Why Andrew Garfield Deserved Better as Spider-Man

The collateral damage in Spidey joining the MCU is probably Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker. Here’s why that's a shame

This article contains spoilers for The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

We’re going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you’ve probably heard the news. Sony and Marvel Studios have finally struck a deal to share Spider-Man’s movie rights.

It’s a monumental moment that many comic book movie fans have been hoping for ever since Samuel L Jackson uttered the immortal words “you think you’re the only superhero in the world?” at the end of 2008’s Iron Man.

Although the term “game-changer” is probably a bit overused these days, to employ it in relation to that particular post-credits sting would not be any sort of understatement. The ballsy idea of chucking a future tease on the end of a new studio’s first ever film was a statement of intent which – when fully realized in the box office behemoth of The Avengers, launched Hollywood’s bankable obsession with shared universes, interconnectivity, and multi-film arcs with no ending in sight.

Ad – content continues below

The X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man all had to sit out for the big Marvel Studios party, though, with their rights tied up at other studios. Until now. Indeed, it felt like many prayers had been answered when the news broke that Spider-Man would finally be joining the Marvel Studios fold. It will begin with a phase three appearance from Spidey (likely to be during Captain America: Civil War), which will launch a new age where Sony shares Spider-Man with Marvel Studios, gaining access to Marvel characters and collaboration with universe-building genius Kevin Feige into the bargain.

Although such great news seems at first glance to lack any sort of downside, this writer and a fair few commenters around the web (pun solemnly intended) are pretty bummed at the suggestion that such a deal will probably see the end of Andrew Garfield’s days as Spider-Man. Here’s why…

His spider-sense of humor

Right, lets start with one that everyone can hopefully agree on. Appreciating that a sense of humor is equally important to the comic book version of Spider-Man as his actual spider-sense, most would surely hope to see this explored in his big screen adaptation. In the previous Tobey Maguire-headlined series (which has many positive features), this character trait was sadly missing in action for the most part. Bruce Campbell remains the funniest thing in those films, by some measure.

Just from the trailers for The Amazing Spider-Man reboot, though, you could tell that Andrew Garfield was all set to start cracking wise from within Spidey’s iconic blue and red threads. This, of course, was thanks to the inclusion of the “my weakness – it’s small knives!” gag in many of the early promos. The scene plays even better in the finished film, where Spidey sits patiently in the back of the car thief’s vehicle before coughing to get his attention, mocking his “are you a cop?” analysis, and then praising the crook’s efforts to escape through the car window. It’s a small moment, but one of the best in the movie.

Other Spidey comedy highlights from The Amazing Spider-Man include nonchalantly warning Gwen that he’s going to throw her out a window, later calling her “mother Hubbard” in a moment of anger, playing phone games while waiting for The Lizard to show up, and trying to talk smack while being routinely beaten senseless. The scenes where Garfield was let loose shone through as particularly impressive moments.

Showcasing the franchises’ ability to learn from its well-received facets, Spidey’s funny bone got more screen time in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, such as: “the costume gives it away, huh?” dubbing Electro “Sparkles,” mocking Rhino repeatedly, “I’m glad you’re not one of those cops who rides a horse,” and – this writer’s personal favorite – “you can call me web-head, you can call me amazing, just don’t call me late for dinner. Geddit?”

Ad – content continues below

In the second film, Garfield was given ample opportunity to showcase his physical comedy skills, too. With Peter’s Oscorp-employee-distracting mug routine and Spidey’s opening chase with the soon-to-be-Rhino, he proved that it isn’t just dialogue that can get big laughs. Similarly, as Peter gained more confidence, Garfield started delivering jokes outside the suit, too, with his expressed desire to wash the American flag and his bemused reaction to “we have no chimney” inducing hearty chortles in many a cinema.

His heart as Peter

While Tobey Maguire’s Peter arguably felt like a bit of a wet blanket, Garfield’s version displayed deep and believable emotions on frequent occasions. Again, this is a side to the character that is arguably vital to portraying him winningly on screen. In the comics, Peter is defined not just by his actions in the suit, but by his strong connections to his friends and family in every day life. This is a man who would make a deal with the devil (well, Mephisto) in order to save his elderly aunt’s life or frequently throw himself into danger to save the woman he loves. Garfield showed us a Peter who wore his heart firmly on his sleeve, particularly in his romantic entanglement with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey.

Garfield and Stone’s on-screen relationship remains one of the highlights of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise. This started in the first film, which saw Peter struggle to even get the words out when trying to ask Gwen on a date, later slumping exhausted into Gwen’s arms after a run-in with the Lizard and eventually feeling too much guilt to attend her father’s funeral.

