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Spider-Man in Review: Maguire vs. Garfield

With Tom Holland's breakout performance rocking the house, we take a look at what he's up against.

By Sarah QuinnPublished 7 years ago 6 min read

Tom Holland’s debut in Captain America: Civil War has been met with great fanfare; he seems to combine the charisma of the backflipping, wisecracking Spider-Man with the new-kid-on-the-block, quietly nerdy persona of Peter Parker. Tobey Maguire even praised him on Twitter. But since we’ve seen less than a half an hour of Spidey-Tom in action, we can’t throw him into the ring with actors who’ve done the role for multiple movies - yet.

First off, there are two ways to debate the point, and the one you choose makes a huge difference.

The first way to frame the contest is a classic “Who would win?” in which we imagine Maguire and Garfield facing off in an alternate universe where they can both exist (and want to fight each other - Marvel, please do NOT make this movie, we have already endured the contrived plot necessary to get Superman and Batman to fight each other in Dawn of Justice and we are DONE). You can also imagine this one by pitting Garfield and Maguire against the same villains and determining who would fare better - could Garfield beat the Green Goblin? Would Maguire have done better against the Lizard?

This argument is interesting, but has significantly less to do with how Garfield and Maguire played their characters and a lot more to do with directorial choices. Those duking it out on message boards debate how high each Spider-Man could jump, how effective his web-shooters are, how strong his spidey sense seems to be in different scenarios, how much weight they can lift (and for how long), how much damage they sustain when battling their enemies - and it goes on and on and on, dissolving into a childish battle of “Nuh-uh!” “Uh-huh!” “Nuh-UH!” The point is, while you can argue that superior strength or abilities of some kind make a more impressive superhero, you can’t determine which actor played a better Spider-Man by looking at factors over which they had no control. (While you can also argue that an actor’s physical appearance isn’t entirely within their control, it is certainly more personally connected to the actor himself than how high the CGI team decided they were going to have him jump.)

The second method of determining a winner looks at how both actors portrayed the character in the dual roles of Spider-Man and Peter Parker. This delves into the nuances of the character’s physical appearance, comic timing, athletic prowess, skill with the girls, and “nerdiness” as Parker. Let’s take a look at each; keep your own score as you go along and decide what YOU think.

Physical Appearance and Athleticism

When Maguire gets his new Spider-Man muscles he checks himself out in the mirror, which brings the total of people checking him out Even my raging 14-year-old hormones didn’t bother getting off the couch for that scene. Under the Spider-Man suit I guess he’s fine, but while he is pretty buff he’s a lot shorter and stockier than I imagined Spider-Man to be. I guess some spiders are stocky (I just destroyed some poor spider’s self-esteem), but they’re also the hairy ones that live in burrows, not webs, so I can’t give Maguire a whole lot of points for that one. As to his athletic prowess, he’s definitely strong, and he can move on those webs, so there aren’t really any problems with his physical abilities - but again, we can attribute a lot of that to directorial choices and CGI (whether or not you can take a pumpkin grenade to the face and live is totally not up to you).

Garfield is taller, to begin with, and rangy in the way I feel Spider-Man is supposed to be. He’s got great hair (not that parted-on-the-side 1950s thing that Maguire is attempting) and an easy smile. His energy also seems to match his age in the film - bouncy, sometimes a little clumsy, but definitely that of a teenage boy. He’s more agile, more quick - the perfect type for a character with the skills of an arachnid.

Comic Timing

Maguire’s jokes are already punny Dad jokes, which is pretty sad when you can’t even get the girl. Garfield is on the opposite end of the spectrum. When Gwen asks him “How did you get up here?” he replies “The fire escape.” “That’s twenty stories,” she responds. “Your doorman’s intimidating,” he says. Just one example of the terse, witty humor that he pulls off so, so easily. This is an important one: Spider-Man’s snarky quips are famous for pissing off his enemies (“You’re so fat, I bet when you cut yourself shaving, marshmallow fluff comes out!). Advantage Garfield.

Skill with the Girls

Maguire’s chemistry with MJ is almost non-existent, almost sibling-esque (and I don’t mean Luke and Leia). He can barely manage a timid wave when he happens to see her while taking out the trash. Admittedly he seems emboldened by his costume (who can forget the classic upside-down “Spider-Man kiss” in the rain), but once the mask is off, the man is unmanned.

By contrast, it’s not hard to see why Gwen likes Peter as played by Garfield; he’s funny, self-deprecating, and pretty darn smooth. It doesn’t hurt at all that Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield began an adorable off-screen relationship to keep fueling the chemistry.

Peter Parker's "Nerdiness" Factor

Maguire plays nerdy like no one else. He sasses his classmates underneath his breath, but doesn’t seem to have a lot of feeling behind the insults. MJ even has to stand up for him because he’s too wimpy to do it himself. In this way he pretty closely matches the Peter Parker of the original comic - at least before he became Spider-Man. If you want to consider how much of a true science geek he is, you won’t find much to go on - it’s just not really a part of Maguire’s Peter Parker’s life (besides that fateful visit to the lab). Unfortunately, this Peter Parker is more of a loser than a true geek.

Admittedly, Peter Parker of the comic books was a pretty nerdy guy. But following his transformation into Spider-Man, he ditches the glasses for good, beats up his former tormentor while the school looks on, and wins girl after girl. This fits a lot more closely with Garfield’s performance; early on in the The Amazing Spider-Man, he goes after Flash, who’s beating up an even nerdier nerd. Knowledge-wise, Garfield’s Parker has a lot on Maguire’s - he’s shown building his own amazing gadgets frequently. And fun fact: though many fans were disappointed that Garfield’s web shooters weren’t organic, the original comic Spider-Man’s weren’t either.

Winner: Garfield!

So there you have it - a match-up of the two actors and their portrayals of Spider-Man. Maybe the best part of having three different choices for the famous web-slinger in less than two decades is that we all get to watch the one we like the most and ignore the ones we don’t. If you don’t favor my analysis, let’s simply agree to disagree on Maguire versus Garfield and perhaps, if we’re lucky, find a lot more common ground when we get to see more of Holland in action.


About the Creator

Sarah Quinn

I'm a writer in love with India, Stars Wars, fantasy, travel, and Thai curries. My childhood heroes were Luke Skywalker and Joan of Arc. I muse on superheroes, sci-fi, feminism, and more.

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