The following article contains spoilers for previous Spider-Man films & Avengers: Infinity War.
I think Andrew Garfield is a very talented actor — I love many of his films — but when he played Peter Parker, he was never my Spider-Man. I grew up with Tobey Maguire’s performances as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, and a part of me will always see him as ‘my Spider-Man’ — no matter what happens — but today I want to talk about why I think Tom Holland is already starting to take his place.
On the Shoulders of Giants:
The Best of Both Worlds
Say what you will about Spider-Man 3, but the first two Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films are excellent, and Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is arguably one of the very best films in the superhero genre. Tobey Maguire added a lot to the first golden age of superhero movies in the 21st Century.
Although his overdone performance in Spider-Man 3 has become somewhat of a hilarious internet meme, his great performances in the first two Raimi superhero films remain. As I mentioned in the introduction, he is my Spider-Man in the same way that Roger Moore will always be my James Bond. He is the one I watched when I was young, and he is the one who immediately comes to mind for me when I picture the character. That will probably never change.
Although I am a fan of Andrew Garfield as well, his Spider-Man films never worked for me. For me, those films symbolize the problematic studio-driven era of Spider-Man films, and it makes me happy to know that those days are behind us. Nevertheless Garfield was a very good Spider-Man, even though I didn’t love his version of Peter Parker that most people did.
As such, Garfield and, especially, Maguire are the giants of the character on screen, with the latter being the original actor to play the part on the big screen. Garfield and Maguire lay the foundation for a new era for the cinematic version of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Along with this new era comes Holland, someone who has the best of both worlds — someone who has taken the best parts of Garfield’s version and the best parts of Maguire’s version. Holland is the fun in-suit Spider-Man that Garfield wanted to be, but he still manages to achieve that same level of emotion from audiences that Maguire earned. His sorrow and heartbreak comes across as just as heartfelt and genuine as when Maguire owned the character.
The Benefits of a Connected Universe:
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man
Unlike Maguire and Garfield, Tom Holland hasn’t been given a true origin story. But here’s the kicker, he didn’t need an origin story anymore. The work that Maguire appeared in became such an important part of our collective Westernized pop culture that people were upset with the mere suggestion that Garfield’s films would try to redo them. We had seen the origin story — we knew it by heart — and, when Sony decided to redo the origin story with Garfield, it was clumsy and received poorly.
Tom Holland’s version of the character simply couldn’t have one — an origin story — without being critcized, so what did Sony do? They partnered with Disney and Marvel Studios to reintroduce the world of Spider-Man back into colorful world of Marvel. They let Holland rely not just on previous incarnations of the character’s on-screen origin, but they also gave him possibly the single greatest ‘guest appearance’ in cinematic longform storytelling — his short but excellent introduction in Captain America: Civil War.
Although I don’t actually agree, I have heard people say that his introduction is the best scene in the movie, and that when he didn’t have anymore scenes in the film they lost interest. That says a lot about Tom Holland, the way he was introduced here, and about how much people love Spider-Man.
Holland and Sony have been given an extra push by Marvel Studios so that they don’t have to shoe-horn in an origin story. Instead, they can just keep going and make the fun solo stories that they want to. One of the reasons why Spider-Man: Homecoming works as well as it does is absolutely that people were already familiar with the character. They might not have had time for a good movie, if they needed to talk about Uncle Ben, his killer, and what comes with great power. People may not have wanted it.
Owning the Character:
When I think of the film interpretations of Spider-Man, the moments that come to mind are mostly from the Maguire-era. I think of Uncle Ben’s death, I think of the funny delivery of the line “Bonesaw is ready,” and I think of my favorite non-action sequence in a superhero movie: the “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”-sequence from Spider-Man 2. But there are many more of these sequences and moments in Maguire’s films that people instantly think of whenever they think of Spider-Man.
Garfield’s era did not manage to execute many well-remembered moments in his two films. Some people mention the death of Gwen Stacy, but that moment is hidden at the end of what may be my least favorite Spider-Man movie. But even though Tom Holland has only been in one solo film and had two appearances in crossover Marvel Studios films, he already has a few moments that, for me, are as memorable as many of the moments from the Maguire era.
Captain America: Civil War gave rise to his pop culture catchphrase “have you ever seen that really old movie,” which basically points out how Spider-Man is so much younger than he ever was in the previous Spider-Man films, but the film doesn’t really give us more than one iconic Spider-Man moment: the Underoos-scene, wherein Parker takes Captain America’s shield.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is such a fun high school-centric Spider-Man movie with the great Vulture-twist, but the one truly iconic moment that is executed perfectly is the scene inspired by a moment in The Amazing Spider-Man #33, which Stan Lee wrote. In the film, when Parker is trapped under rubble after a brief fight with the Vulture, it is the first time it hits you that Peter Parker is a kid. Parker begins to cry and whimper in the scene. Hearing a high schooler scream for help like he does is absolutely terrifying, and Holland does a brilliant job in this scene. Never before has an actor playing Spider-Man managed to get this sense of helplessness across on screen as well as Holland does here. It is the moment he truly becomes Spider-Man. That is the moment that made me go from liking Holland’s version to absolutely loving it. He won me over.
And then, of course, Marvel Studios wanted to torture audiences in the excellent crossover film Avengers: Infinity War. At the end of the film, Thanos snaps his fingers and multiple heroes start to turn to dust and disappear — they basically die. Although people have said that the moment is a little bit underwhelming because we know that these heroes will all come back somehow (it is a superhero movie, after all), it is Spider-Man’s last scene that makes the sequence work.
Tom Holland’s Peter Parker senses that he is turning to dust and he falls into his mentor’s arms — Tony Stark, who didn’t want him to become an Avenger. Parker says that he doesn’t want to ‘go,’ which is likely an unsubtle reference to David Tennant’s famous send-off from Doctor Who. Parker panics, he says he is sorry, and he turns to dust. It is such a tough scene to watch, and it leaves us (and Stark) just as helpless as the rubble-scene from Homecoming did.
I cannot believe we actually saw a teenage Spider-Man die on-screen in a film that Disney distributed. It is an unbelievable moment that left audiences in shock. That is another iconic Spider-Man moment that Holland is a part of, but even more impressive is the fact that Holland apparently improvised some of the elements that made his death scene so unforgettable.
When I say that Roger Moore is ‘my James Bond,’ I don’t mean to say that it is impossible to be a ‘better’ Bond than him. As a matter of fact, I think Casino Royale with Daniel Craig is the best James Bond film. Similarly, while I do think that Tobey Maguire will always, in a way, be my Spider-Man, what we have already seen from Tom Holland makes me think that he will manage to become even more synonymous with the character than Maguire already is.
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen