Even though he’s not the primary protagonist, and doesn’t get the most screen time in Captain America: Civil War (2016), the inclusion of The Amazing Spider-Man is one of the most talked about parts of the movie.
To long-time fans of the Wall-Crawler (such as myself) it marks an important moment in our hearts, for it is the culmination of far-flung dreams that we never thought would be realised any time soon: that we would see him interact with the rest of the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And as critics have highlighted, his introduction is a highlight of a movie which is already critically acclaimed.
There is much to love in the previous iterations (portrayed by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield) yet there was a chance that the new Spidey, played by Tom Holland, would be disregarded as an inferior version.
So how exactly did the Russo Brothers ensure that this new Spidey swung straight into our hearts?
Look no further than this thorough evaluation of Tom Holland’s Web-slinging debut... But as I’ve said in the title, beware of SPOILERS ahead!
1. The Story Treats Him Well
Perhaps the biggest criticism that detractors had about seeing a new version of Spider-Man was that Tom Holland is the third big-screen Spidey in fifteen years. Out of those, we’ve seen two detailed origin stories (spider-bite, bad decision, death of Uncle Ben, power responsibility etc. we all know it), and so the critics rightly asked, haven’t we seen this all before?
However, the fear that we will see another rebooted origin in Civil War can finally be disregarded...because there isn't one!
We had vague allusions made to him at the end of Ant Man (2015), when the female journalist states "We got guys that can climb on walls," and in Civil War, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) mentions that Peter Parker has already been Spider-Man for around six months, which neatly sidesteps the need for an origin story...since in the movie, its already happened.
That isn’t to say that the tragedy of Spidey’s genesis isn’t mentioned.
When Stark comes to Peter’s home to recruit him for the upcoming battle, they share a fantastically scripted and well- acted moment in Spidey's room, where the death of Uncle Ben is referred to yet never retraced. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely clearly know the character well, since their screenplay (in this same scene) comprehensively explores his motivations for being a hero: “to protect and stand up for the little guy.”
This introduction cleverly negotiates the problems of integrating the hero into the universe and also demonstrates how well the film makers grasp the nature of the character.
It’s a deftly performed move on the part of a very savvy Marvel Studios.
2. The Depiction of the New Peter Parker
So, how close is our new hero to his comic book counterpart?
Judging by his relatively short screen time, this Spidey is probably closest to his Ultimate Universe version, in terms of his age; indeed, like in the graphic novels he is wide eyed with amazement at the rest of the Marvel Universe (as you would understandably be if you were impressionable and living in a world where superpowers, heroes and villains were part of everyday life).
So how does Tom Holland compare to his predecessors?
Well from what we have seen, in terms of his introversion, he is similar to Tobey Maguire, but much more nervier and livelier; he is less self-assured than Andrew Garfield’s Parker although Holland builds upon the former's level of joviality, and coupled with the script, he delivers some of the character’s best on-screen wisecracks.
This is a crucial point about Spidey, because he is renowned for his non-stop stream of verbal comedy. As his many comic book scribes have highlighted, his witty jibes are a necessary part of his colourful appeal for several reasons. They firstly serve as a coping mechanism for being in combat, secondly they are a way to distinguish his costumed alter ego from his more subdued secret identity, and finally they distract and humiliate his villains into making mistakes.
Maguire and Garfield’s versions made attempts to portray this, however these were somewhat scattershot; the humour in Sam Raimi's movies mainly arose from Maguire's bumbling, social interactions or they were at the character’s expense, and Garfield’s quips were solid, yet inconsistent efforts.
In Civil War, the level is a sublimely suitable mix of irritating chatter, one-liners, pop-culture references and teenage fanboy-ing. Though it verges towards becoming annoying at times, it is never over-egged, and he remains a charming and likable presence. Indeed, this bothersome provocation is part of his character, and even acknowledged by the other heroes, such as when The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) points out his combat inexperience, and the other characters openly wish that he would shut up.
Furthermore we have evidence of Peter Parker’s interest in science and computers, as evidenced by the below quip amongst others:
“You have a metal arm? That is awesome dude!”
Also present is the hipper, introverted nature that Andrew Garfield begun in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) since we first see him shyly responding to his Aunt May’s questions with his eyes downcast and headphones on.
With his sardonic line delivery (reminiscent of Josh Keaton’s work on The Spectacular Spider-Man TV series), Tom Holland pushes the boundaries of the role, cherry picking the best from what has come before, so that he is a distinctive and fresh version of our Wall-crawling hero.
