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What makes a good Spider-Man?

The release of the latest Spider-Man movie, ‘No Way Home’, has predictably caused a lot of excitement amongst fans. I saw the movie myself, and without giving away any spoilers, it truly was amazing. I’m very interested in seeing the direction that Marvel will take the character in next. In respect to this recent event, my thoughts went back to previous blogs I have written, where I mentioned the portrayal of comic book characters in live action movies. As Spider-Man is one of my favourite characters, I decided to break down the key aspects of what makes a good live action portrayal of him. For this I will not only look at Tom Holland’s portrayal, but also Andrew Garfield’s and Tobey Maguire’s.

Look out - here comes the Spider-Men!

We’ll start with Tobey Maguire, the original Spider-Man whose portrayal still stands the test of time. His movies did a good job of showing the awkward, geeky teen in an American high school. Tobey’s Peter Parker was down on his luck in terms of love and money, but persevered through it all with lots of heart. The personal connections he had with all of his villains accentuated the anguish that accompanied his double life. Over the course of his trilogy, he grappled with not just the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of being Spider-Man, but also the ‘why’. He quickly adopted Uncle Ben’s mantra of ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’, which is evident in the way he returned to the superhero life after briefly giving it up, and the way he tries to help the villains he went up against. For example, despite his lust for revenge against his uncle’s killer, The Sandman, he still took the time to understand his background and eventually forgive him in the end. Tobey’s portrayal was extremely earnest and relatable to audiences. The only criticism that I have would be Tobey Maguire’s age. I think that while he portrayed the character well, especially when Peter was in college, he still seemed a bit too old to play the character whilst he was in high school.

Next, we have Andrew Garfield. I always thought that his portrayal of Peter Parker was a bit more...hipster than I would have expected. This was noticeable to me in the way that he skateboarded around school and just a general sense of confidence that was almost borderline cocky. Even with that minor criticism in mind, he still retained a lot of the core elements needed to be recognised as the character, so I don’t have much to complain about in that respect. I also really admired his ingenuity. His movies make a clear point of establishing just how smart and creative he can be e.g. the way he brainstormed ideas with Gwen on how to fight Electro, and the slow-mo scene where he protects a crowd of people from getting electrocuted. Despite my previous comment about his overconfidence as Peter Parker, I think it served him well when actually portraying Spider-Man. He got the snappy patter down in a way that might have surpassed Tobey Maguire. Naturally, as CGI had improved by then, his movements as Spider-Man looked far more natural.

Finally, we come to Tom Holland. In my opinion, his portrayal of the character is the best overall. He is the perfect age to portray a young Peter Parker and you really get the feeling that he is in over his head as Spider-Man. His banter with friends and enemies alike portrays his nervousness perfectly. The way he interacts with citizens really drives home the point that he is the ‘Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man’. Like his predecessors, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man impresses people with his aptitude for science and I think that plays especially well with modern technology. Due to his age, there is a charming naivety to his actions and you can tell that all he really cares about is doing the right thing. However, a criticism that I would point out is the way he is treated by his peers. It isn’t too long before other members of the Avengers realise that he is a child and I don’t think they give him the full respect that he deserves. I would rather have seen a Spider-Man that came into his own first, before finally linking up with the Avengers to tackle the giant threats. That being said, over the course of his trilogy, we have seen this Spider-Man fully realise what is required from him to continue being the hero that he is meant to be.

So then, the question remains: What makes a good Spider-Man? I believe it is the ultimate combination of all the aspects we have seen so far. Spider-Man must endure through all of his hardships, not with ease, but with purpose. He suffers and even though he knows there is an easier path, he refuses to take it. He must mature with his alter ego, but still hold onto the core principles that define his character (e.g. believing in the good of people, pursuing goals that seem impossible, etc.) He must be shown to care for all issues, whether they be world ending, or just affecting the average guy on the street. He must experience difficulty with maintaining his double life, but recognise the necessity of it. There must be an approachability to him, an earnest and sincere quality that makes him relatable to people. I think this is probably the most important quality when you consider Spider characters from different universes (e.g. Miles Morales, Peter B Parker and Spider-Gwen) as then, even if they look different, you can tell that they fit into the character. Ultimately, you should be able to tell that Spider-Man is a hero who recognises that with great power, comes great responsibility!

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