The Marvel movie countdown to Avengers: Infinity War #16: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Welcome to our Marvel movie countdown to Avengers: Infinity War.

Between 1st January and the film's release on 26th April we're recapping one Marvel blockbuster a week, which means you will be fully up to speed on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) by the time Infinity War arrives on your screens.

We're continuing this week with Tom Holland's solo movie debut as the wall crawler in Spider-Man: Homecoming...

The story

In the wake of the Chitauri invasion of New York in Avengers Assemble, opportunistic blue collar worker Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) looks to capitalise on the situation. Disillusioned with the Avengers initiative, he steals alien technology and develops it for his own nefarious ends.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, teenager Peter Park (Tom Holland) is struggling to balance adolescent high school problems with his burgeoning identity as Spider-Man. Keen to prove his worth as an Avenger following Captain America: Civil War, he's given an upgraded suit by mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) However, keeping things a secret from best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) will likely prove tricky.

When Peter foils an attack involving Toomes' weaponry, he finds himself on a collision course with a winged villain known as The Vulture. With both his life and that of his family under threat, Spider-Man faces his deadliest challenge so far.

The background

Of all the Marvel characters, Spider-Man has perhaps the most complex history. Although now officially part of the Disney-owned MCU, the character rights are still owned by Sony, and his emergence alongside the likes of Iron Man in Civil War only came about after enormously complex wrangling.

Earlier in October 2014, when Phase Three of the MCU was in its early stages, Feige expressed enthusiasm for Spidey joining the MCU: "We've been thinking about [the Spider-Man film] as long as we've been thinking about Phase Three".

The deal was actually finalised in February 2015, Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios announcing the character would appear in an earlier MCU film (later confirmed as Civil War) before getting his own solo movie. Marvel President Kevin Feige and Sony's Amy Pascal would be producing.

The ongoing deal would see Marvel integrate the character into future movies with Sony continuing to exert creative control. Later that month, it was announced Marvel were pressing ahead with their own movie, effectively putting an end to the Amazing Spider-Man series of films directed by Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield.

An extensive casting search got underway in summer 2015 with the likes of Holland, Ender's Game's Asa Butterfield and All the Money in the World's Charlie Plummer in contention. They and three other actors were chosen out of a search of over 1,500 actors to screen test in front of Feige, Pascal, and Civil War directors the Russo brothers.

On 23rd June, Marvel and Sony officially announced that Holland would star as Spider-Man, and that Jon Watts would direct the film. Holland's athletic and gymnastic background (demonstrated to fine effect during his on stage tenure as Billy Elliot) helped him win the part. In addition, he also impressed in screen tests opposite Captain America actor Chris Evans (who makes a hilarious self-help cameo in the movie) and Robert Downey Jr. – crucial when so much of the film's drama revolves around the tension between Tony and Peter.

Said Feige: "There are so many things from the comics that haven't been done yet... stories [that Spider-Man is] in high school for a lot of it. We want to explore that. That also makes him very, very different from any of our other characters in the MCU."

Expressing a love of classic John Hughes high school movies like The Breakfast Club, Watts sought to bring a more grounded and relatable take on the character: "At that age, in high school, everything feels like life or death".

Filming began on 20th June 2016, with Keaton, Donald Glover (as comic book favourite Miles Morales) and Zendaya (playing Peter's high school friend Mary Jane), having joined the cast couple of months prior. By this stage, Holland had already made his debut appearance in Civil War to enthusiastic response. Atlanta doubled as New York City, the home of Spider-Man (filming did take place on home turf later on), and the character demonstrated some sleek upgrades, notably via his suit.

Improvements to the costume included an A.I., Karen, (voiced by actress Jennifer Connelly), a remote drone and a holographic interface. Co-producer Eric Hauserman Carroll discussed the upgrades to the web-shooters, explaining the various settings that allowed him to "adjust the spray", as well as deploying weapons like the ricochet web.

