I was surprised when I heard Tom Holland was to play Spider-Man in a reboot that put the web slinger in the current Marvel universe. I mean, sure, he’s great as Rev, but Spider-Man isn’t meant to be bald. Soon, though, I learnt that Tom Holland isn’t actually Tom Hollander and, later, I actually remembered I’d already seen the actor, in the TV show Wolf Hall. He was very good, however, given that his Spider-Man was to be the 47th take on superhero in the past three months, I was a little, well, non-plussed.
I thought, first, do we need another superhero and, secondly, do we need yet another one of this particular superhero? To my surprise, the answer to both of those questions turned out to be yes.
Holland, in his first standalone film Spider-Man Homecoming, was glorious. He was energetic and eager, vulnerable and smart. He was the best Spider-Man I had seen on screen. He was helped, for sure, by a strong support cast of Michael Keaton, Zendaya, Marisa Tomei and Donald Glover, but never mind the ominous challenge of that assembled talent and sass, Holland emerged as the most memorable actor.
Quite honestly, I can’t remember anything about the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man films and I try to forget Tobey Maguire, given the fact he is Tobey Maguire. But Holland? A Marvel part to rival Letitia Wright in Black Panther in terms of how perfectly thought out and written it is. This is Spider-Man as teenagers see him, which is suitable, given that Spider-Man is a teenager, mostly liked by teenagers.
Which brings me, finally, to Avengers: Infinity War. There are a lot of actors in the new Marvel film – the biggest superhero movie ever. Holland is there, as Peter Parker and his alter ego, alongside the considerably more famous Robert Downey Jr, Benedict Cumberbatch, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Chris Pratt and Josh Brolin. Most of them have been doing this cloak and strength gig for years now, some with half a dozen or so films to flesh out their particular superhero. Holland has been in Captain America: Civil War a bit and then Spider-Man Homecoming a lot, but no more.
By now, Downey Jr’s Iron Man should be greeted with a cheer equivalent to Mick Jagger staggering on stage, but his scenes flagged. So did Chris Evans as Captain America and the woefully underused Black Widow (Johansson). Maybe time has dulled them, but the three felt jaded, almost bored. Tellingly, there are no films planned for any of them after next year’s concluding Avengers romp.
Holland, however, has a Spider-Man sequel in the works. He is the future of the franchise, alongside Black Panther and, buoyed by this, because of this, he lit up the screen. He appears innocent, which helps to lift the world-weary misery of his co-stars in what is supposed to be a fun film, and he is cheeky too, swapping best lines with Pratt’s Star Lord, who incidentally has his best outing yet.
The joy of Holland’s Spider-Man is that he seems to exist in a world that hasn’t even lived through the other 18 films, that doesn’t endlessly deal with exposition but rather trusts the audience to get by on personality.
That’s the thing. Holland has a personality, and that makes him the Marvel MVP. A real human and a superhuman – it’s exactly the point of comic-books and something, I think, Marvel rather forgot as their established hard men became interchangeable whether in costume or not. It felt like they couldn’t be beaten, certainly not killed, but Spider-Man, because of Holland, seems vulnerable. You want to look after him – and when did you ever care that much about a superhero?
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