While many kids may idly hope to one day encounter their favourite superhero, only a very special child would dream of actually donning their mantle. Tom Holland, the young Englishman who out-acted thousands of wannabe webslingers to be anointed the new Spider-Man, must have been a very special child indeed.
Following the recent release of Spider-Man: Far From Home – the highly anticipated sequel to his debut outing in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming – Holland is now, arguably, established as the world’s favourite rendition of this particular friendly neighbourhood superperson. It is a ranking no doubt boosted by his appearance (again as spiderbloke) in two of the biggest box office successes of all time – Avengers: Infinity War and the tear-jerking conclusion to the biggest superhero team-up of all time, Avengers: Endgame.
It is an acclaim that somehow managed to elude his two most immediate predecessors – Toby Maguire (three cinematic outings between 2002 and 2007) and Andrew Garfield (two between 2012 and 2014). Why, then, is Holland still doing whatever a spider can, when his fellow thesps took such a tumble?Well, for one thing, his take on the geeky youth infused with arachnid radiation is by far the most relatable. With living a double life as a troubled teen by day and a superpowered smiter of evil by night being no minor challenge, for many, Holland has been seen as ably embodying both the angst and the adrenaline experienced by his two alter-egos.
In just the first 20 minutes of his maiden outing, for instance, Holland accidentally outs himself as Spidey to a school chum, all but destroys the Staten Island Ferry and then forgets to turn his phone ringer off while silently stalking a superpowered evildoer. To put it bluntly, we’re not in Iron Man territory here. It is this very everyday vulnerability, though, that is at the very core of the Holland-era Spider-Man. He just does the best he can in very extraordinary circumstances, a characteristic that all but ensures the audience is always rooting for him.
Furthermore, it doesn’t take much investigation to establish that this is a role Holland was pretty much born to play. Just 19 when he first took on the part, he is by far the youngest big-screen Spidey to date (Maguire, by comparison, was positively pensioner-like at 27 when he first sported the red-and-blue cowl), an asset that only adds to the seeming authenticity of the geeky Queens borough teen that is the off-duty Spider-Man.
Brought up just outside London as the oldest of four boys, Tom’s own interests, veered towards gymnastics, free-running and ballet. It was the latter interest that saw him enrolled at the local Nifty Feet Dance School, a move largely made at the behest of his mother. Recalling this formative terpsichorean training, he says: “I didn’t really know what I wanted to be. My mum thought I could dance, however, largely because I used to jig along to a Janet Jackson song she used to play.”
With the backing of both parents, he continued to immerse himself in the world of dance, with his commitment eventually bringing him to the attention of Lynn Page, a local choreographer who went on to become a Broadway regular. While she put him forward for a number of musicals and stage plays, it would be another two and a half years before he got his big break. This saw him take on the role of Michael, the best friend of Billy Elliott in the West End musical of the same name, for the next two years.
His newfound big-screen success led to meatier roles – notably, top billing in How I Live and Edge of Winter, two highprofile Canadian cinematic offerings. It was not long after this that he was confirmed as the new, more teen-friendly take on Peter Parker / Spider-Man.
In a retrospective tweet, he later reflected: “Life was flipped upside down”. Making his first appearance as Spidey in Captain America: Civil War rather than in a solo movie, it was nevertheless enough to secure him a Guinness World Record as the Youngest Actor Ever to Play a Title Role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While it’s not exactly World’s Cleverest Man, it’s still something to stick in your CV.
Riding on the success of Civil War and still dealing with the only-recently-inverted nature of his world, Holland’s first solo Spidey outing was released two years later. Keen to improve his American accent and learn what it was really like to be an American teenager – something of a mystery to him as, up until then, he had spent his entire life in the UK – he managed to convince the Men from Marvel that it really would be best all around if he went undercover at an American high school. Soon after, he found himself clandestinely enrolled at The Bronx High School of Science, the actual establishment that any real-life Peter Parker would almost certainly have attended.
Aside from that, with Iron Man and the Black Widow dead, Captain America lost into time, the Hulk caught up in rights issues and the Mighty Thor requiring the services of a life coach, if all goes well between the studio honchos, it may be pretty much left to Spidey to head Marvel’s epoch defining, post-Avengers Phase IV. Given the multibillion-dollar shared universe he could be charged with sustaining, the comic book phrase that has defined Spidey since his inception way back in August 1962 – “With great power comes great responsibility” – may never have seemed more apt.
Text: Bailey Atkinson