Andrew Garfield Vs. Tobey Maguire: Who Is The Better Spider-Man?

By Eric Eisenberg 2012-07-03 14:03:29discussion comments
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I canít even begin to tell you how many times Iíve gotten into arguments with friends about which actor played Batman the best in the movies (Christian Bale is the best Bruce Wayne, Keaton is the best Batman, FYI). Itís a simple fact that geeks love to debate each other about inane bits of trivia, be it Kirk vs. Picard, Ewoks: good or bad, or RoboCop vs. The Terminator. Thanks to the arrival of The Amazing Spider-Man in theaters, however, a new debate has arisen: Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield? Both have gotten terrific marks and fan appreciation for their performances, but who makes the best on-screen web-slinger?

To figure out an answer to this question in the most logical fashion, I have divided the character of Peter Parker into six different personality traits established in the comics and previous incarnations, and have put the two actors head to head to determine which one is better at portraying particular qualities. Read on to find out who comes out on top!

Midtown Highís Professional Wallflower
For those that donít recognize the expression, this was how Peter Parkerís fellow students described him on the title page of ďAmazing Fantasy #15,Ē the first comic that Spider-Man ever appeared in. In just about every adaptation and version of the character Peter is seen by his peers as a total nerd/geek/spaz/whatever other high school insult you want to include here. Itís an important quality for him to have because in works in contrast with how he is presented as a hero after the spider bite (more on that later). But who played up this angle of the character better, Maguire or Garfield?

Before he gets his special spider bite, Maguireís Peter Parker is a true blue loser. Weíre first introduced to him as he is chasing down the school bus on his way to class, and not only are all the other students laughing, but so is the bus driver. Even once he catches up to the bus he canít find a damn seat because even the other losers donít want him on the other side of their bench. He gets regular hazing from Flash Thompson and his buddies and basically relies on Harry Osborn and Mary Jane Parker to do his fighting for him.

Garfield is a different kind of outcast. Heís a loser in the eyes of his classmates, but a much less helpless one. In Garfieldís first scenes on the high school campus he rushes to defend another student who is being abused by Flash (which happens to result in Peter taking the other nerdís place). Itís a new take on an old idea, and while Maguireís version may be a more accurate version of the comics, Garfieldís is more interesting in this respect.

Advantage: Andrew Garfield

The Science Genius
As with more kids who get picked on for being a geek, Peter is as brilliant as they come, particularly in the field of science. He is regularly building pieces of machinery and technology that can help him better defeat his foes, and because so many of his enemies are science-based, he needs to keep up in order to better understand them and fight them.

In fairness to Maguire on this one, Sam Raimi kind of screwed the pooch on this category when the idea for organic web-shooters was hatched. In the original Spider-Man trilogy we constantly hear about Peterís intelligence from other characters, be it Harry talking to Norman Osborn or Dr. Curt Connors talking to Dr. Octavius, but heís never seen using his science knowledge in a practical way.

In contrast, Webb puts Garfieldís geekery on full display. Without organic web-shooters a big part of the ďBecoming Spider-ManĒ montage is Peter building his wrist-based devices and he is seen regularly nerding out with Dr. Connors about formulas and research. Youíí find some evenhanded categories in his feature, but this isnít one of them

Advantage: Andrew Garfield

The Hero
ďWith great power comes great responsibility.Ē Itís a lesson that all of us can apply in our daily lives: if you have the ability to do something incredible, then you damn well better use that ability right. For Peter Parker specifically, however, it means that if you have the powers of a spider then you damn well have the responsibility to be a hero. In the movie adaptations the approach to the concept is complex and different in both versions of the character.

Maguireís performance in Spider-Man 2 may be one of the most perfect examples of the journey of heroism ever put to screen. Set some time after Peter has become Spider-Man, the movie allows the character to begin questioning his own motives for being a hero and has him struggling with the desire for a normal life where he can be with MJ and live happily ever after. It affects him on a deep, psychological level, to the point where his powers actually begin to fade and malfunction, but when he finally puts a strong focus on what he wants he discovers who he really is: Spider-Man.

Because the reboot is a retelling of the origin story, the hero concept is a bit shallow in comparison. Garfieldís Spidey does have to overcome feelings of anger and the desire for revenge, but the transition into helping the troubled citizens of New York comes fairly easy to the young man who was rescuing dorks from bullies even before he had superpowers. Iím not saying the new interpretation of the character isnít a hero, but the impact isnít as strong as it was previously. It may be unfair to Garfield at this point because heís only had one movie while Maguire had three, but the truth is that the younger actor has a lot to catch up to.

