Update: Tom Holland was cast as Spider-Man and will appear in Captain America: Civil War. Congrats Tom!
Back in February of this year Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios announced that they had entered into an agreement to start a new franchise of Spider-Man movies, that would allow him to become a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Essentially, a new actor would be given an opportunity to become Peter Parker for a whole slew of new Spidey flicks as well as other Marvel films such as Captain America: Civil War and The Avengers: the Infinity War. The details of the deal have not been disclosed, and what little we do know is that core Spider-Man films (the ones featuring his name in the title) will be co-produced by Amy Pascall and Kevin Feige, yet Sony will finance, distribute and hold final creative control over the film. Spider-Man will be allowed to appear in Marvel Cinematic Universe films, but the deal doesn’t necessarily work both ways, as additional negotiating would be necessary to allow MCU characters into the core Spidey movies. Above and beyond that, a few small tidbits have been shared by Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios: Peter Parker will be a teenager, his movies will remain in high school for multiple films, they are aiming for a John Hughes vibe (think Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or the Breakfast Club), they were not going to tell another origin story (his story would begin with Peter already as Spider-Man), and that he would be introduced in a MCU film before headlining his own solo adventure. Since then, fans all over the world have been anxious to find out who would be cast as the famous wall crawler. Through a whole smorgasbord of sources, we have been given the following names as contenders: Dylan O’Brien, Logan Lerman, Asa Butterfield, Nat Wolff, Timothee Chalamet, Tom Holland, Liam James, and Mateus Ward. Most recently a blogger with “alledged” inside information has claimed that Asa Butterfield will be the next Spider-Man, although others claim that his information is not accurate. Dylan O’Brien has allegedly been offered the role, and supposedly Mateus Ward went to a secret audition with film executives at a producer’s house for the role. So what’s the truth? Truthfully, nobody outside of the actors, producers and executives involved know what’s going on for sure, and they likely won’t tell us anything until they want to. So what can we do in the meantime? Wild speculation, of course! Let’s take a look at the candidates and see if we can’t reason out a good choice for the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
To understand where we need to go, we need to understand 2 very important things:
- Who teenage Peter Parker was and what it will take to portray that as authentically as possible.
- What the key success and stumbling blocks the previous theatrical Spider-Man actors had, and how to use that as foundation for the next iteration of Peter Parker.
Teenage Peter Parker was a studious and supremely intelligent high school student. A bookworm to the end, he would often sacrifice opportunities to hang out with fellow students in order to study or attend science lectures. He was awkward, and had a hard time relating to his contemporaries which led to him being ridiculed and bullied frequently. Peter was a typical teenage nerd, with interests that didn’t jive with his adolescent peers, but more than that he was burdened with financial trouble, personal tragedies, and questions about his place in the world. He lived with his aunt and uncle, who lived modest lives, after the unfortunate death of his parents when he was a young child. After he was bitten by a radioactive spider that gave him incredible super powers (namely super strength, agility, and the ability to stick to nearly an surface), Peter began to change. He would become more assertive, outgoing and adventurous. As Spider-Man he is a brash wise-cracker who goads his enemies into fighting (essentially, like everybody on the internet that hides behind an anonymous username and trolls message boards), a stark difference from his behavior as “puny” Parker at school. Unfortunately, he chooses to try and make money off of his newfound abilities, and in the process unknowingly gets his uncle killed. A poor decision Peter makes, simply because he was short payed for a performance, allowed a common thief (who was stealing from the Manager that refused to pay Parker what he had earned) to escape. Over time Peter would learn the difficulty in leading a double life, as he kept his identity as Spider-Man a secret. Keeping up with his studies, finding time to date, honoring promises that he made to his now widowed aunt all became exceptionally difficult to juggle with his extracurricular activities as Spider-Man. All of these things melded together to remind Peter of the one simple truth that governs his actions: with great power comes great responsibility.
Now that we understand who a teenage Peter Parker/Spider-Man is, let’s examine who has portrayed the character in film.
- Tobey Maguire – starred in the first 3 Spider-Man films as the title character. Did a wonderful job of playing Parker as a nerdy teen, out of phase with his classmates, and just plain socially awkward. He is a superb actor, and as such, he really nailed the emotional sequences. Pretty much if you could see his facial expressions, you were buying whatever he was selling. Of the 2 actors, he comes the closest to nailing the role of Peter Parker. Unfortunately, he comes up a bit short in the Spider-Man department. Tobey Maguire has a hard time having fun with Spidey’s snappier dialogue, and it comes through in his performance. He moves like Spider-Man, acts heroics like Spider-Man, but in the end he just is missing the Spider-Man attitude. All in all, he puts in a performance that makes us root for Parker, and the grandiose style of the trilogy fills in the blanks for Spider-Man.
