New Spider-Man Director Jon Watts

Ben Bussey
UK Movies Writer

Talk about deja vu. Doesn’t seem so long ago (indeed, it’s only a little over five years) since the last new director and lead actor were simultaneously announced for a new ‘Spider-Man’ movie, and film fans everywhere unanimously replied, “who?” 

Back in 2010, following the abrupt departure of Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire (and along with them Kirsten Dunst) from what would have been ‘Spider-Man 4,’ Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield - both largely unknown at the time - were revealed as the two key figures behind Sony’s reboot, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man.’ 

Now, we've learned that the new, as-yet untitled second reboot - a Sony/Marvel co-production which will introduce Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe - will be spearheaded by actor Tom Holland, and director Jon Watts (pictured above).

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In the first public statement on the matter, Sony Pictures chairman Tom Rothman said, “I’ve worked with a number of up-and-coming directors who have gone on to be superstars and believe that Jon is just such an outstanding talent,” whilst Marvel president Kevin Feige remarked, “As with James Gunn, Joss Whedon, and the Russo brothers, we love finding new and exciting voices to bring these characters to life.  We spent a lot of time with Jon and find his take and work inspiring.”

So, the people at the top are convinced Jon Watts is the right person for the job, which definitely counts for a lot - but the rest of us can surely be forgiven for not knowing who he is. Whilst Holland’s casting is no surprise to anyone who’s been following the news on the matter, Watts would seem to have come completely out of left-field; indeed, he was not even mentioned on the early shortlist of directors in contention for ‘Spider-Man’ which was released online back in May.

Here, then, are the essentials on Jon Watts. He’s an American director, writer and producer who’s been working primarily in low budget indie territory since 2001. While he has several short films and TV movies to his name, there are only two other big screen feature films on his CV, both of which are very recent: 2014 horror movie ‘Clown,’ and upcoming action thriller ‘Cop Car.’

‘Clown’ caused quite a stir among horror fans on release. The film’s promotion heavily emphasised producer Eli Roth’s involvement, leading many to assume that Roth himself had directed it; however, in a curious way this was all Watts’s own doing. 

Watts initially made ‘Clown’ in 2010 as a fake trailer (embedded below) about a Coulrophobe who finds himself literally turning into a clown after donning a suit for his child’s birthday party. The trailer jokingly declared itself to be for an Eli Roth film - but Roth himself was impressed enough to produce the feature-length version for real. 

‘Clown’ later won the distinction of seeing its poster banned in Italy for allegedly being too scary. Beyond this, the film was met with a somewhat mixed critical response and made little impact commercially, going direct to home entertainment in most territories including Britain, following numerous festival screenings.

Watts’ follow-up ‘Cop Car’ would appear to be a whole different kettle of fish. Garnering a great buzz from its screenings at festivals including Sundance and recently Edinburgh International Film Festival, it stars Kevin Bacon as a crooked small-town sheriff whose car is taken for a joyride by two young boys - unwittingly landing themselves in even more trouble than they might have imagined. Variety called it ‘B-movie gold.’

Based on these two breakthrough films, Jon Watts would certainly seem to be on his way to becoming a noteworthy director - but does that mean he’s really ready to take on something as monumental as ‘Spider-Man?’

Again, it’s hard not to be reminded of Marc Webb landing ‘The Amazing Spider-Man.’ Webb only had one feature to his name, romantic comedy ‘(500) Days of Summer,’ when he was hired to take Spidey back to square one for the next generation - and it would seem that this proved too big a leap for him, though it’s open to debate as to whether the reboot’s problems were down more to his own inexperience or interference from above.

And on the subject of interference from above, Tom Rothman’s remarks about having worked with “a number of up-and-coming directors” will doubtless remind many comic book movie fans of ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ director Gavin Hood, who reportedly suffered severe micro-management from Rothman - then the head of production at 20th Century Fox - throughout that troubled prequel.

However, Jon Watts will also have Kevin Feige in his corner - and, as Feige rightly emphasises, this is hardly the first time Marvel have picked an unlikely candidate to helm a major motion picture. Even so, the likes of Whedon, Gunn and the Russos came to Marvel with a bit more experience of working in the big leagues than Watts has at present.

Still, it is worth taking into consideration that ‘Clown’ and ‘Cop Car’ feature child actors in key roles, and both films have been noted for their bold approach to the younger characters. Given that this version of ‘Spider-Man’ is known to be gearing a bit younger than the last two incarnations with an eye to keeping the character in high school potentially for several movies, it may well be that Watts is especially attuned to the required youthful spirit. 

Yes, Watts is far from the expected choice for the new ‘Spider-Man,’ but if Marvel and Sony agree he’s the right choice of director then he’s at least earned the benefit of the doubt. We wish him the best of luck, and eagerly anticipate seeing what he comes up with once the reboot arrives in July 2017.

Before that, new Spidey Tom Holland makes his debut alongside most of the MCU’s biggest names in next year’s ‘Captain America: Civil War.’

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Picture Credit: WENN, Dimension Films, Focus Features, Sony