Swing Into the Past: A Look at Spider-Man’s Live-Action History On-Screen


In case you’ve been hiding under a rock these past few months and haven’t watched WandaVision or Loki, Marvel opened up the Multiverse. It goes without saying that this is a game changer in terms of what we will see in Marvel’s future endeavors. We’re all anxiously awaiting Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness to release March 25, 2022 to find out what exactly what the aftermath of the Multiverse opening will be.

Before that, we have another MCU installment that will be a shock if it doesn’t involve the Multiverse: Spider-Man: No Way Home. There’s no other way to put this, following news and rumors for the Web-Slinger’s third installment within the MCU has been a wild ride. We’re all still waiting for a trailer, so until then it’s hard to confirm any details about the film. It is the popular opinion that the film will feature Peter Parker/Spider-Man Variants.

In preparation for Spider-Man: No Way Home‘s December 17, 2021 release I decided to do what any Spidey-loving fan should do, watch all of the big-screen representations of Peter Parker: Tobey Maguire’s early 2000s trilogy, Andrew Garfield’s 2010s duology, and Tom Holland’s involvement in the MCU since 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Below I’ll outline some of my key takeaways from each series and characteristics of each Spider-Man. There is a lot to appreciate about each installment, so get ready.

The Raimi Trilogy


The nostalgia pull with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy is incredibly powerful for a lot of people. I’ll admit, I loved Spider-Man comics as a kid but this series didn’t grab my attention when it first released. Watching them for the first time as an adult has made me have a newfound appreciation for several aspects about this trilogy, though.

First, this trilogy is a true example of a sequel being better than the original. 2004’s Spider-Man 2 followed the first Spider-Man and, in my opinion, is still one of the best live-action superhero films. We see Maguire’s Peter struggling with his role as Spidey, unsure if the sacrifices that come along with being a hero are worth it. In fact, he struggles so much that for some time, Peter does not act as Spider-Man. This film also introduces Alred Molina’s Otto Octavius, giving a bone-chilling performance. This casting should be on the list of “perfectly cast roles” until the end of time.

Spider-Maguire is sensitive and emotional in a true Peter Parker fashion. He cares deeply for not just those close to him, but for everyone in the city he calls home. He finds strength in this deep emotion, but also weakness. Spider-Maguire is riddled with guilt and overwhelmed by his failures. This trilogy reminds audiences that Spider-Man is still Peter Parker: a poor college student struggling to make ends meet and maintain his relationships.

My favorite aspect of the Raimi trilogy is the sheer grip on the real world that it has. It’s not often in modern hero movies we get to see villains being villains to humans; normally there is always a supe or two around to save the day. We see this in scenes like the first installment where Aunt May is left traumatized after a run-in with Willem Defoe’s Green Goblin. This is demonstrated again in Spider-Man 2 where Otto Octavius wakes up with the arms controlling him, resulting in him terrorizing and killing the medical team around him who were going to attempt to save his life. It really makes you think about the costs of having heroes around.

The Garfield Duology


The Garfield duology gives us something the other Spider-Man movies have yet to give, time with non-spider, high school student Peter. The Amazing Spider-Man gave audiences a true look at Peter Parker in high school before becoming Spider-Man. Spider-Maguire, of course, shows audiences a very brief amount of time before Peter is bitten, but Spider-Garfield gave us more. You get to know Peter before having to get to know him as Spider-Man. This somehow makes it more stressful to watch him in incredibly dangerous situations.

Spider-Garfield, in my opinion, perfected something crucial to the character: the inability to shut up once the suit is on. Garfield was really able to nail the combat-banter that so many Spider-Man fans have loved for decades. It’s wonderful to see this change between Spider-Garfield compared to his Peter Parker. Peter is awkward and has a tendency to fumble over his words while Spidey is confident and well-spoken. This Spidey delivers quip after quip during fights and seeks to antagonize his foes. Spider-Garfield is also quite vocal with the citizens of New York as he swings around the city. Spider-Garfield truly upholds the “friendly neighborhood” title. He would never do something as cold as steal someone’s pizza (I’m looking at you, Spider-Maguire).

