This article contains major spoilers for Captain America: Civil War.
Thanks to a deal between Marvel Studios and Sony, the most famous character from Marvel Comics history was made available to directors Joe and Anthony Russo for their cinematic superhero slugfest Captain America: Civil War. The pressure was on to reintroduce Spider-Man in a way that would ignite audience interest despite all of Spidey’s pre-existing cinematic baggage.
Scriptwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely were tasked with penning the lines for Spidey to say, and after an exhaustive casting process Tom Holland was chosen as the man to read them. (Fun fact: Holland apparently flipped on cue during his audition, getting the Russos’ attention immediately.)
If all went well with this unique Sony/Marvel collaboration, Holland’s new wall-crawler could be the lynchpin of a huge new franchise for the two studios to share. Billions in box office cash may well await, and hopefully some critical acclaim and audience adoration to boot.
But first, Civil War had to bring Spidey into the MCU fold in an effective way; fresh enough to excite the viewers who have already seen five Spider-Man films, but with enough familiarity thrown in to please the comic book fans as well. It was tough gig, not least because everyone has their own opinions on what Peter Parker should be. But, thankfully, Civil War pulled it off.
The results of Sony and Marvel’s team-up were brilliant. Or should we say amazing, or astonishing, or spectacular, or superior? Or any other Spidey-related adjective? Whichever superlative you prefer, here’s our take on how Tom Holland’s Spidey pressed all the right buttons…
To introduce a new Spider-Man, the first step must always be introducing Peter Parker. After all, if we don’t like the chap without the mask, we’re unlikely to care what happens after he puts it on. And so, Tom Holland has to make an impact without swinging around.
The first shot we see of Holland’s Peter is from behind. He’s getting out of a lift, and he’s clutching a DVD player under his arm. He’s wearing a tattered-looking backpack. He gets his keys out and enters an apartment. No words are said during this first shot, unless you count the lyrics of Alt-J’s Left Hand Free (the band, if you were wondering, aren’t from Queens. They’re from Leeds.)
However, despite the lack of dialogue in this scene, we’re told a lot about Peter through imagery. From the electrical equipment, we can surmise that he’s smart. Maybe he’s building something. From the backpack, we can assume – with a bit of a leap – that he’s a schoolboy, or at least a rather young person. And the people lingering in the corridor of his building suggest that this might not be the most luxurious living accommodation available.
He’s young, he’s smart, and he’s not exactly rich – three of Peter Parker’s core traits there, established before he’s even said a word. Impressive stuff.
Peter’s inside the apartment now, and says a quick hello to Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) before popping out his headphones, turning around and realising that someone else is here too. Iron Man himself/renowned genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist Tony Stark is in the room, chatting to May and politely nibbling on some (later-revealed-to-be-disgusting) walnutloaf.
Naturally, Peter is taken aback. He’s a shy, nervous guy and a global celebrity has shown up unannounced to flirt with his aunt. He doesn’t know what to say, which quickly highlights the social awkwardness of Peter Parker which fans of the character have come to expect. Tony ‘reminds’ Peter of the ‘grant’ which he ‘applied’ for, whilst winking furiously to establish the ruse.
Peter doesn’t have a ton of confidence when he’s not being Spider-Man, which this brief exchange serves as an important reminder of. Peter trying his best to keep up with the situation (“this… grant… is there money involved?”) is a welcome recap of what makes Peter so unique among superheroes. He’s not an arrogant industrialist or a noble soldier or anything like that… he’s just an awkward young guy.
Peter and Tony move the conversation to the privacy of the former’s bedroom. Tony looks around and clocks Peter’s ancient computer. Peter admits that he found it in the garbage, again highlighting that the Parkers aren’t a wealthy family. Everything Pete has, he’s had to scrape together without much financial support. This makes it even more impressive that he’s managed to build his own web-shooters. He must be smart if he’s made those on a Parker family budget.
Some jokey banter ensues, as Tony plays some clips of Spider-Man (and his incredibly lo-fi costume – another nice touch) on his phone. Peter attests that they must be some kind of YouTube prank (“Like the UFOs over Phoenix”, Tony suggests). Tony pulls down the loft hatch above Peter’s bed and a makeshift Spider-Man costume tied up with string falls to the ground. Peter leaps into action and tries to hide it. It’s a brief moment of physical comedy, which in a way draws to mind Andrew Garfield’s practical humour.
