Who is the best Spider-Man?

Pierce Turner

Spider-Man: Homecoming is out and in case you haven’t seen it, it’s fantastic. Walking out of the theater, there is a good chance you’ll overhear the classic debates between fans about which Spider-Man actor is their favorite or which of the three series is the best. Up until now the Spider-Man movies were made by Sony Pictures, with Marvel Studios, which is behind the Avengers films, having nothing to do with them. The first two franchises with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield respectively were both Sony productions, while the new film is a Marvel Studios production.

Now that we have all of the backstory, it’s time to settle the debate. Which of the three franchises is the very best? Who played the perfect webhead? We will separate the debate into five categories to find out: best lead, best supporting cast, best villains, best story, and best action.

Best Villain

A hero is defined by his villains right? And it’s pretty much no question that Spider-Man has the best rogues gallery in the Marvel Universe. All three franchises used classic villains but which one used them most effectively?

Going back to the very beginning, the first Spider-Man movie directed by Sam Raimi started very strong with the Green Goblin played by Willem Dafoe. His costume was silly, his acting was cheesy, but this performance is perhaps the most memorable in any comic book movie aside from Heath Legder as the the Joker. The scene where Dafoe’s Norman Osborn is talking to his alternate personality in the mirror is fun to watch every single time. It’s no wonder he was brought back in both sequels. As for the other villains, Doc Ock was cool and had great action scenes but fell short at the end when he turned good and every villain in Spider-Man 3 was underdeveloped.

It’s hard to defend the villains in the Amazing Duology. The Lizard is a lame version of Dafoe’s goblin, Electro is cringe-worthy in every scene and the Green Goblin is so forced and awkward he’s barely worth mentioning. Oh, and the Rhino is there too. The fact that I almost forgot says enough.

Homecoming’s Vulture played by Michael Keaton is excellent, the best since Dafoe’s Goblin, but he doesn’t quite overtake him, and the MCU hasn’t established enough other villains to compete.

Winner: Original Trilogy

Best Action

This one is tough. Spider-Man 2 has one of the best action scenes ever with the exhausting train fight. Amazing Spider-Man 2 has some great web-swinging sequences and uses a guy in suit over digital effects most of the time. However, Spider-Man’s Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in Captain America: Civil War is the best action scene of any comic book movie and much of that is because of Spidey’s part. There are many great set pieces in Homecoming as well, like the Washington Monument and the Ferry scene featuring Iron Man. The MCU Spidey has too much good stuff here not to get the win.

Winner: MCU

Best Story

All three franchises chose different focal points for their overarching narrative. The original trilogy is simultaneously about Peter and MJ’s (Kirsten Dunst) on-and-off relationship and Harry Osborn’s (James Franco) revenge. Garfield’s duology is about the mystery of Peter’s dead parents. The MCU Spidey arc is a coming of age story about growing up and maturing in a world of gods.

Garfield’s films are again the worst. The story gets out of hand before it even gets started, with extremely important scenes like Peter’s father coming back to life being completely cut from the movie. The original trilogy gets a lot right with a simple story about relationships but the romance between Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst is unconvincing and often annoying. The upside down kiss is still great though.

MCU Spidey gets it right with simplicity and grace. Peter looks up (literally) at the Avengers in their tower and wants to be there. He is young and makes mistakes but wants to correct them. It’s such a simple but effective premise. Yes, there’s a love interest but it doesn’t suck up all the time. Yes, there’s world building and set ups for sequels but it flows naturally instead of feeling forced. And despite the cast of legends like Robert Downey Jr. and Michael Keaton, the attention is never taken away from Peter.

Winner: MCU

Best Supporting Cast

In the comics, Spider-Man is known for his funny interactions with other characters and heroes. He often annoys Wolverine or makes fun of Spider-Woman for copying him. In the original trilogy, the support is hit and miss. The previously mentioned Kirsten Dunst is simply a tool for Peter to be sad about and to save (she gets kidnapped in all three movies). On the other hand, J. Jonah Jameson is maybe the most perfectly-casted comic movie character ever. He is the best part of all three movies and honestly can’t be properly replaced.

The Amazing duology has basically no memorable supporting characters, except for Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey. She nails it and her chemistry with Andrew Garfield is really the only reason to watch the Amazing films. She never gets kidnapped, she solves problems and she’s fun to watch.

The Spider-Man of the MCU is still in high school and therefore much of the supporting cast is 15. Most of these characters are instantly memorable with Peter’s best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) being a standout. While none of these characters quite reach the heights of J. Jonah or Gwen Stacey, combined they are stronger. Not to mention the other Marvel characters occupying the universe who interact in both Civil War and Homecoming. It’s tough, but MCU gets the point once again.

Winner: MCU

Best Spider-Man

And now for the big one. The debate everyone will be having possibly forever. Tobey, Andrew or Tom? The problem is all of these actors portrayed the character strongly in their own ways. There isn’t an obviously bad choice like George Clooney as Batman.

Tobey was goofy, just like his movies. He made funny faces, said corny lines, ate hotdogs uncomfortably close to the camera. On paper, it sounds like Tobey should lose by a mile, but his performance fits right in with the tone of the original trilogy. Those are silly, silly movies but that’s what gives them personality.

Andrew is in almost every way a better Spider-Man and Peter Parker than Tobey. He had to fight back against a lot of bad decisions from the filmmakers and still turn in a solid performance. Luckily he’s charming, he’s funny, and when he needs to he can really sell an emotional Peter, something Tobey didn’t do as well.

Unfortunately for those two actors, Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man to grace the silver screen. He has the awkwardness of Tobey, the humor of Andrew, but he enhances it all with the nuances of a teenager. Tom is young, he is acrobatic and he was born to play this character just like so many actors in the MCU. I was sold at his introduction in Civil War webbing up Falcon and Winter Soldier, but I was sure seeing him in Homecoming that he was perfect.

Winner: MCU

We end the debate with one point to Original Trilogy, zero points to the Amazing duology, and four points to MCU. Don’t get me wrong, the original trilogy is still great and even the Amazing films have some strengths, but the MCU just understands the character better than anyone else. Spidey fans finally have the perfect iteration of the character on screen, but don’t forget the old films. Give them a watch every once in awhile. Laugh at Maguire and Dafoe’s faces, admire Garfield and Stone’s chemistry, then appreciate the genuine effort put into a heartfelt and funny new Spider-Man in the MCU.

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