For those of you who haven’t planned a summer sojourn to cooler climes, the balmy season throws up many an opportunity for family bonding. You could just chill with a DVD or two but unless you’re lucky enough to have a 100-foot projector at your disposal, nothing can really beat the pleasure of a family night at the movies.
By our powers of deduction, we’re assuming at least one of your offspring is probably mildly obsessed with a certain web-slinging superhero and this summer marks the return of a certain Peter Parker to the big screen in Spider-Man: Homecoming. “Another Spider-Man movie?”, we hear you ask. Well the producers of this latest incarnation of the teenager-turned-superhero argue (pretty convincingly, we might add) that this isn’t the sixth Spider-Man film, but “the first Peter Parker one”.
It picks up the narrative from Captain America: Civil War, in which Tom Holland’s turn (albeit rather brief) is one of the highlights. We join our superhero as he arrives home (it’s in the title) to New York, trying to make sense of the world around him and how he would fit in to the Avengers team.
Mentored by the mega-rich Iron Man, aka Tony Stark (played impeccably by Robert Downey Jr.), the 15-year-old Parker’s natural curiosity immediately strikes you, shifting it away from the previous offerings by Sam Raimi and Marc Webb.
“The difference is, Peter Parker is a lot younger in this movie,” says Holland. “He really is a kid, it really is the story of a kid with superpowers. He is existing in a world where superheroes already exist. In the previous Spider-Man movies, he was the only superhero, but now there are loads of them. So it’s interesting to see Spider-Man in that world but it’s also fantastic to see Spider-Man with a goal, and his goal is to become an Avenger. And that’s something we’ve never been able to see on screen before.”
But before he can become a fully fledged member of the all-conquering Avengers, the young Spidey has to learn the ropes, starting with level one superhero status.
“He’s just the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. Rather than this epic superhero flying around the city saving the world, which we’ve seen so many times. That’s for the big superheroes, that’s for the big boys. So he helps a little old lady across the street, he helps get a cat out of a tree - he’s that superhero,” Holland reveals. “The beginning part of the movie is like, ‘Imagine if a kid just put a suit on and ran around helping people’. It’s all he does. And then he slowly starts to find crime in his neighbourhood that gets progressively more dangerous and so he steps up into this superhero light.”
Holland’s enthusiasm for the role is infectious, no doubt heightened by his revelation that he used to play out Spider-Man scenes in front of the mirror from the tender age of five.
“I always wanted to be Spider-Man,” he smiles. “Spider-Man was my dream role. I was asked in an interview three years ago which superhero I would want to play and I said, ‘I’ll do the reboot after Andrew Garfield and play Spider-Man’. So it’s always been my goal to play him.”
Being not only a fan of the character but also well-versed in gymnastics and dance (he made his West End debut aged 12 in Billy Elliot The Musical), Holland would seem the perfect fit for the Spidey suit (although as we see in the film, that suit wasn’t so snug to start with).
Director Jon Watts certainly feels the rising British star was ideal for the lead in this, the 16th film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and first of a mooted trilogy of the Sony Pictures-backed franchise. And if he needed further convincing, Holland’s natural comedic quality shone through from day one.
“He has really great comic timing and I just really enjoyed putting him in these awkward situations as Peter Parker or Spider-Man,” Watts tells us. “He’s just so sincere about it and that’s what makes it funny, just how seriously he’s taking everything. So it was fun to watch and I think it was fun for him to get to do funny scenes. Because everyone else is just trying to drown him. All of his other movies are just him being drowned [see In the Heart of the Sea, for example]. I tried to drown him, too. A couple of times. There’s just something about him. You just see that face and you want to dunk him.”
In the previous movies, Spider-Man has invariably been portrayed as something of a loner, troubled by his own insecurities. But Watts’ goal with Homecoming was to shift away from Spidey’s almost enforced solitude, bringing fans a “ground-level superhero” to whom us mere mortals could relate.
“It was always compounded by the fact that he was also the only superhero in the universe. But when you place him in a world where The Avengers exist and The Guardians of the Galaxy exist it gives it a different feeling,” says the 35-year-old director.
“In the original books, it’s not intentional that he’s a loner, he just doesn’t believe in himself. He thinks he’s dumb and it’s just something I could really relate to as a kid. And everyone isn’t necessarily being mean to him. They’re like, ‘Ugh, that Peter Parker is such a nice guy.
If only he believed himself’. So it’s that kind of dynamic. I wanted to try and capture some of that spirit and not make him be any kind of social outcast.”
In fact, Parker surrounds himself with others, not least his best buddy Ned, played by newcomer Jacob Batalon, and the studious and stand-offish Michelle, portrayed by the singer-turned-film-star Zendaya. This trio of young stars works in wonderful contrast to the more established cast that includes Downey Jr., Oscar winner Marissa Tomei (who plays Peter’s aunt, May) and Michael Keaton (who is brilliant in the role of “ground-level supervillain” The Vulture). Compared to the previous five Spider-Man movies, this has an altogether younger air.
Watts says: “I didn’t want it to feel like it was [just] for kids but I did want to capture the fun of being a 15-year-old superhero. I just thought that was a great idea for a movie. I didn’t want to weigh Peter down right away with so much drama that we never got to see him have fun. That was a conscious choice and in the end that leads to it feeling fun and younger. It’s fun to watch someone have fun. And that’s how I felt when I was watching him and that’s how I hope people will feel while watching the movie. Because I had fun making it, too.”
As did Holland, who delighted in the Snapchat video scenes (as Watts puts it: “If you could swing from buildings you would definitely film some of that on your phone”), but even more so in the outlandish acrobatic feats Spidey pulls off throughout.
“I reckon I probably did 75 to 80 percent of the stunts in this movie,” says Holland. “That said, the 25 percent of stunts that I didn’t do were the ones where you were like, ‘Phew! I bet that really hurt!’.
"My stunt team were incredible. Chris, Dave and Holland were my three guys. Dave is indestructible. They literally smashed that guy through buses, they dropped him in a lake. We call him ‘Crash Dummy Dave’ because he’s just an absolute beast.”
Throwing yourself into a role can definitely have its pitfalls, as Holland would attest after being left battered and bruised by a few of the more demanding scenes.
“I hurt myself doing the backflip over the bed. Obviously not in the take that’s in the movie,” he chuckles. “But then the one that hurt the most was... when you do a stunt scene it’s choreographed, it’s like a dance and the stuntmen will vocalise before they hit you. They do a
‘Raaa’. And on the ‘Raaa’, that’s when you dodge. And in the Spider-Man suit you can’t see anything. And he just punched me in the head. Literally with a big, metal gauntlet on his hand he punched me on the back of the head. It really hurt. It wasn’t cool. That bit isn’t even in the movie!"
To find out what has made the final cut, round up your own little Marvels, leave your domestic universe and head to the cinema. This is one homecoming party not to be missed…
Spider-Man: Homecoming is in cinemas across the UAE from July 6.