As we adjust to the news that Spider-Man will (maybe) no longer be in the MCU, it’s time to pour one out for the greatest live-action incarnation of Marvel’s #1 hero. Although Spidey has existed on the big screen since 2002, it was this third incarnation that truly got Peter Parker right. When Sam Raimi gave the world its very first taste of a big screen Peter Parker by way of Tobey Maguire, he did right by the character in many ways. But I think it’s fair to say that it wasn’t until Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios got ahold of him that we all got the truest version of the wall-crawler ever put on film. Simply put, Kevin Feige understand what makes Spider-Man tick more than any producer ever.
The Raimi movies understood that Peter Parker was a lovable loser, and Tobey Maguire nailed that part of the character from the word go. But he was never the quippy, funny guy when he put on the red and blue tights—at least nowhere near as much as he should have been. Meanwhile, Spidey 2.0 Andrew Garfield did get the smart-ass nature of Spider-Man down, but he was this traditionally handsome dude, with Twilight hair and charm for days. I never bought he’d ever be anything but the popular guy in school.
But when Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios came on board, Spider-Man was saved. Casting Tom Holland was the absolute perfect choice. He was adorable, but in a teenage dorky way—not in a sexy “I got game” way like Garfield. Holland’s Peter was a science dork for sure, but like comic book Peter, he actually has friends in school. Tobey Maguire’s version of Peter only had Harry Osborn as a friend, and that’s because Harry used him as his tutor and kind of put up with him. Holland’s Spidey was the version from the comics we’d all been waiting years for.
Peter’s relationships with the kids around him—Ned, Liz, MJ, and the others—was a staple of the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko comics, and almost totally ignored by the non-MCU Spider-Man films. Making Spider-Man a John Hughes-esque high school story was a genius move, and it helped make this perhaps our most beloved version of Peter yet.
In let’s not forget: we got two great villains in a row with MCU Spider-Man. Michael Keaton as the Vulture and Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio were both fantastic in totally different ways. Among the first five Spider-Man movies, we got one truly great bad guy in the form of Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock. But they dropped the ball on just about everyone else. Willem Dafoe was a great Norman Osborn for sure, but the less said about his Green Goblin, the better. Feige fully understood what made Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery great.
And when MCU Spider-Man did deviate from the comics, like with Aunt May, it worked. We’d seen old and doting May Parker done perfectly well in the original films, but Marisa Tomei’s version of May made way more sense in a modern context. Feige has an uncanny instinct to know what things from the classic comics must be kept, and which things are ready for a change. And it was most true in the MCU Spider-Man films.
Tom Holland is remaining as Spider-Man for Sony, as are the previous two film’s directors Jon Watts. And maybe everything will proceed more or less as it has been, just without mention of any Avengers. But the MCU magic that Kevin Feige sprinkled onto Spider-Man is something that no one else can replicate. Here’s hoping this eulogy is premature, and somehow Peter Parker can remain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where he clearly belongs.
Images: Sony Pictures