Spider-Man fans have been on a wild ride for nearly 20 years, with seven movies and three different stars in the title role. We’ve experienced unparalleled amounts of joy, grief, confusion, and exasperation. Such was the case last month when the webslinger’s future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe became uncertain as talks between Spidey owner Sony and Marvel Studios’ owner Disney stalled. While there was great fan outcry, the decision looked like it was going to stick. Until Friday, when Sony and Disney announced a new deal that will keep Spidey in the MCU, with Marvel president Kevin Feige returning as a producer.

Still, that got me thinking: at this point, we’ve seen Spider-Man on our screens about a bajillion times now, be that via television, game consoles, or the big screen. But where live-action interpretations are concerned, there have been three distinct franchises. In three distinct eras. Two by Sony, and one as a joint venture between Sony and Marvel Studios. Marvel and Feige’s involvement in the most recent outings — Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home — brought renewed life and interest to the character, especially as he got to interact with other Marvel superheroes. The thought of that suddenly going away squished prospects of another audience and critical (and box office!) hit.

Spider-Man 3 (2007) Tobey Maguire The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man / Peter Parker Tom Holland is Spider-Man in Columbia Pictures' SPIDER-MAN: ™ FAR FROM HOME.
Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man
| Credit: Merie W. Wallace/Columbia; Jaimie Trueblood/Columbia/Sony; Jay Maidment/Sony

So what made those two movies starring Tom Holland so great? And where did they fail? What about the previous franchises, starring Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield? Let’s take a look back at all three franchises to see what they got right and what they got wrong — and how to move forward.

The Spider-Man trilogy (2002-2007)

Directed by: Sam Raimi

SPIDER-MAN 2, Tobey Maguire, 2004, (c) Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection
Credit: Everett Collection

What they got right:

After being trapped in development hell for nearly 25 years, director Sam Raimi was able to bring forth the first live-action take on Spider-Man, and the decision paid off thanks to very specific choices on his part. Spider-Man took the kind of over-the-top campiness that earlier superhero movies were known and loved for (think Tim Burton’s Batman movies or even Christopher Reeve’s turn as Superman) and make it more palpable for a modern audience.

It had corny points, yes, (have you seen those old high school scenes now? Yeesh), but the franchise balanced that lovable sappiness with some very dark themes and performances by actors Willem Dafoe (Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin) and Alfred Molina (Dr. Otto Octavius/Doc Ock) and even Maguire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), who really sells the second film in the franchise by documenting the toll that “great responsibility” has had on his life. Both Raimi and Maguire also capture the earnest nature of Peter Parker’s heart — with excellent supporting performances from Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson) and James Franco (Harry Osborn) — and his do-the-right-thing attitude, even at great personal cost.

What they got wrong:

Spider-Man’s signature snark is notably missing from this iteration, with the character instead opting for corny cracks.

Case in point:

Green Goblin: [drops Jameson (J.K. Simmons) and turns around on the glider] Speak of the Devil!
Jameson: Spider-Man! I knew you two were in this together! I–
Spider-Man: [uses his web to seal Jameson’s mouth shut] Hey, kiddo, let Mom and Dad talk for a minute, will ya?

Raimi’s Spider-Man almost gets there but falls short. And the third film in the franchise nearly undoes the goodwill that the first two movies built with its inability to commit to a strong villain. Plus there’s that infamous emo-Peter Parker dancing scene.

The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2 (2012-2014)

Directed by: Marc Webb

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, Andrew Garfield, as Spider-Man, 2012. ph: Jamie Trueblood/©Columbia Pictures
Andrew Garfield in 'The Amazing Spider-Man'
| Credit: Everett Collection

What they got right:

When it was announced that famed music and film director Marc Webb would be tackling the venerable wall-crawler next, it was widely met with skepticism. After all, the last Spider-Man film had only come out five years earlier and many a fan had their heart set on a fourth movie in that franchise, also with Maguire playing your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Still, Webb accepted the challenge and The Amazing Spider-Man was born.

