Which Spider-man reigns supreme?

My friends and I watched all eight live-action Spider-Man movies in one week. “Why?”, you ask. It started by accident. We love Andrew Garfield and wanted to see his portrayal of Spider-Man in “The Amazing Spider-Man” 1 and 2. After watching these two films, we were hooked and things quickly spiraled out of control, as we made a very silly and chaotic plan to watch all of the Tobey Maguire and Tom Holland Spider-Man movies by the end of the week. 

Now, I’m not here to declare which actor is the best Spider-Man or Peter Parker. To do so would be foolish, as each Spider-Man has their merits. However, they also all have their weak points.

The major issue with the Tobey Maguire movies is that they just feel a little disjointed. Tobey Maguire isn’t a bad Spider-Man, but he is a very specific kind of Spider-Man, and he lacks chemistry with Mary Jane and Harry, which is a shame considering that these characters provide the major emotional throughlines over the course of the series.

This might be a hot take, but overall I’d say that the Andrew Garfield movies do a good job of addressing the gaps in the Tobey Maguire movies. By providing more back story, Peter and Harry’s friendship makes more sense, and Peter and Gwen Stacy’s romance is much more compelling. However, there are two serious problems with the second movie (spoilers ahead). 

First, Electro is a bad villain. His powers aren’t clear and his sudden hatred for Spider-Man isn’t fleshed out. Second, Gwen Stacy should not have died. The central conflict of the movie is that Peter made a promise to Gwen’s father that he wouldn’t see her anymore in order to keep her safe, but Peter and Gwen still want to be together. By killing Gwen off, all of Peter’s worst fears come true, which does nothing for the story or their character arcs. It would have been much more interesting if we got to see Peter learn to live with his fears and trust Gwen when she says that she can take care of herself. Instead, we just get another dead damsel in distress and a sad, angry Peter Parker.

Because they are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the Tom Holland movies are an entirely different ball-game than their predecessors, in both positive and negative ways. Being part of the MCU introduces new avenues for storylines and villains that allow these films to take on different themes than the first two Spider-Man iterations. Ned as the “man in the chair” is a great addition, and MJ and Peter’s romance is compelling in a nerdy, endearing way. However, being a part of the MCU also means that the Tom Holland movies feel like less of a unit than the others–you can’t just watch the Spider-Man movies and know all there is to know about Tom Holland’s Peter Parker in this universe.

So, which Spider-Man movie is the best? This answer might be cheating, but it’s the right one — “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” The teen angst surrounding college admissions and new relationships, the epic union of all three Spider-Men, and Tom Holland’s Peter Parker having to make the ultimate sacrifice make for a fantastic Spider-Man movie. It’s honestly astonishing that it works as well as it does, nearly 20 years after the first Tobey Maguire movie was made. It’s funny, compelling, heart-wrenching, and original–the story throws the traditional hero-villain dynamic out the window in favor of a more nuanced narrative about power, responsibility, and doing what’s right. It is also the only Spider-Man movie that made me cry, and for that alone it must reign supreme.

 

lagare1@stolaf.edu

 

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