Advantage: Tobey Maguire

The Comedian
Spider-Man is a funny character. He has a knack for making villains want to hurt him just because theyíre so goddamned pissed off about all the snarky comments and quips that he makes. Web headís sense of humor is legendary, so how does it come across in both Raimiís films and The Amazing Spider-Man?

Raimiís Spider-Man movies were largely beloved by fans because of their fidelity to the character, but something just went plain wrong here. Sure, Maguire managed to frustrate his enemies, but it was rarely because of a taunting phrase or wisecrack. Once under the mask the actorís dialogue was basically limited to lines like, ďIt's you who's out, Gobbie. Out of your mind.Ē Not exactly Oscar Wilde.

The Amazing Spider-Man doesnít reach the levels of, say, Spider-Man: The Animated Series from back in the 90s (which was legitimately hilarious at times), but there is definitely more of an effort made to give the wall-crawler a sense of humor while in costume. The perfect example of this is Spideyís encounter with a car thief early in the movie. He makes fun of the burglar for dressing like a burglar, pins him to the wall with webbing in all kinds of interesting ways, and isnít even afraid to go for the crotch shot on occasion. Garfield may not have consistency down just yet, but heís definitely funnier than Maguire.

Advantage: Andrew Garfield

The Fighter
Spider-Man doesnít have the brute strength of a character like Hulk or Thor, but he is still a damn good fighter. Equipped with his patented spider-sense, ridiculous agility and super strength, he is a challenge for any foe, be it The Lizard, Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, or Sandman.

Raimi didnít have much experience in the action genre prior to making his Spider-Man trilogy, but you would never guess that while watching the films. ďMaguireísĒ Spider-Man (letís face it, in these movies itís not the stars who are doing most of the fighting) is quite capable in combat, as seen in the last Goblin fight in Spider-Man, the subway scuffle in Spider-Man 2 and the final battle of Spider-Man 3. The fights are gritty and intense and we believe them.

ďAndrew GarfieldísĒ Spider-Man is just as skilled a fighter as ďMaguireís,Ē but the melee sequences in The Amazing Spider-Man simply arenít that strong. Physicality comes into play Ė Garfield is much skinnier than Maguire Ė but the movie also lacks any really long, extended battle scenes, instead choosing to quickly cut from location to location. Thereís potential for Garfield to be a strong, physical Spider-Man, but his debut doesnít really have it.

Advantage: Tobey Maguire

The Lover
Itís not just about the flying fists for Peter Parker, as the character has his softer side as well and has proven to be quite the ladiesí man at times. Over the decades Peter has had many beautiful women on his arm, from Betty Brandt to Gwen Stacy to Mary Jane Watson. While weíve never seen a romantic relationship between Peter and Betty on screen (poor Elizabeth Banks), how do Maguire and Garfield compete when it comes to Spider-Manís dating skills?

Itís strange to say, but one of the best parts of Raimiís trilogy was just how tragic the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane is. Every ending, including 3 has a sad element to it and while the upside-down kiss in the rain is iconic, itís one of very few bright spots in their time together. Itís handled well and with a sense of reality, but itís also one of the biggest bummer relationships in the comic book movie genre.

Prior to taking on The Amazing Spider-Man, Webbís only other directorial feature effort was the romantic dramedy (500) Days of Summer, so it actually makes total sense that the relationship between Peter and Gwen is one of the best things about the new webhead movie. Garfield and Stone share terrific chemistry (better than Maguire and Kirsten Dunst) and story gives the relationship time to breathe while also slowly pulling them closer to each other. Itís such a natural pairing that by the end of the film youíre rooting for the love story as much as youíre rooting for Spidey in the battle against The Lizard.

Advantage: Andrew Garfield

If it werenít for Tobey Maguire we probably wouldnít have as many great actors playing superheroes as we do. He was one of the originals and he was a great Spider-Man. But the truth is that Andrew Garfield does an absolutely brilliant job with the part in The Amazing Spider-Man. Itís not one of the best superhero movies weíve ever seen and therefore some parts of the character arenít as well done as others, but there is incredible potential for Garfield in the future of the franchise. We canít wait to see how he does next time.
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