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Spider-Man: Homecoming Is Exactly That

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Face front, true believers: Disney/Marvel’s acquisition of Fox Studios will unite far-flung superheroes against the forces of evil, starting with Spider-Man: Homecoming

“It could get pretty surreal at the conference table, lawyers hammering it out and arguing...”

In recent years, the greatest smack-downs in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) have occurred not between super-powered behemoths in Spandex, but between L.A. lawyers in designer suits.

In an interview, Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, once drew a mental picture for me of what it took to get the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver from the X-Men franchise (owned by 20th Century Fox) to appear with the Avengers in the Marvel/Disney-owned Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron (and, in the case of the Scarlet Witch, Captain America: Civil War).

“It could get pretty surreal at the conference table, lawyers hammering it out and arguing,” Feige said of the high-stakes back-and-forth. Yes, Marvel could use Fox’s mutant characters if they had a history in the comics of appearing with other Marvel characters. They could also call them “enhanced.” But the word “mutant” belonged to Fox.

So it was that Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson first appeared as the “Inhumans” Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

But it was the followup, Captain America: Civil War, that featured the big prize: the Sony Studios property Spider-Man, played by Tom Holland.

After that victory, last year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming might be the most appropriate title ever for a summer blockbuster.

Add the sale of Fox Studios (owners of both The X-Men and The Fantastic Four) to Disney/Marvel, and these days truly are, as Marvel founder Stan Lee would say, “Excelsior!"

From the time he took over Marvel Studios in 2007, Feige, an admitted comic book nerd, pursued a dream that the far-flung Marvel properties could be united under the banner of one studio. Just like in the comics, Spider-Man could pop in to cameo in a Fantastic Four adventure, X-Men could jump in and out of Avengers stories, supervillain Thanos could battle both the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, etc.

This cross-pollination was a long time coming. Spider-Man (2002), produced for Sony by his former boss at Marvel, Avi Arad, was an easier sell, Feige says. But this wasn’t a slam-dunk either.

"Spider-Man is the king.... He is too important to be used as a sidepiece for corporate purposes.”

When the last non-Marvel Spider-Man movie, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (starring Andrew Garfield) opened, Arad told a news conference: “If we want to do crossovers, the story has to absolutely be centred on Spider-Man.

“We cannot be second banana to anything out there. Spider-Man is the king. This is the one that influenced young people from birth. He is too important to be used as a sidepiece for corporate purposes.”

Feige obviously agrees. “What was so interesting about Spider-Man in the comics was how different he was from all the other Marvel heroes. Which is what made it so fun to integrate him with the rest of the Marvel universe.”

Feige is not dissing the predecessors. “A few of (the Sony) movies were among the best superhero movies ever made. But ours is unlike any of the others.”

Which is how we got to Spider-Man: Homecoming, the coming-out party for the latest Spider-Man, Tom Holland. The baby-faced British actor is 21, but plays Peter Parker as a 15-year-old, as he was always meant to be. That makes for high-school melodrama subplots worthy of a John Hughes movie, complete with a genius sidekick (Jacob Batalon), a date with the out-of-his-league girl (Laura Harrier), and a tough-girl BFF (Zendaya).

Moreover, the movie — with Michael Keaton as the villainous Vulture — creates a through-line from Captain America: Civil War, with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) playing mentor to the young Spider-Man and even setting him up with a high-tech spider-suit full of surprises. And yet, Stark balks at making Parker a full-fledged member of The Avengers.

“That relationship is pretty interesting,” Holland said at a Los Angeles news conference launching Spider-Man: Homecoming. “(Tony Stark) suddenly has somebody to think about other than Tony Stark. The reason he doesn’t want Spider-Man to join the Avengers is he doesn’t want something to happen to him (and have it be) on his conscience.

“So it’s a nice sort of back and forth, me saying: ‘I’m powerful enough to be an Avenger!’ It’s a big-brother/little-brother/dad/son sort of situation.”

Of course, that relationship would have been contractually unthinkable a couple of years ago, when Feige sat down for lunch with then-chairwoman of Sony Motion Pictures Amy Pascal. “It was one of those, ‘This will never be possible but let’s dream about it’ moments at Marvel Studios. It’s unbelievable,” Feige said.

As Downey added at the presser: “They really should do one of those breakdown books of all the miracles that led up to us sitting here today.”

But rather than looking backward, Spider-Man: Homecoming director Jon Watts said he was more excited about the future. “Now that Spider-Man is part of this big, crazy (Marvel) universe, we can definitely tell some new stories, that’s for sure,” Watts said.

Jim Slotek is a Toronto movie critic and freelance entertainment journalist.