Who would have known that in the span of fifteen years, the character of Spider-Man would be featured in seven live action films, portrayed by three different actors each with different interpretations, and rebooted twice? Like most people, I was under the impression that after the very comic book-esque Sam Raimi films (Spider-Man 1, 2, & 3), we’d only see him within his second incarnation for the time being (The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2). But to our surprise, Sony and Marvel Studios joined forces and allowed the character to appear within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, leading to Spider-Man’s second reboot (Spider-Man Homecoming).
This certainly raises a ton of challenges. With such well-known films coming before it, it’s only natural that audiences are going to compare every aspect of the new movie with its predecessors. You also have to avoid making the story stale. Audiences are going to feel déjà vu unless you add a unique spin. Finally, you have to make the character true to who he is, but able to stand apart from his previous portrayals. Which is what we’ll be discussing today: which one of these Spider-Mans proves to be a developed character, the most engaging, and a true hero?
Before we begin, a disclaimer: I am judging the characters, not the quality of the movie or the actor, though they will have some influence on my thoughts. And of course,
With that out of the way, let’s begin.
Spider-Man – Toby Maguire
Ah yes, the original. If there’s one thing that Toby Maguire’s Spider-Man has down, it’s the geeky, nerdy, dorky persona. Towards the beginning of the franchise, he’s not cocky, nor is he an attention seeker. Even after he gains his powers, Peter Parker maintains his reserved nature as he tries to avoid making a spectacle of himself. It’s a personality that really serves as a way to make people think he’s your average guy. Never in a million years would people believe that this person is actually Spider-Man.
His motivations are strong as well. Being responsible for his Uncle Ben’s death drives Peter to the path of the hero. If there’s any person capable to being saved, Peter will swoop in immediately. It’s a way to symbolically atone for his sin committed against his uncle. He follows his uncle’s last words: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Time has not been kind to this incarnation of Spider-Man. This version of Spider-Man is very…bland. When he’s not in the costume, Peter is a very dull protagonist due to a mix of awkward acting and clunky dialogue. Got to love lines like “I hunch.” Second, Peter isn’t very enjoyable to watch or root for. In films like these, we want to see our hero rise above and do the right thing. In the latter two films, we see our golden boy give up, because being Spider-Man is hard, and then later transform into a douchbag via alien goo. That’s what an audience wants to watch, right?
Third, Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane is VERY unhealthy. He obsesses over her for what seems like solely her looks and the fact they grew up next door to each other. When he finally gets a chance to be with her, he throws away that opportunity. Then when she gets engaged to somebody else, Peter goes through so much emotional turmoil that he loses his powers. When they’re finally together, he becomes so cocky that he starts kissing other women as Spider-Man IN FRONT OF HER. Not cool dude! Finally and most importantly, prior to the moment when Uncle Ben dies, Peter showcases absolutely no selfless tendencies or any desire to help others. He never thinks of anyone else, so there’s a very good chance that if his uncle didn’t die, he would have NEVER become a hero.
The Amazing Spider-Man – Andrew Garfield
Round 2 is Andrew Garfield as he comes in swinging! As a contrast to the previous incarnation, this Peter Parker is an inherently good, brave, and kind person right from the start. Even before he gets his powers, he attempts to stand up to the school bully to help someone in need. He’s also charming as hell! From his charismatic banter in combat to being able to easily woo the likes of Gwen Stacy, he’s an absolute delight to watch.
Finally, there’s his motivation. Like the previous incarnation, he is driven by the death of his uncle, which he inadvertently caused. However, his journey starts solely as revenge. Every criminal he goes after is anyone who matches his uncle’s killer’s description. But after he saves a child on the bridge, things start to change. He realizes ON HIS OWN that being Spider-Man is bigger then a path of revenge. If he can help someone, he should do so immediately. No need for someone to tell him to use his powers responsibly. He was mature enough to figure it out on his own.
I hate to admit it, but there is such a thing as being too charming. On one hand this demonstrates how cocky he is. In the second film, he could have easily stopped Aleksei Sytsevich (The Rhino) in half the time if he just closed his mouth and stopped playing with his prey. In the first fight with Electro, he takes the time to put on a firefighter’s helmet just for show. Don’t show off if people’s lives are on the line! On the other hand, if he is such a charming guy even before he get’s his powers, how is it that he has no friends? Even in the Maguire incarnation, Peter was hanging out with Harry Osborne! But in this version, he doesn’t have a single friend? I find that hard to believe.
Which leads to the next problem, there’s not enough intelligent nerd-ness to him. Aside from his automated door lock contraption, he’s never the one to showcase ingenuity or intelligence. He doesn’t figure out the rate of decay formula, but rather finds the formula in a book. He doesn’t invent his web shooters, but rather repurposes the technology from Oscorp’s own invention. When he’s having trouble dealing with Electro destroying his web shooters, it’s Gwen Stacy who solves his problem. Heck, most of the time he just GOOGLES EVERYTHING! HE WATCHES YOUTUBE VIDEOS FOR HELP!
Spider-Man Homecoming – Tom Holland
Our final contender: the most recent Spider-Man, and also the youngest version of Spider-Man. If Maguire was too much of an awkward nerd and Garfield was too cocky, then Tom Holland’s Spider-Man serves as the perfect middle ground between the two. He has just enough awkwardness around people whether he’s Peter Parker or Spider-Man, but also proves to be a charismatic protagonist. He’s the first Spider-Man to actually look and feel like a teenager in high school. A believable teenager in cinema? Crazy, I know. I’d also wager that he’s the most intelligent of the three based on the fact that he created his web shooters using chemicals available to him in a high school chemistry class. That’s pretty badass.
His best factor is his maturity. Based on what we saw in the two films, it can be interpreted that when he got his powers, he quickly became a hero. He didn’t use them for any sort of personal gain as mentioned in this line from Civil War:
“…and yeah, I would love to play football. But I couldn’t then, so I shouldn’t now.”
He could have easily become the most popular kid in school, but he was mature enough to understand the importance of his powers. There’s even a chance that his uncle’s death had nothing to do with the decision to fight crime. Being seven years old when the Avengers had their fight in New York, Peter grew up with superheroes in his life, so it makes sense as to why he became Spider-Man. He’s also the only Spider-Man to actually learn something from a villain. The whole point of Spider-Man Homecoming was Peter trying to prove that he can be an Avenger like Iron Man and Captain America. But it’s through his encounter with the Vulture, who mentions that no one looks out for the little guy, that he realizes that the smaller, lower scale threats are just as important as the big threats. He turns down the opportunity to become an Avenger, his sole desire of the film, just to prove this point.
…um…he foiled that sting operation on the boat…but he didn’t know there was a sting operation because a certain “iron man” didn’t tell him…
I’m trying to think of something bad, but I honestly can’t think of any huge, glaringly obvious, negative traits like the previous versions. Anything that I can possibly think of would just be me reaching.
Here’s how I see it: if the fifteen year-old demonstrates more maturity and growth then the versions that have Spider-Man starting off as a senior in high school or in college, then it’s pretty obvious who our victor is in this debate.
But hey, what do I know? I’m just some guy on the Internet.
So, what do you all think? Does the Marvel Cinematic Universe hold first place in the Spider-Man awards? Do the older films and iterations of Spider-Man deserve more love? Leave a comment below, and let’s get this conversation rolling. Until next time, this is Xander, signing off.