Watts, Holland, Batalon and Zendaya appeared at the July 2016 San Diego Comic-Con to show an exclusive clip of the film. During the same event, Marvel confirmed the castings of Zendaya, Glover, Laura Harrier (Peter's girlfriend Liz), Tony Revolori (school bully Flash Thompson) and Bokeem Woodbine (as villain Shocker). Keaton was confirmed as playing The Vulture in November.

The first trailer was premiered during Jimmy Kimmel Live! on 8th December 2016 with the release date pencilled in for 7th July 2017. Between the, the two trailers racked up 266 million views within a week. It was official: Spider-Man was making his homecoming.

Standout performance

Marvel is a franchise often criticised for its villains. Keaton however brings a palpable sense of menace and believability to the role of Toomes, forgoing the usual megalomaniac approach to instead fashion a plausible baddie who just wants to provide for his family. He's a formidable match for Spider-Man, both psychologically and physically.

Standout scene

It has to be the moment where Downey Jr.'s Stark confronts Peter after the ferry explosion caused by Toomes' weaponry. Although Spidey saves passengers from a horrible death, his involvement also served to hasten the danger. It falls to quasi-parental figure Tony to put the naive young superhero in his place, offering up sage advice about accountability (while, mercifully, avoiding the "with great power comes great responsibility line" overused in the previous movies). It's possibly Downey Jr.'s finest scene in the MCU, confirming Tony's transformation from maverick playboy billionaire into sage mentor deeply concerned for Peter's (and everybody else's wellbeing).

The soundtrack

In November 2016, Kevin Feige accidentally let slip that Michael Giacchino, just coming off Marvel's own Doctor Strange, would be scoring Homecoming. Giacchino's involvement had actually been in the pipeline for some months prior. At the 2016 Comic-Con, Feige had spoken to the composer about including an orchestral interpretation of the classic Spider-Man TV series theme in Homecoming. When it came to composing the score in early 2017, Giacchino was true to his word and kicked off the movie in fine nostalgic style.

The rest of the score demonstrates Giacchino's facility with rousing orchestral themes and melodies (Rogue One, War for the Planet of the Apes et al), blending a characteristically brassy, heroic main theme with all many of sly, scampering plucked strings that sound appropriately spider-like. Honouring both the grandiose nature of the adventure and also the intimacy of director Jon Watts' approach, it's one of the MCU's finest soundtracks.

Stan Lee cameo

Post credits scenes

Did you know?

  • Jennifer Connelly was cast as Karen due to her appearance in John Hughes movie Career Opportunities – it was director Jon Watts' way of paying homage to the late filmmaker.
  • Robert Downey Jr. and Maria Tomei appeared together way back in 1994 rom-com Only You.
  • When Holland won the role of Spider-Man, Chris Evans took to Twitter to write: "HUGE congrats to @TomHolland1996!!! Well deserved. We're lucky to have you."

General observations

  • The 19-year-old Holland became the youngest actor to be cast as Spider-Man (predecessors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were 25 and 26, respectively).
  • This is the first solo Spider-Man film not to feature the ill-fated Uncle Ben.
  • This is the Marvel Cinematic Universe film since 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger to be distributed by a company other than Disney (The First Avenger was distributed by Paramount).

What the critics' said

  • "News Flash: Tom Holland is the best movie Spider-Man ever. He finds the kid inside the famous red onesie and brings out the kid in even the most hardened filmgoer." – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
  • "The magic of Homecoming is that it belongs more to the John Hughes cinematic universe than the Avengers'." – Brian Truitt, USA Today
  • "It's a relief to see a superhero engaged in deeply human activities, like getting ready for a date... This Spider-Man is still just a kid, after all, and he has no energy for existential angst -- just dealing with hormones is enough." – Stephanie Zacharek, TIME Magazine
  • "The characters and scenarios are familiar, but this is a loose, cool, funny remix that makes them feel fresh again. Plus, it’s mercifully short on life lessons from Aunt May." – Nick De Semlyen, Empire

Next time...

Thor: Ragnarok

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