3. His Costume Looks Ace!
Tom Holland looks the part of a young teenage hero (since he’s nineteen in reality), but what about the costume? After the unveiling of the final trailer, it was derided in some quarters for being too computer-generated and gimmicky, but it has been retouched since then and looks far more realistic (though it still remains noticeable occasionally).
Another was that some of the patterns were deviations from the “true” uniform, yet in many ways the film makers in a Catch 22 position.
Why? Well, over the course of the prior movies, we have seen three main varieties of it in action. If they had hewed close to these costumes, they would be accused of copying, and they would risk their new Spidey becoming indistinguishable from the others. They couldn't win either way.
Ultimately, in my opinion, the small changes around the wrists, belt and shoulders are not too distracting. Additionally, when watching the movie it soon becomes apparent that the apparel of Holland’s Spidey is a fitting version for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Other characters who have been adapted onscreen (such as Falcon above) adhere to a tech-based and realistic aesthetic over the spandex, skimpy or impractical clothing in the comics. Indeed, they are fighting criminals and villains with powerful weapons after all, so some form of additional protection or reinforcement is a logical and pragmatic change.
Through the film, we glimpse Peter’s proto suit in his conversation with Stark before the latter outfits him with the iconic costume, which has this similar technological twist. The web-shooters make a welcome return to verify Peter Parker’s scientific interest, as do the increased amount of gadgets in his costume, such as the moving eyes, which are the most notable and brilliantly innovative addition.
In the comics, Spidey’s eyes move to denote his changing expressions. In prior movies, they remained fixed to be more utilitarian, but as we seen in Civil War, they shift!
It isn’t simply a gimmick in the film either. As Peter explains to Stark, the eyepieces are necessary to help focus his newly heightened senses. The fact that the eyes move to assist his fighting, as well as showing expressions, is a clever adaptation of comic book quirks because it supplies a relevant and reasonable rationale behind the choice.
Additionally, some Spidey fans prefer the white lenses to be larger, more bulbous and bug-like whilst others are lovers of the smaller, more angular eyes. Through making them fluid and changeable, the Russos have ensured that Spidey devotees get the best of both worlds!
Moreover, with the more muted colours of the outfit and the thick black bands around his eyes, Tom Holland’s Spidey resembles the stylised yet grounded interpretation of the character which the legendary artist Alex Ross is known for drawing.
In the grounded, yet fantastical and interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe, this visual form of Spider-Man fits right in.
4. His amazing antics in the thrilling action scenes
A particular sequence in Civil War is generating a lot of praise; this is the briefly seen airport fight, where Iron Man and Captain America’s team converge.
It's no spoiler to say that it will no doubt go down as one of the greatest scenes in comic book history.
There is so much on awesomeness on show that it’s hard to pick or describe any particular moment, yet it’s safe to say that at Spidey gets to fully demonstrate his signature moves and powers. Swinging, wall-crawling, using his agility and acrobatics to his advantage, his fighting style is heavily web-based and is ripped straight from the pages of the comics.
Again, I can only commend the Russos for their interpretation of Spidey. He fits in with his predominant use of webs to take on the opposition, since as Tony Stark says, Spidey is still a minor, and by keeping his distance it decreases the chances of him getting hurt.
Plus, whilst he does abruptly drop out of the film, in storytelling terms it is appropriate due to the escalation of the stakes (again, Stark worries for Peter’s safety) and because his inclusion in the climax would decentralise the focus from Captain America.
Besides, we only have to wait until next year to see Spidey again…
5. The Teasing of His Promising Future in MCU
Ultimately, Spidey’s future is very bright. With the right blend of his comic book and movie past, present and with the new innovations, fresh ground is being trod and it only looks set to continue.
Indeed, in the post-credits sting, we find Peter recovering from battle as he discovers a device in his web-shooters which shines a silhouette of his maskedface, whilst serving as some sort of computerised communicator. The logo is a significant and rather lovely addition of the old-school Spider –Signal, a light which Spidey uses a both a torch in the dark, and a way to announce his presence to villains and criminals. As such, its a great callback to Spidey's past canon.
Plus the inclusion of Iron Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming (due out in 2017) will no doubt further the relationship between the two heroes into promising new territory.
We have a new, naive, funny and outright awesome Spidey which we needed and deserved!