It's July 2012. Call Me Maybe is the number one song playing on the radio. Marvel Studios' The Avengers came out just two months ago. Now, it's time to watch The Amazing Spider-Man starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. And it's… alright. So alright that you skip the next one, which is probably for the best, because everyone else said that it was awful.
Over time, you mostly forget the movie, except for the fact that, in 2022, you go see the newest Spider-Man movie, and BAM—there's Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker.
So you get just a little bit of an itch to go back and watch The Amazing Spider-Man and see if it's any good 10 years later.
I like Andrew Garfield (and also the Amazing Spider-Man)
Watching The Amazing Spider-Man a decade after it originally premiered is an interesting exercise. I haven't seen the movie since it came out, nor did I watch its sequel in 2014, so this movie and Spider-Man: Far from Home are really the only two times I've come across Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man. And let me say, in just these two iterations and years removed from the first time I watched the movie, I totally love him so much.
Sure, he's a little too handsome, put together, and cool to be the Peter Parker we know and love, but I don't think he or the film are trying to be all that nerdy, nor does Peter Parker need to be nerdy in the context of what this movie is doing. Garfield and Director Marc Webb are trying something different with the character, which, on the other side of this decade and superhero landscape, is a bit more interesting than faithfully sticking to an original concept.
When I first watched The Amazing Spider-Man, I thought it was on the dour side, especially when comparing it to Sam Raimi's Spider-Man or The Avengers (then recent), which changed what felt fresh in a superhero movie. It's interesting that we now have another Sam Raimi movie, Doctor Strange: The Multiverse of Madness to consider as horror-type superhero story. That genre seems like such a natural shift now, but at the time, it definitely felt like a weird choice for a superhero story. Yet, it's the thriller aspects of The Amazing Spider-Man that make it enjoyable to watch.
Woman Teen in the Window (with the Spider powers)
The Amazing Spider-Man is set up like a psychological thriller, during which every little fact that Peter comes across is a potential clue to unravelling a complex mystery that has created Peter Parker's life as he knows it. In between the solving of the big mystery (which adds a new backstory for why Peter was left with Aunt May and Uncle Ben), we get thriller-type scenes to up the tension, that start at the very beginning of the movie, when a little Peter Parker seems to be running from danger, only for it to be revealed that he's playing hide and go seek— only for another reveal to show that he really is in danger.
These high-tension scenes continue throughout the movie, from Spider-Man following the creepy lizards into the sewers to Gwen Stacy hiding from the Lizard in a closet. The danger is everywhere, comes from every angle, and it never quite goes away.
This slightly cynical perspective makes the movie pretty dark, especially in its presentation of how Uncle Ben dies and how it is linked to Peter's behavior, which has a different level of gut punch feel than the death in the 2002 Spider-Man film. There's a nice goriness to that fight between Captain Stacy and the Lizard, and again, there's an ongoing fear, not only about who is coming after you but also about searching for the truth while being a little afraid of what the truth might do to you.
Untangling the web
It's interesting to see what the movie is trying to do by reframing the genre of Spider-Man's story. It brings out some of those aspects of Peter Parker's life that are quite horrific, and re-spins them in a way that mostly seems fresh. Of course, certain things have not held up—like the Lizard's tragic backstory as to why he wants to rid the world of "weakness." There are moments in the movie where the symbolism goes too far—did we really need a shot of the American flag behind those heroic crane operators? Plus, some of the emotional through lines aren't quite filled out, and the ending reversal of Peter's promise about Gwen seems wildly out of character, especially considering the movie we've just seen.
Beyond structure, I wanted another beat or two with the Lizard's change, another beat or two of Dr. Curt Connors feeling guilty about what happened to his former partner—there could have even been a nice thematic tie between that and Peter's role in Uncle Ben's death.
But overall, what the movie is saying about what Spider-Man means, what he symbolizes, and who Peter is as a person through the contrasting scenes of taking off his mask on the bridge to help save the little kid and taking off his mask to Police Chief Stacy, creates a duality of identity that rings more complexly than the underlying tones of the heroism vs. normal life dilemma of the other Spider-Man movies. It doesn't feel like a philosophical dilemma here, but a visceral one. It's not that Spider-Man is just anybody. He is Spider-Man. He is Peter Parker, and the decisions that he makes have a heavy impact on the people around him.
Following that theme, this movie is darker, not for violence's sake, but as a reflection of the reality of the power Spider-Man is dealt. Where it's kind of impossible to imagine Tom Holland's Spider-Man ever making a mistake bad enough to get someone gruesomely killed, that sort of superhero protective bubble doesn't work in this world, which makes Peter Parker's trademark responsibility seem a whole lot weightier. The Amazing Spider-Man is not the best Spider-Man movie, but it is definitely a solid one and a lot more re-watchable than I thought it would be returning to it in 2022. Perhaps it's because, at this point in chain of superhero movies, we want something a little different, a new non-classic, non-fuzzy take, with personal dramas that sting and an interesting new angle through which you can look at the world when you can wake up one day and have your life turned around in the weirdest way.
This is a story that doesn't pull its punches, that makes its hero culpable in the worst way and has him build a new life around his past, not ignoring it, and in that way, it may be the most realistic and human Spider-Man movie made so far.