The second film built on this, playing right into the successful strand by splitting the duo up and letting Garfield loose on a lovelorn and heartbroken Peter. The results – Peter’s pin-board of angst, his request for Gwen to smile in an uglier fashion, and the look on his face as he crossed the road towards her. After Gwen’s death, it’s a shame that the film’s script took the speedier montage-of-mourning route through Peter’s misery. 

The same can be said of Garfield’s acting in the other emotional strands of the series: his sorrow over Uncle Ben manifesting in a rageful vendetta, his guilt about Captain Stacey and his heartfelt interactions with Sally Field’s Aunt May are all portrayed with swathes of humanity by Garfield, who impressed this writer throughout as a leading man capable of finding the emotional hook even in the sloppiest of scripts. Both moments where Spidey saves youngsters (the burning car and the final Rhino fight) play havoc with our heart-strings, too.

With more screen-time – and better scripts – we’re confident that Garfield could have won over a lot of haters through his heartfelt portrayal of Peter. 

Ad – content continues below

His modern spin

Here’s the section we are most worried about your reaction to… In this writer’s opinion, Andrew Garfield is the closest big screen representation of the Peter Parker/Spider-Man that current readers of Marvel Comics will be familiar with, which is no bad thing.

While Maguire steered towards a more classic-era interpretation of Peter, exaggerating the bumbling nerd side of his personality more than any other, Garfield plays Parker in a way that seems to reflect more modern comics. We can imagine Garfield playing the Peter of One More Day, or Spider-Island, or the one that emerged after The Superior Spider-Man run, for example.

What we mean by this is that Garfield’s Peter is a more modern type of geek, suitable for modern audiences. Sure, he has his moments of nervousness (early scenes with Gwen, in particular), but the experience of simultaneously finding love and becoming Spider-Man fills him with newfound confidence, which allows him to find, however temporarily, a happier equilibrium in life.

Even when Maguire’s Peter became Spidey, he still got in trouble for delivering pizzas late and had awkward conversations with his neighbours. Garfield’s take, on the other hand, was to portray Peter as a young man who grows into himself and his happiness thanks to the events of his origin story. Many see the skateboarding sequence from The Amazing Spider-Man as a very-un-Peter scene, casting him as far too trendy and likeable for such a nerdy character. We’d argue, though, that such an analysis is actually highlighting the very point of that scene – Peter’s ability to skateboard better, and the wonderment that Garfield delivers as a result, is symptomatic of his sudden discovery of his new abilities. It’s not a misreading of the character, it’s a scene which shows the start of his journey from a nervous nelly to a hero.

Spidey’s story has always be one of wish-fulfilment for angst-ridden geeks, so the fact that he should become cooler and more confident as the story develops is to be expected, not rejected. After all, Peter has gone from a loner to a super-model dater over the course of Spider-Man’s heritage, and even owns his own company in the current run. Garfield’s interpretation of the character embraced this trajectory, developing Parker from a bumbling loser to a confident go-getter. Of course, the ‘Parker luck’ of the comics always catches up with him, as Peter learned at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

His sub-par scripts

As you’ve probably noticed, this is the general gist we have been getting at throughout this lamenting of Garfield’s rumored departure. The crux of the matter, arguably, is this – Garfield played a better Peter Parker, and a better Spider-Man, than the scripts of The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 actually served.

Ad – content continues below

Garfield delivered likeable performances in two films that shouldn’t have been likeable at all. Perhaps due to his passion for the character (see his suited-up Comic-Con introduction for evidence), Garfield’s performance never waned despite such should-be-fatal flaws as the naff CG Lizard and his baffling scheme, manifold recycled and over-familiar plot-points, cheesy crane-based moments, a random cartoon-ish German scientist, an Electro who was essentially Batman Forever’s Riddler reincarnate, the ever-tedious parental sub-plot and the aforementioned misery montage.

Garfield passionately persevered through all of this, when many actors’ reaction (see: George Clooney in Batman & Robin) would be to accept that their film was rubbish and simply phone-in a dull performance to match. Instead, he brought heaps of heart, generous lashings of comedy and a portrayal of Peter that banished the hapless nerd and embraced the character’s development.

Although Garfield seems all-but-confirmed to not be returning for Sony and Marvel’s new collaborative projects, some of us still hope that he might. Indeed, it wouldn’t be an entirely impossible transition, narrative-wise. Some exposition dialogue telling us that S.H.I.E.L.D. has had tabs on Peter for a while is all it would take to convince the casual viewer that Andrew Garfield had been in the Marvel cinematic universe all along. The hard-core fan may need more convincing, though, perhaps involving PowerPoint presentations and detailed timelines.