With Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse out tomorrow, audiences will be treated to a new version of a beloved, oft-portrayed superhero. Or more accurately, new versions – Miles Morales might be at the heart of Spider-Verse, but Peter Parker, Gwen Stacey, and even Spider-Ham make appearances in this multiverse extravaganza. Prior to this release, the primary Spider-Man in film has been Peter Parker – the nerdy teenage orphan from Queens. In the last 16 years he has been played on screen by Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland. Garfield is largely considered the ugly duckling of the bunch – his films suffered from poor plotting, and he was unfortunately a bit old to be a believable teenager when he donned the suit. However, Maguire and Holland both have their fervent defenders – including ORWAV’s own Patrick and James. Read on for their staunch takes on why their respective Peter Parkers are the definitive incarnations.
Patrick Nabarro: Tobey Maguire is the best Spider-Man
Much like with the Sean Connery argument in the debate over the quintessential Bond, Tobey Maguire has two clear factors in his claim to be the definitive Spider-Man: he was the first incarnation of the character, thus the original Spider-Man in the public consciousness, and his style, temperament, and overall fit for the Peter Parker alter-ego was spot on.
Maguire’s self-contained strangeness – essayed brilliantly in high-calibre performances in his early 20s such as The Ice Storm, Pleasantville and Wonder Boys – proved an ideal blend for Sam Raimi’s cartoonish aesthetic and initial conception for the character in Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. Maguire inhabited the high-school ‘nobody’ and amateur photographer elements of the Parker persona perfectly, yet his morphing into Spider-Man replete with muscular physique felt equally convincing. It is just the right blend of believable and slightly bizarre.
His relationship with other characters similarly serve his Spider-Man extremely well. His chemistry with Kirsten Dunst’s “girl-next-door” Mary-Jane Watson – the obligatory love interest subplot in this genre of movies – is very sincere and engaging. All these factors combined, plus the addition of some excellent villains, led to the first two films in Raimi’s run proving huge critical and commercial successes (Spider-Man 2 is still ranked as one of the finest superhero movies to date), and Maguire’s performance is right at the centre of all that works in them.
This tricky cocktail of sensibilities that makes up the Parker/Spider-Man persona was something that Andrew Garfield, and, to a lesser extent, Tom Holland failed to pull off quite as seamlessly as Maguire. Garfield – perhaps betraying the fact he’s a posh British kid trying to sell us his Parker – was far too demonstrative in his strived-for gawkiness and clumsy-cute shtick. And Holland, as incredibly charismatic and zany as his Parker is, comes across as almost a little too put-together and cool. Give me Maguire’s doleful outsider any day.
James Andrews: Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man
There might be more of a debate over whether Tom Holland is the best Peter Parker, but there can be little doubt he’s the best Spider-Man. Physically, he’s just about perfect, with a dance background that enabled him to do much of his own wall-crawling, web-slinging stunt work. He famously performed a standing backflip in his audition, which Marvel Studios producers admit helped him get the part. His agility, strength and grace allow Holland to most naturally inhabit the inherent physicality of the character.
He’s small in stature and genuinely young too. Remember that despite his name, Spider-Man’s USP is that he’s still a teenager in high school, and Holland is the one who’s sold that most successfully. He stands at about 5’7” and was only 19 when he bagged the gig as Spidey for Captain America: Civil War. Compare that with Tobey Maguire, who (great as he was) never looked young enough playing the part in his mid-20s to early 30s, and the taller, even older (at the time) Andrew Garfield.
He also benefits hugely in this regard from director Jon Watts’ treatment of the character in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Watts’ John Hughes-style trappings make this entry as much a classic high school genre movie as it is a superhero flick at times, allowing Holland’s Peter to get picked on, awkwardly crush on girls and build Lego Death Stars with a convincingly youthful exuberance.
And then of course, there’s the fact this is the first Spider-Man in the MCU. Admittedly, that’s something Maguire and Garfield couldn’t control, but Holland’s opportunity to interact with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and Thanos adds a whole extra dimension of fan satisfaction. Peter’s mentorship by Tony Stark has provided a particularly strong dynamic between the two heroes, allowing not only the younger Avenger to evolve but adding a paternal arc to Tony’s decade-long development. It also means we get to see the coolest, most advanced spider-suits yet seen on the big screen, courtesy of that Stark tech. Holland’s Peter getting to grips with learning the extent of the suits’ abilities prompted some of the biggest laughs of Homecoming, the funniest Spider-Man movie so far.
Yet Holland also brings us the most heartbreaking on-screen moment for the character, at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. After fulfilling his dream of becoming a fully-fledged member of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Spidey ends up as one of the unlucky 50% finger-clicked into oblivion by Thanos. The “Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good” scene was a genuine tearjerker within a summer blockbuster, even though we know that (thankfully) Holland will be back for Avengers 4 and Spider-Man: Far From Home. Which is good news, because the young Londoner can only get better in the role, likely becoming one of the key components of Marvel’s next phase and further cementing his status as the best movie Spider-Man.