Spider-Man: A History of the Costumed Actors

The History of Actors Taking on Spider-Man

How awesome is the latest trailer for Captain America: Civil War? More importantly, how awesome was the trailer’s last shot featuring Marvel favorite, Spider-Man? 20-year-old Tom Holland is the latest actor to portray the Queens teenager turned superhero in this latest addition to the Marvel Universe. The arachnid-like crime fighter is probably Marvel’s most iconic entity and outside of the colorful pages of comic books, Spidey has been the subject of numerous films, television series, cartoons, and yes, even the Broadway stage. Just recently, I looked back at his ill-fated run in the theater world but hey, there’s plenty of other Spider-Man media crawling (no pun intended) around. Let’s take a trip.

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Spider-Man’s first live action appearance dates all the way back to the 1970s believe it or not. In 1978, The Amazing Spider-Man premiered on CBS. It lasted two seasons and didn’t contain any of the traditional Spider-Man villains instead focusing on new (one-dimensional) characters written specifically for the show. Nicholas Hammond portrayed Peter Parker and sported what was probably the ugliest looking Spider-Man ever. Poor inner city children probably had better costumes. This one was boring and forgettable. It makes you wonder how the character would wind up making so much green in later live-action presentations.

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The very first Spider-Man cartoon series, which debuted in 1967, was a pretty big disappointment. Several other animated presentations followed but the home run for me was the 1994 cartoon that aired on Fox Kids. This was essential viewing in every after-school television ritual. A plethora of characters straight from the comic book are on display including relentless foes like Venom and Carnage. Each episode left children wanting more and more. The worst wre Friday’s episodes where we had to wait until Monday for the next installment! Throughout the show, Spidey was voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes who went reprise the role in later Spider-Man animated shows and video games. There were even several crossovers with other Marvel characters such as The Punisher, Captain America, the X-Men, and even Blade. It ran for five compelling seasons before ending in 1998 but is still talked about today among most Generations X’ers.

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Spider-Man’s much anticipated cinematic debut finally came in 2002. This time around, assuming the role of Peter Parker was Tobey Maguire, a short, scrawny guy with an unassuming personality that was seemingly perfect for the part. In the self-titled first entry, Peter Parker is a New York high school outcast who, while on a field trip, is bitten by a radioactive spider and develops special abilities including super strength and “spider sense” which allows him to sense danger all around him. He uses these abilities to become the hero he always dreamed of and win over his longtime crush, his next-door neighbor, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). His one friend is Harry Osborn (the breakthrough film role for James Franco) whose father, Norman (Willem DaFoe) later becomes Spidey’s first adversary, the Green Goblin. At the time, Spider-Man raked in so much money that for a few years, it was in the Top 10 for highest film gross. It was critically hailed and spawned two sequels. In my opinion, I don’t feel like it holds up very well, I mean, there is some really silly stuff in here. I will say that a true highlight is J.K. Simmons’ portrayal of Daily Bugle editor-in-chief J. Jonah Jamison. It was outstanding for its time, though, and hey, any film that boasts an appearance by the late “Macho Man” Randy Savage is alright in my book!

The immense success led to Spider-Man 2 in 2004. For my 18th birthday, me and a bunch of my friends went to the theater to see it and with how much we all loved the first one, this one needed to deliver. Here, Spider-Man needs to battle his mentor, Dr. Otto Octavius, who adapts the alter ego of Dr. Octopus after his wife is killed in a science experiment gone wrong when titanium tentacles fuse with his spine and attack on demand. The newfound power ultimately changes the personality of Doc Ock for the worst. Unlike its predecessor, this one holds up extremely well and is the best of the three. Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus puts in the best performance of any of the villains in the trilogy.

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Then the third film happened. Ugh. The third film. So much was shoehorned into this one with very little promise or explanation. With this being the last of the trilogy, it needed to deliver. Now supposedly, Sony Pictures, who then owned the film rights to Spider-Man, bullied director Sam Raimi into including Venom, something Raimi did not want to include the character as his origins would have to be explained over the course of several movies, not just thrown together hastily in an already crowded feature. Turns out, he was right. In 2007, Spider-Man 3 was released to mostly negative reviews. It featured not one, not two, but three different villains: The Green Goblin (now being captained by Harry Osborn who believes Peter Parker killed his father), the Sandman, who can shapeshift into tiny rocks and who supposedly killed Peter’s Uncle Ben, and finally Venom. The latter is played by Topher Grace who, as Eddie Brock, started working for the Daily Bugle and becomes a professional enemy of Peter Parker. After he is outed as a phoney, Brock finds the black suit that Parker originally discovered but later discarded when he saw a drastic change in his attitude and becomes Venom. Sure, we all jumped for joy at the closing shot of Venom in the film’s trailer but nothing interesting about the character is ever displayed. Oh, and how did we know that Peter Parker was turning into a dark soul? Why he styled his hair in front of his face and wore eyeshadow, of course.

Also there for two, TWO dance numbers. Why?

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After the very poor reception of Spider-Man 3, it looked like the character’s time in film was just about up. However, a fourth film was planned with Sam Raimi still onboard as director. Not long after the announcement though, Raimi stepped down citing frustration with the studio over the direction of the third movie. Later, it was announced that Spider-Man would be rebooted with an all-new director and cast. The part of Spider-Man will now be played by Andrew Garfield and his love interest this time around is Gwen Stacy (played by Emma Stone). The character of Gwen Stacy actually appeared in SM3 but was completely relegated to a side character that no one could invest in. The Amazing Spider-Man was released into theaters in 2012 and followed the comic book more closely than the previous movies. For example, in this film, Peter crashes a student tour of Oscorp so he could meet his father’s former partner. It is there that he is bitten by the mutant crawler. In the former film, Spidey’s shooting webs were unlimited but here, as well as in the comics and the 90s cartoon, it is shown that Parker designs the web dispensers himself and only has a limited supply. Our baddie this time around is the one-armed scientist turned destructive amphibian, Curt Connors aka The Lizard. This character was also introduced in the former trilogy and was actually built up pretty nicely. Most fans suspected that if there was a fourth film that the Lizard would be included but nothing ever materialized. He was recast for this film from Bruce Greenwood to Rhys Ifans who I know fondly as the Welsh kicker from the 2000 KEANU REEVES film, The Replacements.

My personal opinion of the Amazing Spider-Man is that it’s an alright film but sort of unnecessary. I have no problem that they wanted to make another Spider-Man film but did his origins needed to be explained again? There were some things director Marc Webb improved upon but there were a lot of things that I feel Sam Raimi did better too. Overall, it was decent but could have lived without seeing.

As expected, the film made bank which set up the sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Here, the movie falls into the same trap that Spider-Man 3 fell into: TOO MANY VILLAINS. Joining us this time around are Harry Osborn as The Green Goblin (now being played by Dane Dehaan), Electro, and yes, Rhino. Oscar winner, Jamie Foxx, plays the dorky engineer who, after tending to some maintenance, becomes the electric-infused crimelord. Screen veteran, Paul Giamatti, plays Rhino but is barely in the film, having one scene in full form at its conclusion.

The sequel was met with much indifference and while it turned up a nice profit, it performed below expectations which brought Sony back to the drawing board to once again revamp the character.
With a new cast, another film is planned for 2017. Let’s see how the character is built up in Civil War first!

Written by Matthew Reine

is a New Yorker with a strong passion for film and television. Also the biggest Keanu Reeves fan you know.

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