*Spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home*
Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker isn’t suddenly great. He has always been great. But, at least we’re all on the same page now.
I remember when I watched The Amazing Spider-Man for the first time. It was the hot summer of 2012, back when butter-stained auditorium seats were acceptable in ignorant bliss. I was still a child, halfway through junior high, though not young enough to miss the tension within a room full of people eager to find whether the torch of our favorite web-slinger could be effectively passed along. After all, I was holding my breath, too.
In the years during and after their releases, I never understood the criticism of Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man films. Like many others, I had grown up with Tobey Maguire’s movies and loved them deeply. Garfield’s rendition of Peter Parker simply felt like a revival of our beloved friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. He took a new and unique form we hadn’t seen on the big screen before. To me, it was nothing more than that. I never viewed the TASM films as an adversary to the original trilogy or a threat to the comic book vision. But anytime I said this, it was a laughable opinion to listeners of all ages.
Perhaps that reaction came because I was young, or perhaps it was because I was female. I mean, no teenage girl could ever love a movie for more than its attractive lead actor, right? Well, it seems as though my opinion isn’t quite as controversial anymore, and not just because I’m in my twenties now.
Thanks to his recent revival of the character in Marvel’s cinematic masterpiece, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is now receiving more love than ever before. As someone who spent years aiming to get his portrayal the recognition it deserves, I am so happy with this. No Way Home gave TASM fans the opportunity to see Garfield’s Spider-Man again after being shorted one movie of a complete trilogy. It offered some closure on a beloved character’s story after years of lingering loose ends. Everything about it is overwhelming. I never thought I would see Garfield in the spandex suit again. Within the epic conclusion of Tom Holland’s own excellent trilogy, having Garfield back really is a dream come true.
My only hope is that the sudden love for the TASM films doesn’t begin and end with the hype of No Way Home. They deserve to be recognized and considered for as long as the cinematic timeline of Spider-Man exists. I understand that The Amazing Spider-Man films aren’t for everyone, and they certainly have their flaws. But for all they are, in comparison to no other stories outside of themselves, I love them for many reasons. Here are just a few of them.
First and foremost, credit must be given where credit is due. To me, Andrew Garfield is an amazing Peter Parker and Spider-Man. His portrayal is comedic and heart-wrenching, and he fully embodies all parts on the spectrum of emotion. The ways in which Garfield’s portrayal steer away from expectations only makes him more endearing to me. There is a subtlety to his character in which he is both unapologetically himself and quietly reserved at the same time. The lines that structure the parameters of Peter Parker’s conventional being are slightly blurred, allowing for free rein towards a unique take on the character. He has the familiarity of the web-slinger we have always known and loved, with changes that define his role within an engraved Spider-Man era.
With this, Peter’s sense of moral direction is always well-founded. Even in the moments where it strays off its usual course, every reason is fleshed out. I never have to wonder why he makes the decisions he does because, in both the character’s development and Garfield’s acting, it is clear. Peter is funny, charismatic, and always looking to do the right thing, even when it hurts him to do so. There is a sense of beautiful selflessness to him that takes root in everything he does, and the films highlight it very well. Both his heroism and his flaws aren’t just confined to his actions as Spider-Man, but also as Peter Parker. It makes him easier to relate to, or at the very least, easier to admire. Overall, I find Garfield’s portrayal nothing short of an enjoyable depiction of the beloved character whom I’ve always cared very much about.
Within Peter and the rest of his story, the TASM films do not tiptoe around vulnerable emotions. Instead, they embrace them at every opportunity. There are many moments where Peter finds himself wrapped within the shadows of grief. His parents are (supposedly) dead. His Uncle Ben is murdered. Gwen’s father uses his dying words to have Peter make him a promise he’s unable to keep. Upon breaking it, Peter tragically loses Gwen in a heartbreaking failure. There are moments where he is angry and driven by revenge. He also has moments of desolation where he can’t find it within himself to continue. His sadness can be overwhelming, and the films invite it. They are raw with emotion, broken open to confront the hard things head-on. Nothing is too happy or too sad to be a narrative possibility. That’s what makes the stories feel real. Not just the wounds that are sewn back together, but the ones that are left open, too.
Nonetheless, it’s not an uncommon thing to see love at the center of Peter Parker’s story, and the TASM films root themselves into it at every expecting and unexpecting corner. It’s refreshingly honest. Love fuels Peter’s hunger for answers about his mysteriously absent parents, but it also makes Aunt May hesitant to willingly provide those answers. It drives Peter’s passions and his hobbies, but it also coexists within his flaws. We see it prevalently within Spider-Man’s protective nature over his city, and we also see it within the people who proudly reciprocate it by standing in solidarity with him during times of peril (e.g., the incredible crane swinging scene).
At the heart of it all is Peter’s relationship with Gwen Stacy. The movies do a fantastic job of capturing the nuances of their complicated lives, both as individuals and as a pair. The feelings they hold for one another are innocent and purposeful, but they aren’t immune to tragedy. They not only make Peter reckless but Gwen, too. Love tethers the fabric of their story together and entwines it into every other thread within the films. To me, this is what makes the movies so special. Adapting a masked superhero into live-action can be tricky, in that the superhero might not always align with the characteristics of their unmasked counterpart. But within Gwen, Aunt May, Uncle Ben and everything else Peter cares about, it’s easy to remember the human behind the mask. In the end, the movies make it clear that’s all Peter is. A boy fighting for the people who can’t fight for themselves, not because he has to, but because he loves to.
I could go on and on about my own love for these movies. They are a heartfelt contribution to the cinematic world of Spider-Man. From the insane action sequences to the heartbreaking confrontation of loss, they have something in them for everyone within them. They are not perfect, but nothing is, much like Peter Parker himself. It’s a shame they never got the appreciation they are currently receiving years ago, but nothing can change the past. However, if upon their new attention, The Amazing Spider-Man films can be enjoyed by at least one new person, then that is a thing to be happy about. I am grateful to have grown up alongside them. – Avery Wohleb
Spider-Man: No Way Home is now playing in theaters everywhere!
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