The Three Faces of Spider-Man

The following was pitched to and commissioned by Culture Fly


As Captain America: Civil War hoovers up all the money, audiences are faced with one of Hollywood’s preferred buzzwords: reboot. Spider-Man is back and it is pretty obvious he is not being played by Andrew Garfield, who wore the red-and-blue spandex just two years ago. Thanks to the Marvel-Sony shared-custody deal, Tom Holland is the new wall-crawler.

Having been played by three actors in the last nine years, Spider-Man is an ideal character to look at how Hollywood reinterprets characters with each new face. Each version has shared characteristics — they live in Queens, Uncle Ben is dead, they’re smart. But, each interpretation is a product of the time it was made and it is interesting to look at how the Spider-Man films react to the real world.

Tobey Maguire – Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3

Maguire was the ultimate 00s nerd //©SonyPictures //source: Culture Fly
Maguire was the ultimate 00s nerd //©SonyPictures //source: Culture Fly

Maguire’s Spidey was the nerd next door and the Raimi interpretation nails Peter’s awkwardness and really flies the Loser flag high. His flat is crummy, his landlord is greedy and his social life doesn’t spread beyond three characters as he spends his time balancing his superhero responsibilities and attending Mary Jane’s awful play. Basically, Maguire’s Parker is the classic early-noughties nerd.

Raimi really leans hard on Spidey’s money problems and the love story to keep the spandex action grounded. However, Maguire’s actual Spider-Man isn’t Spider-Man. Peter uses Spider-Man as an escape from his average lifestyle by sassing every crook he comes across. Spider-Man fans demand a certain amount of quips and “It’s you who’s out Gobby — out of your mind!” doesn’t count. In hindsight, if that’s the level of quip 2002 can give us, maybe it’s a good thing Spider-Man stayed silent.

The Spider-Man trilogy works because of its interpretation of Peter as a penniless lovelorn nerd is perfect — everyone can relate in a certain way and when Raimi and Maguire nailed the formula, they delivered one of the unsurpassable superhero films with Spider-Man 2. That was until they messed it all up with an emo fringe and scarring dance moves. Spider-Man 3 is so bad it caused our first reboot.

Andrew Garfield – The Amazing Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Andrew Garfield was the sassy Spider-Man //©SonyPictures //source: Culture Fly
Andrew Garfield was the sassy Spider-Man //©SonyPictures //source: Culture Fly

If Maguire was a better Peter Parker, Garfield is the better Spider-Man. He has some snark and delivers quips of various quality at nondescript villains and a blue Jaime Foxx. The ‘amazing’ interpretation is basically a youtube commenter in a super-suit and Garfield fully commits to the role with a physicality unseen before. Here was Spider-Man similar to the comics and the Saturday morning cartoons and, yet, it didn’t click with audiences because Garfield’s Peter Parker wasn’t Peter Parker.

As one of the biggest superheroes of the last 50 years, everyone has an idea of what Peter should be and Garfield’s skateboarding, handsome and confident version was not right. The only awkward thing he did was stutter. It’s understandable why the filmmakers went this way. In 2012, nerds were cool and hell, the role that got Garfield the part was in a film about nerds ruling the world. It would have been odd to see the bus driver refuse to let him on the bus.

But, the filmmakers seemingly ignore a major character trait — his money problems. There are hints about J Jonah Jameson not paying Peter a fair wage and Aunt May (Sally Field) having to work extra shifts, but their house is too nice and his clothes are too cool. Film is a visual medium, so saying he’s poor isn’t as effective as showing it. Garfield’s Parker is too well together and he doesn’t feel like Peter.

So, how do you make Peter an underdog in the age of Silicon Valley?

Tom Holland – Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

The fresh-faced Spidey of Civil War //©MARVEL //source: Culture Fly
The fresh-faced Spidey of Civil War //©MARVEL //source: Culture Fly

Simple, you stick to the visuals. In a couple of seconds, the Russo Brothers establish the differences between this Peter and his predecessors. He doesn’t live in a house but a small apartment in a tower block because, naturally, a cash-strapped single aunt wouldn’t be able to afford New York house prices. He dumpster dives for gear and his youth is established by him listening to Alt-J through a pair of headphones. He walks and dresses like a teenager.

Most importantly, when face-to-face with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), the MCU’s ultimate tech god, he is awkward. In a brief scene, it is established Holland’s Peter is poor, nervous and unsure of himself. He has everything Garfield’s Parker was pretending to have. Then you get to his Spider-Man.

For the first time in the character’s cinematic history, the difference between Peter and his alter-ego is felt. Holland’s wall-crawler is confident and goes head to head with the established characters. He makes some zingers and acts like how a 15-year-old would act in a superhero royal rumble. In a brief 15-minute appearance, it feels like Holland’s Spidey is the one audiences have been waiting for and if his Spider-Man: Homecoming follows in Civil War’s footsteps, he might become the best on-screen Spider-Man.

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