Any actor who headlines a superhero movie faces significant pressure; that’s simply the nature of the beast. Superhero characters have huge, extremely opinionated fan bases, film studios are banking on actors that can ideally sustain a multi-picture franchise, and performers have to please critics and news outlets that are increasingly exhausted by superhero properties. But few have had to deal with the weight of expectations placed on Tom Holland, a.k.a. Hollywood’s newest Spider-Man.
Spider-Man has been on shaky cinematic ground as of late. The character has headlined two different film franchises in the past 15 years: director Sam Raimi’s initially promising Spider-Man trilogy in the 2000s, which ended with a disastrous third installment, and Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man series, which was truncated after the second film. Sony was desperate for a fresh take, and turned to superhero movie juggernaut Marvel Studios for help, striking a deal that allowed Peter Parker to enter the immensely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. Spider-Man: Homecoming is the product of that union, a co-production between Marvel Studios and Sony’s Columbia Pictures that puts the expectations of two studios on the shoulders of the 21-year-old Holland.
There was inherent risk in placing the future of Spider-Man’s cinematic legacy in the hands of a relatively unknown up-and-comer like Holland, but Marvel Studios had something Sony didn’t: an established superhero cinematic universe that creates a very different context for this new Peter Parker. Where Sony’s previous Spider-Man films largely stood alone and needed to reestablish the world around the hero with each revival, Marvel could introduce Spidey by making him part of a separate superhero blockbuster: last summer’s Captain America: Civil War.
If executed correctly, Holland’s debut as Peter Parker in Civil War could get viewers excited to see more of the MCU’s interpretation of the character — and that’s exactly what happened. Spider-Man proved to be the breakout star in a movie featuring a stacked roster of superheroes played by big-name actors like Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’s Captain America.