- Andrew Garfield puts in a very different performance for Peter Parker. His portrayal is a bit of a departure, with Peter nearly always having his head hung low, listening to headphones and skate boarding. This was likely a choice by the film makers, and as such Andrew was doing the best he could with what he had. Where his Parker shines, is when he interacts with Gwen Stacy. They are just fun to watch together, and in that performance we see the potential for how good his Parker could have been. Where he totally nails it, is in his fast talking, wise cracking, “quick with a joke or to light up your smoke” turn as Spider-Man. It is evident that Mr. Garfield “gets it,” as he cockily catches thieves whilst verbally ridiculing them. By the time his 2 movies come to a close, Andrew has shown us what Spider-Man should be like, and has given us an uneven, but generally likeable Peter Parker.
So we’ve had 1 actor who was an amazing Peter Parker and 1 who was an amazing Spider-Man (see what I did there?), and therein lies the dilemma: in order for the next actor to be the definitive version of everyone’s favorite wall-crawler, he is going to have to play both parts well. Nailing the dichotomy of split characters, just ask all of the actors who have failed to nail the Bat-Man (only Michael Keaton has accomplished it so far), is a tough order and it requires an actor with a lot of skill sets. They should seem nerdy, shy, awkward, but at the same time funny, quick witted, and charming. More than that, they need to be able to switch gears between the Parker and the Spidey roles seamlessly. It’s a tough order, so let’s look at the best of the short list of actors named so far for the role:
- Logan Lerman: a solid actor, able to perform comedy, action, drama and is well versed in the green screen process. He has made a couple of large budget franchise films, the Percy Jackson series, but also can make a splash in smaller, more personal films such as the Perks of Being a Wallflower. If you doubt his acting prowess, check out Fury and watch him hold his own with an incredible ensemble cast which included Brad Pitt. I think Logan could pull it off, but in the end he feels like a safe choice. Also, I find him better in more personal roles. Bottom line, I would not be upset if he were cast as Peter Parker.
- Asa Butterfield: the alledged front runner. He has had a very prolific career, starring in such films as the Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Hugo, and Ender’s Game. He has done drama and action well, and although he is from the United Kingdom, he has shown that he can pull of a good Americanized accent. He’s got a great smile and he certainly looks young. My only major concern with Asa, is can he pull off the comedy and attitude that comes with being Spider-Man? His Peter would likely be aces, but I’m having a difficult time seeing him as Spider-Man. His casting would have me somewhat concerned, if only because he would be a lot like Tobey Maguire: a good actor cast in a role he wasn’t a perfect fit for.
- Tom Holland: by some accounts he is the man running neck and neck with Asa. Tom is bit of a wild card, he doesn’t have near as much film experience as other candidates, but even still he is versatile. He has done theatre for years, and put in a powerful performance in the film The Impossible, so the potential is there. I honestly don’t know much about the actor, nor his body of work. If he were cast, I would certainly start checking his handful of films out to see what he’s all about.
- Nat Wolff: his name has been tossed out there quite a bit too. Nat is a bit of an everyman, actor, musician, writer, and more. He has a robust career in TV and had a very successful role in the Fault in Our Stars. He’s charming, goofy, and loveable. He’s a bit of a dark horse contender, but if selected he might just shock people with his versatility. Potentially a good match for the title character.
- Dylan O’Brien: another actor who has alledgedly been offered the coveted role. Dylan, much like Tom Holland doesn’t have a very large resume. He has been in every season of the TV series Teen Wolf, had a brief role in the internship and a starring role in the Maze Runner. The good news is that each of those roles put him in a good position to play Peter Parker. Dylan has done action, comedy, drama and horror. On top of that, Dylan has shown a propensity for playing nerdy characters in a relatable and endearing way. He has an all round Peter Parker/Spider-Man presence and would do well in the role. Of all the above listed actors, Dylan seems the most ideal to play Spidey and Petey.
In the end, you want the best of both worlds, and that’s why I’m choosing Dylan O’Brien as my preferred choice to play Spider-Man. He’s a good rising talent that has nowhere to go but up, and Marvel/Sony would be wise to scoop him up now and lock him in for a long term contract.
Marvel is truly hitting all the right notes with their casting, and I have confidence that whoever they choose will make sense when we finally see them on screen. It’ll be interesting to see how this all turns out, but just in case it wasn’t clear beforehand: go team Dylan!