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Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Who is the best Spider-Man?

According to Fair, Holland is the best Spider-Man because of his social awkwardness combined with his nerdy charm. When bringing Spider-Man from the comics to the big screen, Holland trumps the others.

It has been 22 years since the first “Spider-Man” was released in theaters on May 3, 2002. Witnessing copyright wars and three other “Spider-Man” series in between, fans of this famous superhero are still getting treated with more with Marvel preparing for their fourth installment of Tom Holland’s adaptation as Spider-Man rumored to be released sometime this year.

Comic book legend Stan Lee crafted this character in August 1962 where Spider-Man first appeared in, “Amazing Fantasy #15”. His intention with the superhero was to create a hero that has never been done before. With the popularity in comic books booming among teens, Lee wanted a hero that everybody could identify with. Perhaps, that is why we are still talking about Spider-Man after all of these years.

The beauty behind Spider-Man is that he isn’t a picture-perfect superhero who has it all together. Spider-Man is your average teeanger who can barely talk to a girl without turning the conversation into an awkward mess. On top of that, he struggles with grief of his Uncle Ben as well as the loss of his parents. Spider-Man shows us that through tragedies and in our darkest moments, that’s where our greatest strengths are revealed. More or less, he is a character that everyone can relate to and was specifically designed this way by artist Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. In an interview with Larry King in 2010, Lee explained what makes the Spider-Man costume so special is because “any kid could imagine they are Spider-Man ”. Although it wasn’t done intentionally, Lee claims that it’s the “best thing they did” so that anyone could imagine being under the mask.

Over the years, we have seen three different in-person actors take on the duty of being under the mask. The question is…who did it better?

Let’s start off with the OG: Tobey Maguire. His performance as Spider-Man was any comic book fan’s dream. Maguire is so convincing as a reserved, nerdy guy that it makes for the perfect Peter Parker. It really does feel like when you are watching the original trilogy that you are going through the transformation of gaining these powers with him. Maguire embodies Peter Parker’s essence in a way that fellow Spider-Man actors Tom Holland and Andrew Garfield can’t. From chasing down the school bus helplessly in the first scene we are introduced to him, we get to see Peter Parker at his core. A pushover head-over-heels for the popular girl, who sits at the very bottom of the social ladder. His social flaws come off as genuinely cringy, which brings Peter Parker to his realistic unattractive level. In contrast to Garfield and Holland’s performances, their social “flaws” are wisecrack jokes which are hilarious, but they don’t bring the same feeling of unpopularity quite as much as Maguire’s does.

When talking about his portrayal of Spider-Man as a hero, this is where things get a little rocky. While Maguire plays the perfect Peter Parker, Garfield and Holland play a better Spider-Man. Maguire’s performance inside the suit is still entertaining and fun to watch, but there is a bit of a disconnect between Peter Parker’s and Spider-Man’s personalities in the original trilogy. Again, it’s not like he did a bad job, Garfield’s performance as Spider-Man was just so much better.

Garfield brought so much emotion inside the suit. One could argue that it’s “easy” to play someone masked, but I would actually argue against this. Acting while wearing a full costume limits any amount of facial expressions which is crucial to an actor’s performance. A lot can be read with the eyes and with a look. Almost all portrayed emotion first comes from the face, so limiting the Spider-Man actors’ abilities to portray emotion from the face during impactful action scenes is a challenge. However, the challenge never comes across as such once in any of Garfield’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” movies. His body language tells such a compelling story with each action scene he is in. Whether the scene is full of comedic relief, or a scene full of heart, he uses the suit to further emphasize Spider-Man’s wit and charm to its fullest potential. Not to mention, his chemistry and banter with co-star Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy is one of the best parts of the films, if not the best. Their portrayal of Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy’s relationship translates perfectly on screen from their iconic love story in the comic books.

Where Garfield falls short in his portrayal of Spider-Man isn’t really even his fault, but he is just too cool to be Peter Parker. The whole concept of Spider-Man revolves around the fact that he is a nobody who becomes somebody because he was at the right place and the right time. With Garfield’s portrayal of Spider-Man, I never really got the sense that he was a “nobody”. His charisma and witty one-liners had always led me away from the idea of him being a realistic Peter Parker. While that kind of humor works especially well when he has the mask on being Spider-Man’s persona, it doesn’t translate well to the contrast of who Peter Parker is to his core.

Tom Holland’s portrayal of Spider-Man balances both personas the best out of all three of the actors. He is the ideal height, age, and personality to play Spider-Man and Peter Parker. He is more than believable as the geeky kid in high school and brings youth to the character that we have never seen on screen before. Holland manages to carry that same nerdy aura and uses it to his advantage when wearing the suit. He seamlessly carries the confidence of Spider-Man while dialing it back when playing Peter Parker. While he is not written as the unpopular loner as Maguire’s Spider-Man was, it works because of all the socially-awkward scenes written in place of it—which Holland nails. 

The only downfall of this portrayal would be all of the advanced technology included. While it makes it fit into the world Marvel has created, it almost takes away from the down-to-earth feel of the story that Spider-Man was intended to be in the beginning.

I don’t think that there necessarily is a “best” Spider-Man, nor do I interpret these portrayals this way. How fortunate are we to get to see three different versions of Spider-Man on the screen? Maguire’s depiction of Spider-Man is a classic, and brings the story to life. Garfield’s portrayal explores his intelligence, humor, and overall shows why Spider-Man is so fun to watch. However, if there is a best, there is no denying that Holland brings both of these performances together to create something new audiences can respect and resonate with.

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