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How Tom Holland Celebrates Potent Sentimentality

Having finessed all manner of vulnerable characters, the ‘Spider-Man’ star now treads deeper creative waters beyond the sensitivity that originally marked his claim to fame.
Spider Man Far From Home Tom Holland
Marvel Studios
By  · Published on June 26th, 2021

Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man Franchise (2016-)

Spider Man Sad

It’s almost surreal to think that Tom Holland joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe nearly half a decade ago (at the time of writing). The hair-raising contentions of 2015 — from the original announcement that Sony was welcoming Spider-Man home to the final showdown between six up-and-coming white boys destined to carry on the mantle of Peter Parker — still linger in our collective consciousness.

All five of Holland’s MCU appearances (so far) ensure that there was never any contest — he is the perfect embodiment of present-day Spidey and all of the character’s pluck, intellect, and angst. Holland never got his origin story like Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield before him. Nevertheless, since (quite literally) swinging onto the scene in Captain America: Civil War, his infectious adorableness has combined with a marked thoughtfulness that makes him an instant fan favorite.

Audiences properly meet Holland’s masked hero in his stand-alone films Spider-Man: Homecoming and its sequel, Spider-Man: Far From Home. Both movies heavily deal with the far-reaching repercussions of his outings with the Avengers in the MCU. Homecoming and Far From Home allow Holland to ground fantastical superhero shenanigans in the averageness of Peter Parker’s daily life.

The juvenility of Homecoming comes like a breath of fresh air when juxtaposed with the classic Spidey refrain of responsibility. The movie could have easily overindulged in its thematic overtones of teen romance and blustering confidence. But Holland is too good at subtly channeling nagging anxiety and earnest recklessness. Where viewers experience certain gaps in Peter’s backstory — especially regarding the untold Uncle Ben subplot — the actor more than makes up for it by counteracting the character’s flippancy with a sincere chase for normalcy borne from his many losses.

And it becomes increasingly apparent that Spider-Man must deal with his deep-seated demons after the harrowing events of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. In Far From Home, Holland puts Peter into reactionary mode, digging deep into his desperation for belonging. He seamlessly modulates a breadth of emotions, from wide-eyed pining to grim resignation. As Spidey grasps at straws between promises of father figures, hero duties, and romantic relationships, Holland’s exceptional portrayal of turmoil makes his blundering moments matter all the more. Entrusted with the preciousness of Peter’s humanity, he never misses a beat.

Edge of Winter (2016)

In the psychological thriller Edge of Winter, Tom Holland reverts to portraying the sympathetic child of a problematic father. The film tracks Elliot, a hot-headed divorcee who longs for nothing more than to bond with his estranged sons Bradley (Holland) and Caleb. Unfortunately, Elliot’s plan to take them to his cabin in the woods falls through when severe winter weather leaves the group trapped. To make matters worse, Elliot’s inner volatility and deteriorating hold on reality begin to significantly threaten the kids’ safety.

Holland delivers a warily terse performance as the moodier Bradley, whose conspicuous distrust of his father practically seeps through his pores whenever they share the same space. Right off the bat, the differences between Bradley and his father are plain as day. The boy is caring, responsible, and uptight, which causes persistent friction between him and his rugged, haphazard dad.

Edge of Winter’s father-son relationship is further amplified by Bradley’s unwitting adoration of Elliot, regardless of the latter’s disagreeable temperament and cryptic unpredictability. In these moments of contradiction, Holland steals glances, swallows chuckles, and jumps at the chance to interact with Joel Kinnaman as Elliot. Bradley is constantly pushed to his mental and physical limits throughout the film, yet that remnant of love for his father burns true. It is a surefire shot to the audience’s heart, maintaining our investment in the movie’s examination of desolation and alienation.

The Lost City of Z (2016)

Tom Holland capped off a year of mega mainstream success with one of his most distinguished auteur-driven projects. After a mini-reunion between him and J.A. Bayona on A Monster Calls, the actor found himself in the thick of the Amazonian jungle in The Lost City of Z.

The James Gray biographical adventure film dramatizes the trials and accomplishments of British explorer Percy Fawcett. Upon traveling to Brazil at the behest of the Royal Geographical Society on a surveying expedition, he becomes obsessed with uncovering Z, a purported ancient civilization located deep in the Amazon.

Holland’s role as Fawcett’s son Jack is relatively small. He is absent during the first half of the movie and only turns up after the character has matured into a young man. At first, Jack expresses stand-offish resentment towards Fawcett, which Holland illustrates through tearful gazes and loaded silences. Jack’s muzzled frustrations eventually come to a head during a notably heated confrontation scene opposite his father, epitomized in Holland’s penchant for wounding honesty.

Soon enough, Jack becomes an unwitting reflection of Percy’s passions, regardless of his criticisms of his father. An effervescent Holland effortlessly encapsulates his “vim and vigor,” and a globe-trotting adventure lies on the horizon for the newly united duo. Sadly, this promising development is short-lived in the grand scheme of The Lost City of Z due to Percy and Jack’s gut-wrenchingly ambiguous fate at the end of the film. Still, one thing remains certain: Holland’s haunting presence, though minimal, profoundly punctuates this narrative of myth-making.

Pilgrimage (2017)

Tom Holland’s resumé boasts another instance of enigmatic, almost-mystical storytelling with the film Pilgrimage. Set in a foggy, bleak 13th-century Ireland, Brendan Muldowney’s medieval period drama centers on the protection of a magical Christian relic heavily sought by both the Latin Church and those loyal to King John of England.

Holland is Brother Diarmuid, a young Catholic monk saddled with the charge of transporting the aforementioned artifact from his remote monastery to Rome by decree of the Pope. An unworldly disciple within his sect, Diarmuid’s curious spirit and inexperience in religious affairs put him at odds with the devout and fanatic individuals who accompany him on this quest.

Pilgrimage’s historical elements and language barriers — including dialogue in English, Gaelic, and French — make the film a fascinating exercise in immersion. Thankfully, Holland’s contemplative approach to Diarmuid represents the story’s soulfulness through and through. He is an excellent conduit for the audience despite the technical intricacies in the movie.

Holland plays one of a few characters whose drive isn’t fueled by self-interest, even when his youth makes him gullible enough to be potentially influenced by darker forces. Diarmuid grows from a timid boy to a bona fide hero over the course of the film and viscerally exhibits eagerness and heartbreak. We can’t help but latch onto such qualities because Holland’s ardent conviction guides us through every minute detail. He implores us to truly care about the film’s core theme of personal responsibility.

The Current War (2017)

If nothing else, the biopic The Current War lets Tom Holland play at being unequivocally grown-up. But while playing Thomas Edison’s personal secretary, Samuel Insull, Holland can’t fully escape having a babyface. This is particularly obvious when he’s in the same frame as Benedict Cumberbatch as Edison. That said, the impression that Samuel is a floundering fish out of water among renowned engineers and business tycoons is partially the point. Holland is tasked to interpret the early years of a man who would go on to become a major magnate. It makes sense to have him display some sense of acumen and practicality beyond his years.

Holland pulls this off admirably with his limited screentime. Initially keen to prove himself to Edison, Samuel subsequently figures out how to fulfill the frustrating demands of his peculiar employer while simultaneously holding his own. Moreover, Samuel’s intelligence cannot be overlooked. He not only understands the specifications of Edison’s systems but expresses further shrewdness in the face of financial backers.

The Current War tries to distill Samuel into a quippy one-liner — Edison professes, “You’re me, but a human being.” Ultimately, although underwritten, Holland’s levelheadedness bolsters the character beyond such a thin conception.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)