By Amaya Lewis
Web Content Contributor
Throughout the past two decades, we’ve had several versions of Spider-Man, as his character can be morphed and stretched to fit multiple different adaptations. A prime example of this was in Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, which showcased both new and old variations of Spider-Man that people have come to love.
However, what is the core unifying factor of this character that has allowed these various adaptations of the iconic spider to continually appear on our screen? What makes Spider-Man, the friendly neighborhood hero, someone we all can relate to and love?
Between the quirky Tobey Maguire, mischievous Andrew Garfield, and the lovable Tom Holland, fans around the world have developed passionate fandoms surrounding their preferred film/actor due to differences in personality, villains, character accuracy, romance storylines and overall storytelling.
Nevertheless, while each of these actors have their own individual merits, with many critics and newer generations already having declared Tom Holland to be the best Spidey, Tobey Maguire, arguably, is the best Peter Parker and Spider-Man.
A bold claim nowadays that many may chalk up to nostalgia, though we can’t ignore the heart, emotions and personality that brought not only the main and supporting characters to life, but even the city of New York, which contained meaningful interactions outside of just Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
He was Personally Connected to the Villains
There’s no denying the iconic nature of the villains within the Sam Raimi Spider-Man Trilogy, as their names and faces are known by even those who have never watched the films.
This is because while many superhero movies struggle to establish their villains, choosing to focus their attention on the main characters and supporting cast instead, the original Spider-Man films made it a core priority to ensure viewers got to know the villains and connect with them to a deeper extent.
Norman Osborn, otherwise known as the Green Goblin (played by William Dafoe), viewed Peter as the son he never had due to both their passion for science and his disappointment with Harry’s lack of academic ability.
Moreover, the Green Goblin served as a reminder to Peter that if he continued his path as Spider-Man, the ones he loves will always be a target and will suffer should his enemies learn his identity. Dafoe’s talent was immense, allowing us to look past the occasionally cheesy lines and costume design, still being gripped by his performance.
Spider-Man’s rivalry with Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) in Spider-Man 2 showcased a stark parallel between the two. Dr. Octavius was someone Peter respected and admired for his scientific research, though the madman’s unnatural powers began changing his psychology, causing him to seek fame, love, and success, yet only receiving the loss of everything dear to him.
Similarly, Peter had to learn the hard reality that he couldn’t have it all and would have to make sacrifices because of his role as Spider-Man.
This trend of emotional and personal connections continues even into the heavily criticized Spider-Man 3, which contained the Sandman (Thomas Church) and Venom (Topher Grace).
Flint Marco had murdered Uncle Ben, yet Peter still made the choice to let him go because of his story that showed he was not an evil person but “a man with bad luck” who made bad decisions. A contrasting encounter compared to how Peter reacted in the first movie towards the assumed killer.
His Double Life was Realistically Chaotic
The renowned line “with great power, comes great responsibility” is a testament to an integral part of Peter’s character, but given who told him that phrase, it pertains to much more than just Spider-Man; it acts as a reminder to Peter Parker that his powers and impact on people can be both a blessing and a curse.
Behind his superhuman abilities and fun personality, his responsibilities as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man overrule his personal life, as he jumps through tons of hoops to protect the ones he loves while concealing his identity.
As a result, Peter Parker’s burden is to be seen as a seemingly irresponsible jerk to those that matter to him while he struggles to balance his commitments as a high schooler and later college student, as well as his two jobs.
Tobey’s Spider-Man feels heartbreaking because it demonstrates that being able to fly around the city is nothing enviable when it costs an enormous amount of suffering, while those around him believe he cares about no one despite him deeply caring for everyone.
His relationship drifts with MJ (Kirsten Dunst), Harry (James Franco), and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) because of him not being able to be there when he should be, and his persona as Spider-Man is tarnished due to Harry believing he killed his father, with Peter not wanting to correct him out of promise he made to Norman to not reveal his Green Goblin identity.
Peter gets nothing out of what he does, instead, living as a broke man in a rundown apartment that he has to work crappy jobs to pay for, along with failing his classes and having to give up MJ. Holland’s Spider-Man could rely on Tony Stark’s resources and guidance, but Maguire’s Spider-Man really only had himself. He’s selfless and showcases the realities of being a hero despite the cost towards oneself that the other Spider-Man trilogies are missing.
