In modern cinematic history, there have been three big screen Spider-Mans. Spider-Men? Fine. Three big screen Peter Parkers. All three actors have their merits and flaws, but which one is the best? So, to answer the question, I watched Spider-Man (2002) and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) back to back to refresh my memory on Tobey Maguire’s and Andrew Garfield’s performances. I’ve watched Captain America: Civil War a few times, so Tom Holland’s is already fresh in my mind.
My first big revelation: Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man are the same movie. Not just similar, but point for point and beat for beat, the same. You can rename Green Goblin as The Lizard all you want, but they’re still both green. Uncle Ben still dies. Peter still has momentary passive-aggressive revenge. Aunt May is still tragic. The girl is still out of Peter’s league. The CGI is still primitive.
Setting that aside, Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker (as directed by powerhouse Sam Raimi) is a social outcast (check), enduring unrequited love (check), and has to cope with loss (check). He is a tearful, introspective boy-man who is suddenly bestowed with exceptional powers, but who is so buried in angst that he becomes largely uninteresting. Maguire has the “cute thing” down pat as well – a quality that I really never ascribed to Peter Parker, especially as a fringer – but seemed too old to be portraying a high school student.
Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker (as directed by Marc Webb [ha ha ha] has some backbone, where Maguire’s really did not. While he is a social outcast (check), enduring unrequited love (check), and has to cope with loss (check), he at least has some moral character to stand up to the bullies before he becomes a mutant. Garfield is lithe and angular, with a killer smile, but miles away from “cute.” He was more convincing as the class dork than Maguire was, but still seemed too old for the role.
With Spider-Man’s entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was time to upgrade the actor again. Enter Tom Holland as Peter Parker. He is a social outcast (sort of check), dealing with unrequited love (uncheck, insert sexy Aunty May instead), and coping with loss (uncheck, no Martin Sheen or Cliff Robertson Uncle Ben trope to be found). Spider-Man’s entire origin story is told in a couple of quippy paragraphs. Holland has the “cute thing,” rocks the Spider-Man angularity, and actually seems the right age for high school. He also comes with a backbone strong enough to issue a stern warning to self-centered smart-aleck Tony Stark.
While Holland has yet to be the featured character in a full film (until now that is, in Spider-Man: Homecoming), I have little doubt that he is the best Spider-Man the theaters have yet seen. He’s a technological whiz kid (like Garfield, but unlike Maguire whose mutations were entirely biological and therefore laughable) who believes that he has the power to do good and is therefore obligated (something the prior Peter Parkers did not adequately demonstrate). I have high hopes for Spider-Man: Homecoming and am looking forward to catching a matinee on my next day off.