It’s no secret that Spider-Man is meant to be funny, but the equally-important emotionality of Peter Parker isn’t as widely talked about. This big-hearted side of this character would’ve been easy to leave out here, but Civil War finds room to touch upon it. Tony goes to reach the door handle, but Pete webs him up and urges him not to tell Aunt May.
Words tumble out of Peter’s mouth frantically. He says something like “She’ll worry, and when she worries, I worry”, alluding to the fact that Peter really cares about May and wants to keep her far removed from his secret, dangerous lifestyle. She’s the only relative he has left and he doesn’t want her to be dragged into his superhero ways.
A few lines earlier, Peter also hinted at the death of Uncle Ben and his mantra that with great power comes great responsibility. “When you have the power to stop bad things, and you don’t, it’s your fault when they happen” is the rough gist of what Peter says. He also says that he wants to help the little guy, rather than using his newfound skillset to play football.
It’s great to see that Civil War didn’t ignore Peter’s conscience altogether, or neglect to acknowledge his sad family history. And there was even time to hint at Peter’s omnipresent difficulties when it comes to balancing real life and superhero life (“I can’t go to Germany” / “Why not?” / “I’ve got homework!’).
These may only be small moments from one brief scene, but they help to build Peter up as a proper character that isn’t solely defined by his swinging around and making jokes….
Next, we see Peter swinging around and making jokes. With Peter established so well through the scenes in Queens, this doesn’t feel too rushed. It also helps, of course, that we’ve seen Peter’s origin story multiple times before. Tom Holland has proved himself as Peter, so it seems logical that he’s Spider-Man – in an awesome new costume – the next time we see him.
Immediately, the difference between Peter and Spidey is made clear. While Peter could barely get a word out when confronted by the sight of Tony Stark in his living room, Spidey has the confidence to flip into a scene and immediately start up some banter with the Avengers. The line “Cap, err… Cap’n! Big fan! Hey everyone!” raises a big laugh, and also highlights Pete’s enhanced social skills when he’s in the suit.
Spider-Man has always been a wish-fulfilment character for awkward teenagers. While Peter is the shy sort, Spidey has a bombastically chatty personality and more zingers than most touring stand-ups. The previous Spider-Man films often struggled to make Spidey funny in this way, but Civil War didn’t have that problem at all.
Peter is a comedic force of nature in the airport scene, whizzing in and out of shots and dispensing humour at every opportunity: “You have a metal arm? That’s awesome!”; “What are your wings made out of?”; “He told me you’d say that… he also told me to aim for your legs”; “HOLY SHIT [upon Giant-Man’s arrival]!”; and, who could forget, “Remember that really old movie, Empire Strikes Back?” – a line which made all of us watching feel ruddy ancient.
Speaking of Spidey’s ‘Hoth’ moment, this wasn’t just funny: it was also another indicator of Peter’s intelligence. It’s an innovative piece of problem-solving, and he thought of it before any of the more experienced superheroes could formulate a plan.
One other moment from the airport scene really stood out, as well. When Spidey says to Cap “you’re wrong, think you’re right… that makes you dangerous.” In putting his quips aside for a second and having a serious moment, Holland’s Spidey proved here that he’s not just comic relief. He’s a hero too, and keen to stand up for what he believes in.
So, this new Spidey is funny, smart, and he kicks ass. Spider-Man: Homecoming just became a very exciting prospect, didn’t it?
Of course, Peter Parker also popped up in the final post-credits stinger (which we looked at in a different article). Peter discovered the Spider-Signal on his web-shooter, and also shared a bit of dialogue with Aunt May. This scene was offered up some more comedy, especially in Pete’s line about ‘Steve from Brooklyn’ and his ‘huge’ friend.
This scene also gave us a glimpse of what Pete and May’s relationship will be like when Spider-Man: Homecoming comes around. They clearly care a lot for each other, but Peter doesn’t want May to know anything about his superhero antics. If Pete keeps coming back from Tony Stark hangouts with bruises and weird stories, though, it can’t be long before she starts cottoning on. That’s if she hasn’t worked it out already, which is also a possibility.
Either way, these actors have great chemistry, both with each other and with Robert Downey Jnr. Marvel, not for the first time, appears to have knocked it out of the park with their casting decisions. The studio’s next challenge is making sure that the script for Spider-Man: Homecoming lives up to all this promise from Civil War.
Tom Holland made a great MCU debut here, bringing Spidey/Peter back to life with oodles of the humour, a dash of heart and a fair bit of intelligence. We’ll need to wait until he has a full movie to know for sure… but could this be the Spidey that cinema has really been waiting for?