Anthony Stokes on why Tobey Maguire is a better Spider-Man than Andrew Garfield…
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy will always have a special place in my heart. I watched them as a kid, then grew up and enjoyed them even more so as an adult. The style and art direction were ahead of their time, and paved the way for inventive movies like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Kick-Ass. They were tense but fun, and are a great example of a comic book brought to life. But of course, as with anything, the hipster factor eventually kicked in and now it’s a crazy notion to like or love these movies. For all its faults, I still think Spider-Man 3 is a much more superior movie to The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But I want to focus on the leading man, Tobey Maguire, and why his performance still hasn’t been topped.
I don’t want to completely discredit Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man. The positives of his performance are his chemistry with Emma Stone, he’s a good actor and brought that to the screen somewhat, and managed on occasion to deliver really poor dialogue well. The problem with his performance is that it’s kind of bland, just like The Amazing Spider-Man movies. To call the Amazing Spider-Man movies One Tree Hill-ish is the perfect comparison. There’s nothing here that’s really innovative or special. This is the most basic thing you can do to a superhero, and there’s not any real style to speak of, which unfortunately carries over into Garfield’s performance. His “comedy” was cringe-inducing and there are even points where he’d be doing a physical gag while innocent civilians were being hurt. But once again that’s not his fault and that’s what happens when you get someone whose only real skill is an onscreen romance, Marc Webb, versus the great Sam Raimi. I will give Garfield credit in that his performance was more in line with the comics than Tobey’s. His “joking around” and how he won’t shut up is closer to the comics than Tobey’s Spider-Man, and had they given him actual funny things to say instead of garbage he would’ve made a great Spidey. But does that automatically make it a better performance? No it does not.
Tobey Maguire brought something else to Spider-Man. An earnestness and a fragileness. The entire first two movies are about him basically making sacrifices to become Spider-Man. It’s a painful journey and even when he gets the girl in the second movie there’s a Graduate moment where she looks like she has second thoughts. And then in the next movie we find out MJ is a terrible person, which I think is a great thing that most people don’t talk about. Tobey’s Peter was a sweetheart who tried his best in the face of almost everything going wrong. And that’s what Spider-Man is about: constantly doing the right thing and suffering for it every step of the way. Yeah, he could’ve joked around more, but I think the direction and characters around him brought enough comedy – J. Jonah Jameson for example – that if we had him joking it would be too cartoonish.
Where Tobey excelled and what ultimately pushed his performance into one of my favorites was that his Spider-Man got scary from time to time. Whenever Peter got angry I felt it and it sent chills down my spine. When he catches Uncle Ben’s killer you can feel the anger just from looking at his eyes. And it’s filmed like a horror movie, as opposed to a family friendly action movie. Just like the movie itself, Maguire could go from goofy to terrifying and be convincing either way.
And I know you’re saying, “Hey, what about Spider-Man 3 and emo Peter Parker?”. Okay, well personally I’m not the kind of guy to completely throw out a performance over three movies because of one scene, but let’s talk about Emo Parker and why this is still a good performance. First off Peter Parker is a nerd, right? The dancing scene is him trying to be cool. The reason it’s so awkward is because it’s supposed to be awkward. He looks like a jackass and everybody around him looks at him like he’s a jackass. He’s a nerd who doesn’t know how to dance or be cool. I’m not going to try to excuse the jazz club scene – even I have to admit that’s the low point of the trilogy. But I think it’s much worse to have Peter Parker on the windshield of a car bantering with a bad guy who’s driving like a mad man and crashing into cars left and right than having Peter dance like an idiot.
Everything else about Maguire’s Parker I loved. The first two movies are about life kicking his ass and the third one his frustration manifests itself externally. He’s no longer about taking punches, he’s giving them out. And that intensity I love so much is back and so much more prevalent than before. It’s satisfying to see Peter Parker start to win in life and even then by doing so he creates his own enemy in Venom. I won’t argue that Venom isn’t thrown in and that he could’ve been cast better, but I like the idea that Peter’s indulgences literally creates a villain he’ll have to fight later. And in the end Peter is still worse off than he is at the start of the movie, his sober expression summing up the entirety of his life since he got his super powers.
The Amazing Spider-Man movies seem to be made to appeal to people who don’t like Sam Raimi’s trilogy, along with casual movie goers. And yes, they may be ostensibly closer to the comics, but really, they aren’t. It’s all aesthetics that resemble the comics, and not the heart of the movies, which I think matters more. It could also be that The Amazing Spider-Man appeals more to teens of today, but that’s something I think will age these movies greatly, whereas Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man is more timeless. I will go ahead and say that Andrew Garfield’s portrayal is closer to the comics, but Tobey is by far the better performer. As a huge fan of the character Tobey is my Spider-Man, and Sony and Marvel Studios will have their work cut out to change that…
Do you agree that Tobey Maguire is a better Spider-Man, or are you more of a fan of Garfield’s portrayal? Let us know…
Anthony Stokes is a blogger and independent filmmaker.