In this iteration, Garfield’s Spider-Man has enough snark for you, him, and your mama. He has a comeback for everything, and half of his superpower included goading his chosen villain at the time into doing something asinine and completely against their villainous interests because of their wounded pride.

Case in point:

Spider-Man: “You know in the future if you’re gonna steal cars, don’t dress like a car thief, man.
Car Thief: What are you? You’re a cop?
Spider-Man: Really? You seriously think I’m a cop?

These films were also bolstered by choosing to tackle a Peter Parker/Gwen Stacy (played by Emma Stone, who became Garfield’s real-life girlfriend) romance versus one with Mary Jane Watson, and also cluing her in early on about Peter’s alter ego. Which totally worked because of their matchless chemistry. This version of Peter Parker also decided to pivot from being “nerdy” to simply “awkward” and garnered some interesting reads because of certain ticks.

What they got wrong:

Part of Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s allure is that he quite frankly could have been anyone. Any man, woman, or person. His story, which can literally be summed up as some freak accident with a radioactive spider, is written so that if it was any other day, perhaps we would have seen another version of the character (which is cleverly highlighted decades later in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). Swapping out this everyman story in favor of some “mystery “involving his parents (Peter’s dad coded his experiments with his own DNA so that they can’t be used on/against just anyone, meaning only someone with his “unique” DNA — Peter — would react to a genetically-altered spider’s bite) removes the magic of what makes Peter relatable to the audience. Also, that second movie was…not great, but I could have told you that with how bad they made Jamie Foxx look.

Spider-Man: Homecoming and Far From Home (2017-2019)

Directed by: Jon Watts

Tom Holland in 'Spider-Man: Far from Home'
| Credit: Jay Maidment/Sony

What they got right:

Even if I really, really like the two previous takes on our favorite web-head, I have to be honest: they were both grown men playing a part that was originally written for a teen and that always made the whole thing kind of bizarre. Which is why director Jon Watts’ take was so refreshing.

In this version, Peter finally gets to be a kid! A goofy, lovable, smart, awkward, and hapless kid. And he actually gets to interact with other people in his high school (gasp!) besides MJ/Michelle Jones (Zendaya) and Flash (Tony Revolori). This essentially turns the franchise into the style of a coming-of-age film….which just so happens to be about a famous superhero. This version of the character, being played by an early-twenties Tom Holland also helps, as he manages to capture the earnest nature of Peter from the Raimi movies and combines it with enough teensnark that would make the Webb movies proud.

Case In Point:

Spider-Man: [Spider-Man secures Davis’s hand to his car with a web] That’s going to dissolve in two hours.
Aaron Davis: No. No, no! You’re going to fix this!
Spider-Man: Two hours! You deserve that!
Aaron Davis: I’ve got ice cream!
Spider-Man: You’re a criminal! Bye, Mr. Criminal!

What they got wrong:

Because this was literally the third Spider-Man/reboot in less than 20 years, this franchise was charged with doing something new and garden-fresh. There was an attempt, of course, but it is cheapened by pilfering most of the story line of another comic book iteration of Spider-Man, Miles Morales, and supporting characters while peppering in familiar Peter Parker story hallmarks (like Aunt May, a dead Uncle Ben, etc.). Plus, this franchise’s overall over-dependence on connecting this character to Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is grating. Stark serves as a stand-in father figure and mentor (and someone for a young Peter to aspire to be) — with all his brilliance and fancy gadgets. Ironically, he also serves as the catalyst for the creation of Spider-Man villains Vulture (Michael Keaton) and Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) and that’s…not good. Because that would technically then just make them Tony’s villains that Peter is then charged with taking care of.

Part of the reason Spider-Man/Peter Parker is an enduring figure in our pop culture lexicon is because not only does he bring that “everyman” aspect to the table, but because he is also a hero who can (and sometimes does) stand on his own, while proudly repping and protecting his city and neighborhood. His rich history is a tangible example of this, as is his expansive rogue’s gallery. If a certain studio really wanted to, Spider-Man could have a cinematic universe all on his own.

And we shouldn’t forget that.

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