Tom Holland plays Peter Parker aka. Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and he's the best live-action Spidey - better than both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Holland will soon reprise his role as Peter Parker in Marvel Studios' Spider-Man: Far From Home, the actor's second solo outing as the titular superhero. However, it's his fifth appearance as Spider-Man, following 2016's Captain America: Civil War, 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming, 2018's Avengers: Infinity War and 2019's Avengers: Endgame. Holland has officially become the most prolific live-action Spider-Man, appearing in more movies than both Maguire and Garfield.
Maguire was the first actor to play Spider-Man in a major Hollywood live-action movie, donning the red-and-blue spandex for all three installments in Sam Raimi's trilogy (2002's Spider-Man, 2004's Spider-Man 2 and 2007's Spider-Man 3). However, after Spider-Man 3 failed to live up to its predecessors, the franchise grew dormant - that is, until 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man. The rebooted character saw Garfield take over as Peter Parker, delivering a new take on the superhero and his origin story. But 2014's The Amazing Spider-Man 2 became a franchise false-starter when it didn't perform as well as expected, leading to Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios striking a deal that would bring Spider-Man into the MCU. In 2015, Holland was cast as Spider-Man and made his debut in Civil War the following year.
Considering both Maguire and Garfield's performances as Spider-Man were well-regarded in their times, there was some resistance to Holland embodying another live-action Peter Parker. In the lead-up to his first solo movie, Homecoming, there was skepticism that the young actor could hold his own in comparison to his predecessors, let alone surpass them. However, Homecoming proved Holland is the best live-action Spider-Man, and he's continued to prove as much with each following appearance. Now, we discuss each live-action Spider-Man over the past two decades, diving into what makes each iteration great and, ultimately, why Holland is the best of them.
Tobey Maguire Gets Peter Parker Right
Although other actors suited up as Spider-Man in live-action prior to Maguire, he's arguably the one to play the first real version of the wall-crawler. He also did so during a unique era of superhero movies. Although 2000's X-Men is one of the first superhero movies to kick off the current trend of comic book adaptations, Raimi and Maguire's Spider-Man released in these early years as well. As a result, they stick out for many fans because they were first, and they became huge influencers on popular culture (Maguire and Kirsten Dunst's Spider-Man kiss is undeniably iconic). But there's also an awkward balance between goofy and serious that Raimi treads with these movies as he adapts over-the-top characters like Green Goblin while maintaining the realism inherent in live-action.
That carries over into Maguire's Peter Parker, who's received some criticism for certain aspects of his films - particularly his goth/emo turn in Spider-Man 3 and the dance scene. Overall, though, Maguire is a respectable Spider-Man, sticking in fans' minds for portraying the character first and doing it well, especially in Spider-Man 2. His action scenes are good and Maguire captures the shy, nerdy, relatable side of Peter Parker, even if he flounders a bit with the lighter aspects of the character. Maguire's Spider-Man is perhaps the most serious, allowing viewers to feel the weight of the burden his powers place on him. It gives his run of films real stakes and drama, tapping into the human struggle of being a superhero.
But, it's arguable that Maguire's Spider-Man was too serious, taking all the fun out superheroics and ultimately not representing the character well. The beleaguered superhero simply isn't who Spider-Man is. Maguire's Spidey also suffers due to the writing in his films; for example, Dunst's MJ isn't well-developed at all and it puts a drain on the character's romance, which is a major focus of his character arc across the three movies. So although Maguire's take is no doubt iconic and he portrays Peter Parker well, his Spider-Man isn't perfect - even if fans look back on it through rose-colored glasses.
Andrew Garfield Gets The Humor Right
In many ways, Garfield's Peter Parker and Spider-Man are opposites of Maguire's. While Maguire excelled as the shy, awkward photographer even as his Spider-Man wasn't quite up to snuff with the comic book character, Garfield's Peter was too cool for fans, but he embodied the quippy web-slinger much better. Further, since his big-screen Spidey was a much defined by his romance as his superhero abilities, Garfield excelled because he had incredible chemistry with his on-screen love interest, Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy (which makes sense given their off-camera history). But the action in Garfield's Spider-Man movies, at least as far as his web-slinging is concerned, can't be undersold either, taking viewers on a visceral ride alongside Spidey.
However, Garfield had an uphill battle ahead of him considering how beloved Maguire was at the time of The Amazing Spider-Man reboot, and many would argue he never quite lived up to his predecessor - though their reasons may vary. Some have argued Garfield never quite nailed the character in a way that did Spider-Man justice, and, though he's an award-winning actor, he wasn't a good fit for this role. Still, it may be a case that The Amazing Spider-Man movies worked too hard to differentiate themselves from Raimi's trilogy to the point that no actor could have gotten the titular superhero "right." After all, both movies are overcomplicated and lacking in truly good villains. But while Garfield's short run as Spider-Man may be the result of a lackluster franchise and studio interference, the fact remains he's still not a perfect Spider-Man - and, for many, he'll never live up to Maguire's version.
Tom Holland Gets (Almost) Everything Right
With Holland's Spider-Man, Marvel Studios manages to deliver the most classic interpretation of the character, and one that feels entirely fresh despite being the third live-action Peter Parker. Part of that is due to Spider-Man joining the MCU, which already makes the circumstances of his character much different (he has a mentor in Iron Man and is much more focused on superheroics than his day-to-day life). Of course, it also helps that this Spidey skips over the biggest piece of his origin story. While some might argue that without Uncle Ben's death, viewers are missing a key piece of Holland's character's motivation, it allows Spider-Man: Homecoming to hit the ground running - and entirely bypasses one particular bump.
Both Maguire and Garfield's versions of the character struggle to maintain a likability in their initial movies because, when their characters gain powers, they use those abilities to hurt others (Maguire more so than Garfield) before learning to be heroes by enduring a great trauma: unintentionally causing Uncle Ben's death. The immaturity of their mistakes don't particularly work well because both Maguire and Garfield are much older than Peter is meant to be, and it creates a difficult hurdle for the actors' to win audiences to their side. Holland's Spider-Man, however, embodies the immaturity of Peter Parker better by virtue of being/looking younger - and his character is 15 rather than 17/18 - but he also never has to contend with the narrative beats integral to Spider-Man's origin that might make him less likable.
Still, the missing origin aside, Holland is able to embody both Peter Parker and Spider-Man better than Maguire and Garfield, depicting a much more complete version of the web-slinger on screen. He's a shy, awkward nerd in a way that feels authentic for a modern teenager, but has total confidence in his capability as Spider-Man. And his action scenes are completely solid, helped along by Holland's own athletic, acrobatic abilities. Overall, Holland's Spidey feels more comic book accurate in every way, from his youthfulness and ability to nail the quippy humor, down to his appearance and costume.
Whereas Maguire and Garfield were able to portray certain aspects of the Peter Parker/Spider-Man character very well, neither nailed the complete picture. Holland, on the other hand, does. Hopefully, as Holland continues his tenure as the web-slinging superhero, he'll win over more fans. And although Maguire has long been considered the definitive Spider-Man performance, it's entirely possible (even probable) that Holland will take that crown soon enough - especially as Spider-Man: Far From Home and future MCU movies release.