Where the Spider-Maguire trilogy and Spider-Garfield duology are the most similar is that both sequels introduce a phenomenally cast villain. In Spider-Man 2, I am of course talking about Molina as Doc Ock. For The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I would be amiss if I didn’t talk about Dane Dehaan’s performance as Harry Osborne. There was an immediate twist on the character, as well. Rather than his father Norman becoming the original Green Goblin, Harry takes up the role following Norman’s passing. I’ll admit my apprehension to this at first, but it was immediately cast aside due to Dehaan’s compelling performance. Despite Dehaan saying he would rather take on a new project than return, no one can be blamed for hoping.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 involves harsh realities that everyone has to face: our actions have consequences. When superheroes and villains are involved though, those consequences become a bit more daunting. Peter Parker learns this harsh reality more than once during The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but none of the lessons hit harder than when he makes the choice to ignore the promise he made in the film prior and continue to see Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). This, as we all know, does not end well for Gwen. Spider-Garfield also elects to take a break from being the wall-crawler at this point, similar to Spider-Maguire. His return features a cynical take on the character, though we did not get to explore this due to there being no third film. Maybe Spider-Man: No Way Home will give us some closure.

The Holland Era


The world will never forget the day the Captain America: Civil War trailer dropped and officially confirmed that Peter Parker himself would be joining the MCU. Since the MCU movies took off, fans had been desperate for Spider-Man to join the MCU and fight alongside the Avengers. However, Marvel had their work cut out for them when it came to how they were going to choose to interpret the character.

The first decision was to cast a realistically high-school appearing, extremely talented actor which Marvel found in then-19-year-old Tom Holland. Holland brings a sort of nostalgic familiarity to the character. Holland’s Parker is a total nerd still. He is overly-excited about a Lego Death Star, he attends a high school that specializes in science and technology, and he is a total fanboy when he meets any of the Avengers for the first time (even if he is about to fight them). However, this Peter Parker is not a “loser” with very few friends, as he has been depicted in the past (cough Spider-Maguire cough).

Peter’s relationships overall are depicted in a totally unique way to the Raimi trilogy and Garfield duology. Rather than finding a best friend in Harry Osborne, Holland’s Parker has Ned (Jacob Batalon). Ned and Peter certainly have a better (and healthier) friendship than Harry and Peter. The duo share many interests and Ned even serves as the “man in the chair.” Above all, Ned also has not tried to kill Peter (and I don’t see that happening anytime soon). We also see a much younger May Parker (Marisa Tomei) and no Uncle Ben. In place of Uncle Ben, audiences get an incredibly close, father-son like relationship with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.).

Spider-Holland’s theme is growth, and he has already drastically matured during his 5-year stretch in the MCU. In Spider-Man: Homecoming we begin with him as an immature teen desperate to prove himself to Tony Stark. Spider-Holland has to learn that he’s more than the suit Stark designed for him, and that there is more to being a superhero than having superpowers.

After learning this lesson, he is thrust into situations no 16-year-old should have to be in. Peter goes to space, gets dusted in the Blip, and then has to fight Thanos’ army alongside the Avengers in Avengers: Endgame. The sequel, Spider-Man: Far From Home teaches Spider-Holland that he isn’t Tony Stark and he’s never going to be. He is Peter Parker, he is Spider-Man, and he doesn’t need to be anyone else to make the difference that he wants to make in the world.

With rumors of the Sinister Six finally making their big-screen debut in the future, it is also likely that we will see Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes/Vulture again and, if we’re lucky and he figured out a way to fake his death, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Quinten Beck/Mysterio again to really bring the team together. If Gyllenhaal’s Beck is truly gone, there has been more than one Mysterio in the comics, so the MCU could still have more of the illusion-master to explore.

There is one thing in common with every iteration of Spider-Man: saving one person isn’t enough. He has to save them all. After all, with great power comes great responsibility.

Who has been your favorite Web-Slinger? Let us know in the comments! Continue to check out our Spider-Man: No Way Home coverage here ahead of the December 17, release. Whenever Sony is kind enough to give us a trailer, that’s where our recap will be!

Hannah’s a lifelong nerd, but has been with the team since May 2021. Her life is easily classified by two abbreviations - BBG3 and ABG3 (before Baldur’s Gate 3 and after Baldur’s Gate 3). Especially nerdy about: video games, folklore, Star Wars, D&D, Spider-Man, and horror (all of it). Based in Denver, CO.

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