When I first saw Spider-Man (2002) in the cinema I'm not ashamed to say that I wept! Okay, maybe I'm a little ashamed but you have to understand what it meant at the time. The Spider-Man movie had been in development hell for years and despite the success of previous Marvel movies such as Blade and X-Men, there was still every chance that things could go horribly wrong. James Cameron had been linked to the Spidey movie for years, and every now and again we'd hear dreadful rumours about some horrible deviation from the source material such as an evil businessman Electro or a Dock Ock played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even though Sam Raimi was now directing, the fear of some horrible Hollywood bastardisation remained.
So imagine my relief when we got a fun, exciting movie that seemed to bend over backwards to stay true to the source material. Behind the green armour, Norman Osborn was just as twisted as his comic counterpart, Aunt May and Uncle Ben were straight off the comic page, Spidey's stunts and poses were spot on and J.K. Simmons was born to play J. Jonah Jameson. But best of all, Peter Parker was a nerd! One of my biggest fears was that whoever played Pete would just be some Hollywood pretty boy who always got the girl. Tobey Maguire played Pete as a quintessential nerd. Shy, geeky and awkward. Perfect.
Or so it seemed at the time.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Maguire's Spider-Man is too wet! Sure, Pete's a nerd, but there's an anger in the Peter Parker of the comic that Maguire never quite captures, especially in the early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko stuff. If you read those early Spidey stories there's frustration constantly bubbling under the surface of Peter Parker. It can still be found in Spidey comics today, but it's particularly prevalent in those early issues. Pete is constantly depicted as being flushed with anger at Flash Thompson, or Jonah Jameson. Not just annoyance but genuine rage. Occasionally Pete would even lose his cool completely and snap back at Flash or Jonah. On those occasions he could be quite scathing. This Peter Parker was cleverer than most and he knew it.
Compare the Peter Parker in the scenes above with Maguire's Pete. Maguire's Pete is nice to a fault. You could never imagine him fantasising about Flash Thompson "losing a mouthful of teeth". His Pete would probably hold back even if he didn't have Spidey powers to worry about. He has moments of frustration, and even righteous fury, but he never conveys the ugly, sweaty anger that comic Spidey has bubbling beneath the surface. Comic Pete has to struggle to hold back his anger, whereas it seems to come naturally to sweet, good natured Maguire-Pete. It's this struggle that makes comic Pete a better character than Maguire-Pete; doing the right thing doesn't come as easy to comic Pete, but he still does it! Indeed, Maguire's so ill-suited to showing the uglier side of Pete, that when he finally does have to tap into these qualities in Spider-Man 3, we get a ridiculous, sulky, dancing, emo version of Pete.
Having said that, I still really like Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, but it's hard to deny that aspects of them suffer in comparison to more recent super-hero films. It is worth remembering however that these two films get a lot of things right, and the fact that Pete is played as a nerd at all, even if it is the wrong kind of nerd, is still pretty awesome. Spider-Man, along with X-Men probably played a large part in showing Hollywood that you can stay close to the source material and still have a successful super-hero film. So even though it doesn't tick as many of the boxes as Iron Man or Captain America, Spider-Man probably made it much easier for those films to be as great as they are.
I just hope that Andrew Garfield, who will play Peter Parker in the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man, remembers that Peter Parker isn't just a nerd.
He's an angry nerd!