To kick things off, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” gave shape to our wildest fantasies. While the rumor was in the air for a long time, it was too good to be true. Yet, Marvel Studios made the whole thing even more remarkable by showing the three Spider-Men interacting with each other and fighting the villains in coordination, in other words, as a team.
However, there is a lot more to the Spider-Men than their interactions. Each of them has had different experiences in their separate timelines and has evolved in different ways. Thus, despite being Spider-Man, each of them is quite different from the other two. Let’s talk about them one universe at a time.
We begin with Raimi’s Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire). Raimi’s approach to the character was the most comic-driven of the three. Or, maybe it felt so because it was the first time we saw the web-crawler on the big screen. Tobey Maguire as Peter still brings back a lot of memories from childhood, doesn’t it? That’s how strong its impact was.
Throughout the three movies, we see Peter grow, both as himself and as Spider-Man. In Spider-Man (2002), we see him become Spider-Man and explore his powers. In Spider-Man 2 (2004), we see him undergo a “web-block,” or an existential crisis, where he loses his powers (but regains them later). In Spider-Man 3 (2006), Peter realizes that he has a dark side too.
Tobey’s Peter is perhaps the most developed in the sense that his dark side is rooted in his inability to save his Uncle Ben and the rage that results from it. This very rage is the reason why the Venom symbiote latches onto him, feeding on all that rage. And after Peter is able to get rid of it, he finally lets go of his rage, forgiving Flint Marko. He is also more developed in terms of his age and position in society. He goes to college and works at the Daily Bugle newspaper agency as a part-time photographer. In Spider-Man 2, we see him delivering pizzas as well. All this is so that he can help his aunt May run their home.
Tobey’s Peter Parker has also been through a lot in his relationships, be it family, friendship, or love. He lost his best friend Harry, he went through lots of ups and downs with Mary Jane, and there was the fundamental death of Uncle Ben.
Coming to Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), the first in the TASM franchise, the movie brought about a new rendition of Peter becoming Spider-Man. Andrew Garfield put on the new suit. Andrew’s Spider-Man doesn’t really undergo what Tobey does, an existential crisis or a dark self.
In TASM 2 (2014), we see him at his graduation ceremony. So he is yet to earn a living. However, Andrew’s Peter loses not just his Uncle but also the love of his life, Gwen Stacy, something that Tobey’s Peter doesn’t. What adds to his pain, and ours, further is the fact that he wasn’t able to keep his word to Gwen’s father. Plus, there is a deleted scene in TASM 2 where Peter’s father returns. If we consider this, then Andrew’s Peter is hurt, but he also finds a different kind of solace in his father’s return. But this isn’t enough to bring Peter out of the pain of Gwen’s absence. There is a possibility of Andrew’s return in TASM 3 after the immense success of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” but it is highly unlikely for his father to make a return. So, we may see him face Venom or, better still, become Black Spider-Man due to his rage and pain from Gwen’s death, the same pain that led him to stop pulling punches (as he mentions in “Spider-Man: No Way Home”).
Fast forward, and we have the MCU Spider-Man. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker has a totally different origin story. Yes, he does get bitten by a spider, but between this and him making his first true Spider-Man suit, events from six movies have occurred. And Peter has seriously been through a lot, perhaps a lot more than both Tobey’s Peter and Andrew’s Peter. He doesn’t have a job. He has lost his father-figure, Tony Stark, who contributed a lot to his development and growth as a teenage superhero. He has “fought an alien in space,” which is something not many teenagers have done. And in the course of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” he loses his aunt May. It is at the very end of the film that he creates his own proper Spider-Man suit, rents a room, and becomes the full-fledged friendly neighborhood that we have all come to know from the comics. So, as we see, all three Spider-Men have shared links, but their developments are different from each other.
Another aspect that is crucial to their development, besides their own lives, is the villains they face. Each of these villains results from some sort of inability to prove themselves worthy or from their helplessness. In Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, both Norman Osborn and Doctor Otto Octavius suffer from a lack of self-worth. While Osborn felt that his peers couldn’t grasp his sacrifices for Ocsorp, Octavius wanted to grab hold of the power of the sun and prove his intelligence to the world. In Webb’s TASM movies, Dr. Curt Connors’s feeling of failure is what leads him to inject the compound into his own blood. Harry Osborn also injects the spider venom and risks losing his human self because of his helplessness at not being able to save himself from dying due to the Osborn Curse, i.e., Retroviral Hypo-dysplasia or Goblin’s disease. After becoming Electro, Max Dillon lets out his dormant anger for being ignored the way he was. So the arcs of the villains do have some aspects in common, despite being so visually different and unique.
Finally, the powers come. All three Spider-Men have super strength, agility, and spider-sense. It is just the age difference that will make one good, one better, and one best in their fluidity of movement and the precision of their senses. As far as the web is concerned, Tobey’s Peter was the most unrealistic, despite being more relatable. Somehow, Tobey’s Peter’s ability to make webs in his body still looks as cool as it did then, and it doesn’t seem out of place at all. And we don’t have the right to judge him for spinning webs out of wrists if we can nod to Tom Holland’s suit with more than 576 web-shooter combinations, right? But before getting the combinations, Tom’s Peter had built web-shooters all by himself, and so did Andrew’s.
Thus, we can say that the three Spider-Men, belonging to three different universes, have common powers and villains that somewhat share their arcs. But what makes them unique is their lives as Peter Parker. And it is the character of Peter Parker that lends Spider-Man his identity, one that makes him so relatable. After all, there is a reason why he is known as our friendly neighborhood.
So, the thing that is of significance is the age at which they arrive. Tobey and Andrew appear to arrive from their respective universes in real-time. This is why they have aged. Tobey’s Peter seems to be married to Mary Jane, whereas Andrew’s Peter is still coping with the loss of Gwen. We don’t know how it happened that they arrived in real-time while the villains arrived just before their deaths. But imagine bringing in Tobey in his half-dead state, with his mask torn due to the explosion of the pumpkin bomb right in front of his face, and bringing Andrew in just when he is about to save Gwen. That would indeed be regretful. So, here we are, with both of them trying to move forward in life. All that they needed was a multiverse boost and the third and final addition to the famous Spider-Man Pointing meme.