I’ve read a lot of comics, but I’ll be the first to admit that Spider-Man is not my area of expertise. That’s not due to a lack of interest; it’s just that a lot of Spider-Man comics are just plain terrible (clones, anyone?). The one thing that’s consistently not terrible, though, is the character himself. Peter Parker is one of the purest, most likeable characters in comics, and now that Andrew Garfield has had more than one crack at it, I think it’s time to compare his performance with Tobey Maguire’s to determine who makes the better Spidey. For the sake of fairness, I’ll do what everyone should and disregard Raimi/Maguire’s Spider-Man 3. Two men, two movies each, and they’ll be compared on what I believe are Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s six most essential character traits, starting with…
Peter Parker is the quintessential affable loser. He’s a big old geek with a love for science and a heart of gold.
Andrew Garfield… isn’t remotely nerdy. He’s not popular, but he hangs out at the skate park and coolly arrives late to his high school graduation ceremony. He uses his computer a lot, but in a way that says “I’m super high tech” rather than “I’m a total geek.” His hair is super styled. He stands up to bullies. To audiences, he’s pretty cool.
Tobey Maguire, on the other hand, is either ignored or harassed by his peers and spends his time missing the bus or failing to deliver pizza on time. He has the look of a sad, wet puppy who’s been abandoned in the streets.
Winner: Tobey Maguire
Artists’ renderings may vary, but Spider-Man is typically wee next to other superheroes.
I’m still ignoring Spider-Man 3, so I won’t say Tobey Maguire was downright fat in the role, but he did have the bulkiness of a typical superhero. Andrew Garfield looks like he might starve to death.
Winner: Andrew Garfield
Spider-Man is obnoxious in battle. He distracts and frustrates his enemies with bad puns, incessant questioning, and whatever else it takes to gain the upper hand.
Having re-watched all of the Spider-Man movies (except for Spider-Man 3, because I don’t hate myself), I can remember exactly one instance of Tobey Maguire cracking a joke while fighting: he says “here’s your change” as he throws a bag of coins at Doc Ock. That’s about it.
Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man is an irritating joke machine. Even audiences start thinking “enough already” because he rarely stops the wisecracking, and that’s just the way it should be.
Winner: Andrew Garfield
Spider-Man cares about his family and friends as much as Batman cares about making sure everything in his arsenal is bat-themed.
While Maguire’s Spider-Man spends a bit too much time listening to Aunt May’s platitudes and obsessing over Uncle Ben, it’s more in character for him to do that than to do what Garfield’s Spider-Man does and practically ignore them. There’s one nice moment between Garfield and Sally Field in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but it doesn’t come close to the amount of affection Maguire had for his family.
As for friends and lovers, Garfield has infinitely more chemistry with Emma Stone than Maguire had with Kirsten Dunst. Is he any more loyal to her, though? Probably not.
Winner: Tobey Maguire, based on family
While he’s no Reed Richards or Tony Stark, Peter Parker is still one of the smarter characters in the Marvel universe.
Garfield’s Peter invents webshooters, studies scientific papers, performs experiments, and builds a fancy web to catch the lizard.
Tobey Maguire’s Peter knows a few facts about spiders.
Winner: Andrew Garfield
Have you heard about responsibility? It comes with great power. Thanks to his uncle Ben’s death and another event that I’ll avoid spoiling, Spider-Man feels obligated to do whatever he can to help the citizens of New York.
Andrew Garfield gives the impression that he certainly cares about helping people, but might just go out for a skate or for dinner with Gwen instead. In Amazing Spider-Man 2, he reacts to a character-defining moment by throwing in the towel.
Tobey Maguire repeats the line “with great power comes great responsibility” approximately forty two times. He quit being Spider-Man for about three seconds, but mostly because his organic web had rendered him impotent. Generally, he sulks about because his burden is so great.
Winner: Neither. Maguire has the edge, but he’s so sulky I can’t give him the win here.
Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield do a lot well. Deciding who is better really depends on what you value most in your Spider-Man. I tend to think the wisecracking and brains are most important, so in the end, I lean toward Andrew Garfield. Someone who would rather emphasize the nerdiness or responsibility would probably say that Maguire is their webslinger. In any case, we Spider-Man fans should count ourselves lucky that neither of them has faced a Ryan Reynolds or Halle Berry.