Back in February 2015, Sony and Marvel Entertainment reached an agreement regarding the fate of Spider-Man. To a wide array of fans’ disbelief and horror, Spidey’s story was going to be explored for a third time. That meant a new Peter Parker. So, in June 2015, Tom Holland, a British actor, dancer, and singer barely out of his teen years, was cast as the titular web-slinger and iconic hero. The Marvel Cinematic Universe tasked Holland, now 21, with the tall task of, frankly, not exhausting audiences with yet another adaptation of Peter’s journey to understanding that “with great power comes great responsibility.”
And Holland blew it out of the water, capturing both sides of Peter Parker — the ambitious, unsure high schooler determined to do the right thing and the fast-talking, heroic wallcrawler — in a way that’s never been done before in theaters. His iterations of Peter Parker and Spider-Man are the best by far.
Obviously, Holland didn’t achieve this goal alone. He had the combined powers of Marvel Studios and an army of assistants, trainers, and general experts to back him up and create a damn good movie that currently sits at 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes as of the writing of this article. But we’re not here to talk about Spider-Man: Homecoming; we’re here to talk about the pure portrayal of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, two sides of the same coin that have never really been done justice onscreen until now.
The character was previously portrayed by Tobey Maguire in 2002’s now-classic Spider-Man and again, 10 years later, by Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man. Maguire’s run was a trilogy, while Garfield only got a sequel (a third film slated for 2018 was canceled after Sony handed Spidey off to Marvel and Disney), but comparisons to their Peters were inevitable when Holland entered the fold.
Maguire’s version of Peter was whiny, his Spider-Man bland and comparatively taciturn compared to the boisterous Spider-Man of Marvel’s comics. He didn’t drop one-liners or cheesy jokes as he webbed bad guys to walls, and the villains were honestly the best part of his movies. Granted, he holds a special place in people’s hearts as the first movie version of Spider-Man, so we’ve got to give him that.
Garfield did a comparatively better job in the role, as his Spider-Man was funny and snarky and far more believable. But the chip on his shoulder felt too prominent; the angst was a little too real. Not to mention that Garfield’s Peter was a little too with it. Yes, he was a “nerd,” but in a hipster kind of way that worked well for 2012. And he wasn’t so much an outsider as he was a troubled loner who stood up to bullies and who had a camera, a skateboard, zero friends, and a good dose of social anxiety.
Neither Maguire nor Garfield was outright bad, they just suffered in certain aspects of the character.
Holland’s Spider-Man is fast, smart, likes to drop jokes, heckles baddies, and leans against the wall just so to introduce himself to some bank robbers — and his undying heroism and determination to do the right thing is undeniably felt in every shot and line of dialogue delivered.
He’s not too cocky or competent, though. In Homecoming, Peter is quick to react to situations with a bit of awkward flailing, a lot of babbling, and some characteristic talking to himself — it just so happens there’s an A.I. to answer this time when he’s in Spidey mode. Peter worries about the state of his social status, hangs out with his friend to build Lego Death Stars, wears dorky graphic t-shirts, gets dry mouth when he has to talk to his crush, and is driven to tears when his attempts to do the right thing result in people almost dying and his hero having to bail him out. And maybe it has something to do with actually looking like a teenager (something no 21-year-old wants to hear), but Holland is truly believable as a high schooler.
Perhaps most importantly, Holland’s Peter is unashamedly desperate for approval and validation while still demanding to be seen. His doe-eyed enthusiasm is tempered by just the right amount of ego for a 15-year-old with superpowers, making his youth, innocence, and energy shine through.
Peter Parker is really, truly, finally on his way to that whole “coming of age” thing.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is now in theaters.