Hi! It’s Annie!
The conversation of who is the best person to portray Spiderman is one that has been going on for a very long time. And for the most part, I’ve stayed well out of it. That’s for more than one reason. Firstly, it’s an intense debate where it seems like everyone who has an opinion on it gets absolutely torn apart no matter where they stand. This is like the one Marvel debate that all ‘Star Wars’ debates are like. The other reason is because, until recently, I hadn’t actually watched any Spiderman film that wasn’t the first two Tom Holland ones or ‘Into the Spiderverse’. (I still haven’t seen the most recent Spiderman film, so please, no spoilers!!!) Last weekend I decided to actually take the plunge and watch all of the live-action Spiderman movies that people at least consider to be good. Meaning, I watched the first two Tobey Maguire movies, the first Andrew Garfield movie, and I rewatched the first Tom Holland movie. And now having watched all those, I can honestly say that I have an opinion on who was the best Spiderman. But please remember that this is just that, an opinion. These are my personal views on the movies and the different iterations of Peter Parker in live-action film form. It’s ok to have a different opinion! But I have a feeling that some of my opinions won’t be very popular and there were a couple things that swayed my vote. With that out of the way, I’m going to rank the three based on my opinion. Let’s go! (SPOILERS for some of the movies ahead!)
Even after watching all of these films, he’s still my favorite. I even saved his movie for last when doing my binge-watch, and he was still my favorite. This is one of my less unpopular opinions, because I feel like Tom Holland’s Spiderman is pretty universally liked. All three of these iterations of Peter Parker are supposed to be high school students, but I think Garfield and Maguire come across much more as junior or senior college students. Tom Holland is the only one who passes young enough to actually feel like he’s still a kid. Because that’s what he is. Peter Parker is a minor. He is a child. And Tom Holland captures that beautifully. In the first movie Peter Parker struggles with his secret identity not just because it involves him having to push people close to him away. He also struggles with it because there’s a slight temptation to use it to fit in. In one of the most climactic scenes of the film, Peter gets knocked down and trapped by some rubble and has a panic attack. But these things don’t make Peter weak. They just make him human, which is what the character of Spiderman was always supposed to feel like first and foremost. Peter is still a very strong and heroic character. I remember being completely blown away by the image of Peter carrying the Vulture out of the fire at the end of the film. Because not only had he just saved the villain, he had also put his life on the line for a villain despite how young he is. This version of Spiderman is so breathtakingly selfless in his defense of his city. He’s also funny! I think people forget that Spiderman is a bit of a comedian in the comics, which is one of the reasons why he got paired so often with Deadpool. There’s definitely a comedic lightheartedness about this adaptation. I also want to take a section to talk about his love interest, MJ. An intelligent woman who figures out Peter’s identity all on her own and whose voice and strategies are heard and honored throughout every movie she’s in. She doesn’t just sit on the sidelines. MJ is a great role model for kids as well and her importance in Peter’s life is palpable through actions rather than just words. However, while these movies see some of my favorite adapted characters, the movies have been too MCU focused for me. I hear this latest movie fixes that, but I hope that we get to see a lot more of just Peter-centric plots in the future. Because he deserves to be the only focus of a movie.
Yes, Andrew Garfield is my second favorite Spiderman. I know I’m about to lose a lot of people with this, but I’ll cover exactly why when I start talking about Tobey Maguire’s version of the character. Garfield brings a very sarcastic and charming side of Peter Parker to the table. This is the Peter Parker that makes the kinds of jokes Spiderman does in the comics. This feels like the exact Peter Parker that Deadpool gets along with. This is also one of the most intelligent versions of the character. Tom Holland’s version is an inventor and a known science wiz, but we don’t see as much of that explored as often. We do see that he invented his webs though. Tobey Maguire is never established as an inventor. Garfield’s rendition of the character creates his own webs and also accidentally created his own villain because of a formula his father started and he completed. The pairing of his intelligence and comedy is perfection and made me laugh out loud at several points. Like Holland, Garfield also has a lot of charm in his Spiderman. Tom Holland’s comes from his youthful innocence while Andrew Garfield’s character has more of a cool big brother vibe. It almost feels like the version of Peter Parker that appears in ‘Into the Spiderverse’. And I love it! It makes him a fun character to watch and an easy character to connect to. I also have to absolutely commend Andrew Garfield’s emotional acting, because if his Peter Parker is in despair you can bet that the audience is feeling it too. Gwen Stacy is also amazing! She’s funny, capable, and even climbs into the fray herself on occasions. She lands a hit on the villain! She’s such an endearing and intelligent character. I hate that they killed her off, but I get that this is what happens in the comics. I would have loved to see Spider-Gwen in live action form! Hopefully we’ll get it someday. The plots to Garfield’s movies were definitely a bit messier, but for me it was totally worth it just to watch the portrayals of Peter and Gwen. You grow very attached to them very quickly!
I can already hear the fanboys screaming. Yes, this was my least favorite version of Spiderman. Maybe it was because I just don’t have the nostalgia connected to it. Maybe it’s because I didn’t see it when it was one of the only superhero movies out and it far surpassed any other to ever be made. I acknowledge fully that the making of these movies were important and it started the golden age of comic book films that we see now. But watching it for the first time from a modern perspective, I had several problems. Firstly, the character of Peter Parker in these movies felt bland to me in some ways. I loved that the second film in particular had the insight to go into the inner conflict of Peter Parker where he doesn’t know if he even should be Spiderman. And I thought it was even better to then take the extra step and actually show him give it all up. This is a side of superheroes that has still yet to be explored again in this much detail. I think the closest we got to this is probably Clint Barton in the new ‘Hawkeye’ series. And even that is not to this extent. But my issue is that Peter Parker here doesn’t really have much of a personality beyond his love of Mary Jane. Who is also without personality. There’s no comedy to be had here. And I do agree that Marvel movies now probably rely too much on comedy, but Spiderman was written to be comedic in the comics as well. I wanted to look at this Peter and see the nuances of layered personality traits. Instead I just saw a superhero or the guy who likes Mary Jane. It felt like a lot of the old portrayals of Superman before superhero writing got better, just less muscly and more geeky. And Mary Jane was possibly my least favorite part of all of the movies. She was either damseled or being creepily followed by at least two guys (including Peter). The main thing her character did in any of the movies was change boyfriends. The one time she almost did something useful she was immediately knocked out. Don’t get me wrong, there were things I liked about these movies. Like the action sequences and the entire scene in the second movie where the citizens on the bus protect Peter. That was absolutely touching. But I didn’t like Peter or Mary Jane all that much, which made it more difficult for to me to connect to it.
I want to say here that I think Holland, Garfield, and Maguire are all excellent actors and did excellent jobs with what they had. Any issues I had with character, I mostly attribute to writing and possibly directing as well. And I think every single one of them has their own merits as both Peter Parker and Spiderman! It looks like Garfield might get more movies for his portrayal of Spiderman, which I would love to see. And I really can’t wait to see the new movie! Hopefully I’ll see it soon and be able to review it soon after! And, once again, these are just my opinions so feel free to disagree with them!
See you across the pond!