Opinion: A Passionate Defense of Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman Trilogy

Just like Batman, Spiderman seems to be a hero that directors and writers are ever trying to get right. After several TV shows, comic books, live-action movies, and even a video game; the portrayals vary widely. The release of Marvel’s Spiderman: No Way Home (2021) is a Spiderman fan’s dream. No Way Home featured all three live-action Spiderman, Marvel’s Tom Holland, Sony’s Tobey Maguire, and Sony’s Andrew Garfield, meeting each other and working together to defeat their respective villains. The movie demonstrates how alike the Spidermen are just as how different their experiences are. 

However, the argument over who is the “best” Spiderman is still in full swing. Each adaptation captures a different side or essence of Peter Parker, aka Spiderman. Some say that Andrew Garfields’ version is the most accurate portrayal of Spiderman because of his established love for science and his heartbreaking storyline that was much darker than the others. Others would vote for Tom Holland because Holland encapsulates a clever, carefree high schooler responsibility thrust on. Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman is full of heart and captures the struggle of maintaining balance as both Peter Parker and Spiderman. 

Spiderman (2002-2007), directed by Sam Raimi, came out at a time when superhero movies were hit or miss. Batman and Superman were the reigning favorites at the time, and The X-Men were flip-flopping between serious and campy. Spiderman (2002) became a catalyst, laying the foundations for other superhero movies to come. 

Spiderman (2002) came out of nowhere. A little blockbuster film became a favorite, and everyone was suddenly drawn to the loveable Spiderman and dorky Peter Parker. A small but strong cast of characters (who are mostly consistent throughout) remains empathetic and natural. Most of these characters, even the larger-than-life villains, go through the motions to learn the nature of selflessness, a core virtue that Maguire’s Spiderman learns and struggles with. Raimi made a choice to focus more on nerdy Peter Parker than the superhero Spiderman. 

Maguire’s portrayal of Spiderman is often described as awkward, tedious, dorky, and insecure. However, while they may not be the ideal traits for a superhero, it’s exactly what is intended for the nerdy and science-loving Peter Parker. This is relatable for many viewers, especially those battling uncertainty and entering adulthood. Parker lives in a moldy studio apartment (which he can barely afford), gets laid off from his job, and works for a boss who loathes Spiderman. Not to mention his pining for the girl next door and his struggle to balance personal life and academic life. 

These real-life problems do more than just make Peter Parker more interesting; it makes Spiderman a more interesting hero. In Spiderman 2 (2004), Peter Parker’s personal life struggles to influence his webbing abilities. Parker memorably falls from the top of an apartment building and lands on top of a car. After a visit to the doctor, Peter realizes the pressure he has been putting on himself – being Peter Parker and Spiderman – is too much and turns to focus on Peter for the time being. After this, his relationship with MJ starts to mend, and he is also succeeding in academics. 

The trilogy is far from hopeless. In Spiderman 2 (2004), Doc Ock derails a train, and Spiderman races to get there. After trial and error, Spiderman successfully stops the train from going over the edge, nearly dying in the process. The people of New York bring Spiderman into the train car and swear to keep his identity a secret. “He’s just a kid,” one New Yorker says, “No older than my son.” 

The words Power, Choice, and Forgiveness can summarize the three movies’ long arcs. In the first movie, Peter Parker is bitten by a scientifically enhanced spider and acquires the abilities of the spider. Peter struggles with becoming Spiderman, (Go web go!) and getting used to his powers. In the second movie, Peter is more comfortable with his role as Spiderman but fails to find balance in his personal life. After a bout of web block, he gives up Spiderman for a short period of time but is thrust back into it after a run-in with Doc Ock. 

In the third and final installment, Peter gains the cunning of Venom and has the opportunity to kill the man who murdered his Uncle Ben. Aunt May reminds him that Spiderman doesn’t kill people. Peter struggles with reconciliation and self-forgiveness after hurting the people who he cares about the most. The grandiosity and selfishness Peter experiences are overcome but are expected to be a lifelong internal battle. These internal battles are defining features of the Raimi Spiderman trilogy and add depth to Peter Parker and Spiderman. 

A common theme in the Raimi Spiderman Trilogy is the struggle with power. After Peter beats up Flash Thompson, Uncle Ben utters the iconic line, “With great power, comes great responsibility”. This can be best seen in the infamous Spiderman 3 (2007) with the introduction of Venom. Peter is hesitant toward the symbiote, but he eventually relishes in it. This new version of Spiderman is faster, cooler, stronger, and swifter (he even has a cool all-black suit). This bleeds into Peter Parker’s personal life, where his inflated sense of importance makes him unbearable to be around (not to mention the dancing scene, I had to bring it up). Spiderman embracing Venom shows the audience and Peter what life would have been like if his powers had come easy to him. Venom is also a catalyst to bring out the worst in Peter Parker and reveal unbridled rage and guilt. And thus, loses some of the meaning of “with great power comes great responsibility”. Watching Peter struggle with Spiderman and then succeed makes him a compelling character that viewers want to watch. 

There’s a warmth and comfort that Tobey Maguire brings out in Spiderman and Peter Parker. The trilogy is not just about a dorky teenager who suddenly has superpowers. The Raimi trilogy allows the audience to empathize and cheer for something of an underdog of a lead character. Raimi chooses to focus on the hardworking, down-on-his-luck Peter Parker to form a well-crafted hero you want to see grow and succeed. The hero of Spiderman lives within Peter Parker. In Spiderman 2 (2004), Aunt May tells Peter, “Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them…cheer them…scream their names. And years later, they’ll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who taught them to hold on a second longer. I believe there’s a hero in all of us…that keeps us honest…gives us strength…makes us noble…and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady and give up the thing we want the most – even our dreams.” 

Disclaimer: This article in no way reflects the views of The Cauldron and its staff. It only reflects the views of the columnist.

Author: Faith Patton

Cleveland State University English Literature and Creative Writing

Leave a Reply