If you ask almost anybody who their favorite Spider-Man is, chances are they’ll say Tobey Maguire. Considering that he was the first actor to play the web-slinging hero in a mainstream blockbuster, it makes sense that so many people would see Maguire as the definitive Spidey. Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man and its 2004 follow-up additionally remain the best-reviewed entries in the franchise. If you ask enough fans, though, you’ll find quite a few that actually preferred Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of the character.
Some might find such an accusation blasphemous, especially if they grew up in the early 2000’s. If you think about it, however, we really didn’t give Garfield a fair chance, just as we never gave The Amazing Spider-Man a fair chance. When it was announced that Sony was rebooting Spider-Man with a new actor and continuity, everyone just saw it as a greedy cash-grab. And… yeah, it kind of was. Then again, a Spider-Man reboot was bound to happen eventually.
After Emo Peter hit the scene in 2007’s Spider-Man 3, audiences everywhere lost their faith in this movie series. It was Spidey’s equivalent to 1997’s Batman & Robin. Of course the Dark Knight would bounce back from that cinematic travesty when Christopher Nolan put a fresh spin on the character in 2005’s Batman Begins. Alas, reviving a franchise is all about timing. For a Spider-Man reboot to work, the character had to leave the spotlight for a while. Unfortunately, Sony couldn’t allow a proper grace period because they’d lose the film rights to Spider-Man if they didn’t make a new flick ASAP. Thus, we got The Amazing Spider-Man only five years later.
Audiences might have given The Amazing Spider-Man a warmer welcome if more time had passed and if the film truly revolutionized the franchise. As far as the Spidey formula goes, however, it was pretty much the same origin story over again: Peter Parker gets superpowers, has a romance with a girl, mourns the loss of his uncle, does battle with a colorful villain, and learns what it means to be a hero. Once you look past the plot, though, the 2012 reboot did bring several inspired new things to the table and one of them was Andrew Garfield.
If you’re a comic book fan, then you know that there are two sides of Spider-Man/Peter Parker: the mild-mannered dork and the wise-cracking hipster. Maguire did a wonderful job at bringing out Spidey’s nerdy, humble side, making for a very likable hero. Yet, Maguire never demonstrated the cool, smartass side of Spidey. This is where Andrew Garfield shined, doing an underappreciated job at creating a more modern, rebellious Spidey with an arsenal of quips. At the same time, however, we rarely believed Garfield was an awkward dork. On top of that, his take on Spidey could admittedly get too cocky for his own good, just as Maguire’s Spidey could get obnoxiously whiny.
While both of these actors did fine jobs on the whole, neither fully encompassed everything that makes Spidey a great character. Part of that’s because the Spider-Man movies haven’t always found the perfect balance of lightheartedness and ligament drama. The best entry in the franchise is still Spider-Man 2, which had just the right amount of humor and emotional turmoil. A majority of the other entries, though, have felt a little schizo.
For example, Spider-Man 3 had several moments that were supposed to be powerful, but it was impossible to take them seriously after seeing something as silly as Emo Peter. It also didn’t help that the film was packed with so many subplots and characters, never allowing enough time to let the drama settle in. The same exact thing happened in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, although at least that film didn’t have any cringe inducing dance sequences. Since they didn’t have the greatest screenplays to work with, neither Maguire nor Garfield gave complete performances. Hopefully this is where Tom Holland will come in.
The 19-year-old rising star will become the third actor to play Spider-Man, making his debut in Captain America: Civil War and appearing in a 2017 stand-alone film. Seeing how we’ve only gotten a glimpse of him in the latest Civil War trailer, it’s hard to say how well Holland will do in the role. When it comes to character development, however, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has nailed it almost every time. From Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, to Chris Hemsworth as Thor, to Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, all of these iconic heroes have been exceptionally cast across the board. More importantly, these actors have been given well-rounded personalities to work with.
Entering Phase Three of the MCU, it feels like we’ve gotten to know practically every Avenger in-depth. So we have no reason to believe that the studio will drop the ball with Spider-Man. What they need to think about is what worked in the previous Spider-Man movies and what didn’t. Between Maguire’s wide-eyed Spidey and Garfield’s witty Spidey, there’s a fully realized depiction of the character waiting to emerge. If Holland can encompass the best elements of these actors while also making the role his own, we could finally have the ultimate Spider-Man. We’ll just have to wait and see if he can do whatever a spider can.