While this reasoning may sound silly, it’s something that I personally adore as an additional element that is different and special to Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man. In the comics, Peter invents his own web shooters instead of being gifted them because Stan Lee wanted to demonstrate Peter’s high intellect in being able to create his own synthetic webs.
However, the organic webs actually contribute to the storyline through showing that he doesn’t need the webs or any of his Spidey powers to be a hero, and that he still remains the strongest Spider with or without them.
In Spider-Man 2, Peter becomes stressed from attempting to balance his personal and superhero life, causing him to lose his powers. This struggle, along with the continued attacks he receives in the press by being called a “masked menace”, forces him to make the tough decision of deciding whether being Spider-Man is worth it at all.
Tom and Andrew’s Spider-Man would still have their invented web shooters should they be in a similar situation, but Tobey’s Spider-Man didn’t, making the scene of him running into a burning building to save a little girl’s life without his abilities all the more impactful.
Plus, it was fun to see him using his webs to sling through the air while delivering pizza, along with the jokes made in Spider-Man: No Way Home in which the two other Spideys questioned how he produces his webs in his body.
He’s Genuinely Dorky
Tom Holland’s Peter was undeniably awkward, though both him and Andrew Garfield still had a hunky, irresistible charm. They often felt like the popular kids at school that the film tried to make the audience believe were somehow the dorky, outcast jokesters, albeit Holland was at least slightly more convincing than Garfield.
Oppositely, Tobey’s Peter was a classic portrayal of the nerd archetype between his big glasses, clumsiness, and being a science geek that is truly passionate about school while struggling to fit in.
Holland’s Peter would often ditch school to fight crime and came across a bit like a naïve, clueless kid that followed the command of Iron Man, but Maguire’s Peter did actually care for his classes and contained the element of intelligence Stan Lee had wanted.
Additionally, Holland’s Peter got to date the popular girl, was invited to parties, and had no problem making friends; Garfield’s Peter was arrogant the moment he got his powers, able to retaliate against his bullies.
But Maguire’s Peter remained as an outsider that was effectively belittled in both high school and adulthood, making it feel like he truly was an outsider in parallel to his drastically different alter ego.
Even in Spider-Man 3, while the dancing scenes and emo hair were, for good reason, criticized for their cringey elements, it still felt like a person who has never felt cool their entire lives trying to imitate what they imagined popular people would do; awkward and uncomfortable, but, in some ways, realistic if you’ve been considered an outsider your entire life but now gained unexpected fame. Can’t forget the infamous facial expressions that gave us all a good laugh.
His Relationship with MJ and Harry
From high school to adulthood, MJ acted as a hidden, essential element to Peter’s actions due to her continued kindness and support that she showed him. In the first film, she called out his bullies and ordered the bus driver to stop when Peter was running to catch up to the bus, along with taking the time to talk to him even when no one except Harry did. Her encouraging aura led him to enter a wrestling match to impress her and, eventually, stand up to his bullies.
In adulthood, while she initially struggled to reach her big break as an actress, Peter was the encouraging factor she needed that led to her continually developing feelings for him, making the big reveal of his Spider-Man alter ego extra satisfying.
Between the iconic Spider-Man kiss, cute catchphrases like “go get ‘em, Tiger”, her running away from her wedding to be with him despite the risks, them saving each other in various ways, and her repeatedly championing for him even in moments he was pushing her way, she was truly a pivotal person within his life; Raimi’s trilogy showcases that very well.
Harry and Peter, with their rocky relationship, were an emotional rollercoaster. Even though Harry was viewed higher in popularity compared to Peter in high school, Harry remained jealous of him because he had the one thing Harry desired – his father’s praise.
While Harry clearly cared for Peter, he still secretly sought to hurt him in other ways by stealing the affection from MJ that Peter craved, even sipping the Goblin juice in Spider-Man 3 to kill Peter after learning his identity.
The tension between the two was palpable, though it all came together in a tragic ending after the two teamed up one final time that resulted in Harry’s passing.
This intense dynamic developed both Harry’s character and his relationship with the other characters, once again showcasing the heart that went into this franchise, while also demonstrating that the villains in this film weren’t truly evil; they just all had bad luck and made very poor choices.
Featured Image by Amaya Lewis
Written by: Amaya Lewis