With three actors having portrayed Spider-Man in live-action in the modern era, it's to be expected fans will compare them, and their films, now that Far From Home is in theaters. Director Sam Raimi launched the Sony franchise in 2002 with Tobey Maguire, followed a decade later with the reboot by Marc Webb and star Andrew Garfield. However, after the studio entered into a co-production deal with Marvel, Tom Holland debuted as Peter Parker in 2016's Captain America: Civil War, marking a shift to a younger hero, in the vein of the Ultimate Spider-Man comics. But make no mistake, the Marvel Cinematic Universe's web-slinger is enjoyable, but the Raimi-Maguire era remains the gold standard.
Now, let's get Webb and Garfield out of the way first: The Amazing Spider-Man films were, by no means, bad. It built toward iconic storylines like the death of Gwen Stacy, and gave us villains like the Lizard. The second film, however, didn't balance its foes well, with Electro and another Harry "Goblin" Osborn in the mix, creating packed cast. But all in all, the brooding, emo, skateboard-toting Peter Parker Garfield portrayed was decently done, magnified by such good chemistry with Emma Stone's Gwen. Still, it felt merely OK, upended by the sequel trying to do too much.
That's why fans almost universally love Holland's take and director Jon Watts' vision as the new story totally subverts what came before. We've got Peter as the protege of Tony Stark, more tech-driven than do-it-yourself, and we're now getting the entire high school career of a very young Spidey, which previous franchises didn't dive into as their Spider-Men were young adults moving to their college days and the workforce.
Watts is more about the coming-of-age story, however, as Peter navigates his younger days, made even more fresh by the lack of an Uncle Ben death and a new spin on MJ with Zendaya. But ultimately, that doesn't really carry the torch of classic Spider-Man stories, updated for a new generation. It's millennial Spider-Man, for sure, and way more campy than the original films, giving us that lighthearted effect of John Hughes movies. You can see this in the relationship between Peter and his peers and also, with his much younger Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Throw in the fact he's already an Avenger, and you can easily see this isn't your father's Spidey.
But as great as Watts' universe is, the Raimi take stands out way more because of a couple of things. It definitely honored the classic vision of the character Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created in the '60s, focusing on the mantra, "With great power comes great responsibility." This informs Maguire's Spidey way better than Holland's, who became a Stark fanboy and saw him as a father-figure despite his ego.
The latter feels more style than substance, whereas Raimi's take was the opposite. Maguire really came off like the comics popped to life with his just-as-awkward demeanor, but more so, something genuine and sentimental. You even saw it as he aspired to be a photographer, as opposed to Holland's goofball and Garfield's in-between of both these essences.
Also, Maguire's chemistry with Kirsten Dunst over the first two movies was phenomenal, and Raimi did an amazing job with his Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus. The third movie with Venom and Ninja Goblin missed the mark, but there were some good bits with Sandman (apart from the terrible retcon that he killed Uncle Ben).
When you take the first two movies from each franchise, Raimi places the wall-crawler in a better space and really has him as a hero who clawed his way from scratch. Holland got a lot of Stark assistance while Garfield's version just didn't feel like he grew at all. Maguire's character, though, was so profound, it felt like you were right alongside him, watching him evolve and mature through his stages in life, from grief to love.
The original Raimi films also stuck the landing with the rest of its cast, especially Rosemary Harris' Aunt May. Sure, Webb's spin with Sally Field and Tomei's updated version aren't bad but you can't go wrong with the classics. Especially when they're done to near-perfection as per Raimi's J. Jonah Jameson!
As it stands, the Spider-Man movies are on an upward trajectory, doing quite well and rehashing the past, but there's a kind of magic about the Raimi series that hasn't been recaptured yet.
Holland's third attempt might do the trick but right now, Maguire (and hey, let's forgive him for that dance sequence in Spider-Man 3) webbed us up in movies that helped pave the way for the modern superhero film genre and paid apt tribute to the source material along the way in a manner few comic book movie franchises have been able to replicate. Raimi stuck to the old and made some nifty alterations to roll with the times, and in doing so, he set a bar that's still to be raised.
Now in theaters, director Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Far From Home stars Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, JB Smoove, Jacob Batalon and Martin Starr, with Marisa Tomei and Jake Gyllenhaal.