There Has Never Been a Bad Spider-Man (Just Bad Spider-Man Movies)
A collective fandom is rarely going to fully agree on anything; there will always be detractors of every point of view. This is true of every fandom out there, especially so when it comes to Spider-Man. The discourse around former Spidey stars potentially returning for Spider-Man: No Way Home just goes to show you how divided the fanbase is. All three existing Spider-Man franchises have their own dedicated fans, and every Spider-Man fan you meet has their own preference that they feel strongly about, myself included.
We've had seven live-action Spider-Man movies to this point — soon to be eight. Some of those movies are good. Others, not so much. We will always disagree about which ones belong in each category, but where all Spider-Man fans can come together is in celebration of the actors playing the web-slinger, regardless of how good or bad the film they're starring in may be. Because there are bad Spider-Man movies, but we've never had a bad Spider-Man.
For the purpose of this exercise, join me in pushing aside all of the positive or negative feelings you may have about any of the particular Spider-Man movies. Whether you're a Sam Raimi purist or the biggest MCU fan on the planet, we're going to take a second and focus solely on the Spider-Men themselves — not the movies they're in. We've had three live-action iterations of Spider-Man so far, and each version of the character has been an absolute home run thanks to some pitch-perfect casting. Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland have all brought out the absolute best in Peter Parker.
Seeing that Maguire had the first portrayal in the early 2000s, there is an element of camp to Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy that may not have aged well in the minds of some viewers. Yes, the actor clearly looks older than a high school student when he first dons the suit, but his appearance and awkward delivery worked flawlessly for the character, portraying an earnestness that still holds up today.
Maguire balanced the charm and naivety of Peter in an era before the Internet, when hope was the cornerstone of a superhero blockbuster. Even if he seemed older than he should've been, this Peter Parker felt like someone you knew, like the regular guy Spider-Man was supposed to be.
In 2012, Spider-Man was upgraded for the Internet age and given a new actor to match the changes in the world around him. Andrew Garfield took the mantle for both The Amazing Spider-Man movies and navigated Peter through college, as well as a new relationship with Gwen Stacy. If Maguire was the version of Peter that everyone felt they knew, Garfield's version was the guy everyone wanted to be.
Every Spider-Man should be witty and charming – they're cornerstone characteristics of the character. Garfield took both of those elements to new highs with his portrayal, particularly in the scenes playing Peter Parker. There was a sexy, Tumblr nerd vibe to Garfield's portrayal that was necessary to make the character thrive amidst the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Evans had ushered in a new era, and the clumsy relatability of Maguire would not have cut it at the time. Garfield found a way to bridge that gap; he was believable as a science nerd who didn't quite know how to flirt at parties, but it also made sense that Emma Stone would fall head-over-heels in love with him.
Garfield was Spider-Man's perfect answer to the MCU, which is what makes Holland's appointment so appealing – and impressive.
Just two years removed from Garfield's second outing, Marvel Studios and Sony struck a deal to bring Spider-Man into the MCU fold and cast the third actor to play the character in a live-action movie. Holland was relatively unknown at the time but the decision to make him the face of Marvel's most popular superhero could not have been better. His relatively unknown status may have helped sell him as Peter Parker. It was easy to believe him as a fish out of water in the biggest franchise on the planet, and it was easy for him to be overshadowed by the rest of the cast of Captain America: Civil War. The circumstances surrounding his casting helped sell Holland's Spider-Man at first, but the young actor has done nothing but soar and impress since taking on the role.
Holland is the best of both previous Spider-worlds: He's accessible and realistic, like Maguire, while also being quick with the quips and delivering true leading man charm, like Garfield. He does it all while also creating a true Gen Z iteration of Peter Parker, one that gets the world around him but isn't quite as plugged in as his peers. Above all, he's vulnerable on-screen in a way that so many superhero actors aren't. His delivery of "I don't wanna go" in Avengers: Infinity War is among the most gut-wrenching line readings in comic book movie history, and it also works as a prime example for why Holland is such a perfect Spider-Man. He is equal parts hero and kid next door, exactly as Spider-Man should be.
Each of the three Spider-Man actors were impeccable choices for their time, and all three actors delivered immaculate iterations of the most iconic character in Marvel history, regardless of what was happening in the films around them.
We can debate the merits of the different Spider-Man movies until the cows come home, and there's no chance we will ever come to a firm conclusion on that discussion. But when it comes to Spider-Man himself, Sony is somehow batting 1.000, and that's something we should all be able to agree on.
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