It took Hollywood about half a century to figure out how to bring Spider-Man to the big screen, but ever since it finally happened the beloved hero has been a constant blockbuster presence. We haven’t seen a gap of more than five years without the character being in a movie since the launch of Sam Raimi’s original trilogy back in 2002, and even after 10 adventures from three different iterations people still can’t get enough.
Unfortunately, the history of Spider-Man movies isn’t entirely made of bright spots. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and Spider-Man 2 may be two of the best examples of superhero storytelling in film, but the wall-crawler’s legacy is also besmirched by that eternally cringe-y emo dance sequence in Spider-Man 3, and the overflowing contrivances in the plot of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. There’s a wide spectrum of good and bad – but within that spectrum there is a particular movie that is essentially trapped in the middle and subsequently underrated as a result: Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man.
Why People Dismiss It
For those who don’t remember how things went down about a decade ago, ultimately leading to the creation of the reboot, we’ll provide a quick refresher, as it is key background information. Following the release of Spider-Man 3 (which made a stunning $895 million at the box office), Sam Raimi was all set to start working on what would have been Spider-Man 4, but then behind the scenes conflicts led Raimi to leave and for the sequel to fall apart. Wanting to continue to capitalize on the popularity of the web-slinger, and also not wanting their hold on the character rights to expire, the executives decided the best move would be to just totally start fresh… and that created problem number one for The Amazing Spider-Man.
The prime reason fans are quick to dismiss the film is because what it had to offer was not something that audiences at the time were dying to see: a rehash of Spider-Man’s origins. Though a full decade passed between the release of Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man, people weren’t exactly quick to forget the whole “bitten by a radioactive spider/tragic death of Uncle Ben” bit. The goal was to begin a whole new canon from the ground up, but looking back on the release what really stands out is just how the movie spends half its runtime telling what is only a slightly altered version of a story in which we are well versed.
Adding insult to injury, the purists among comic book fans didn’t take kindly to its attempts to try and set itself apart from its predecessor. The film being developed in the wake of The Dark Knight unfortunately put the words “dark” and “gritty” (two words that really have no justifiable presence in a Spidey movie) on the table, resulting in dimly lit cinematography and predominantly low key colors in the costume. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is also noticeably cooler than Tobey Maguire’s, bizarrely established as a rebel with a skateboard far removed from Midtown High's only professional wallflower, and he’s simply too old to be playing a teenager.
Last, but most definitely not least, is the fact that The Amazing Spider-Man presently exists as the middle child of Spider-Man movies. Theatrically released just a few months after Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, it arrived at was arguably the height of “Why isn’t Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?” chatter, and the fact that Spidey now does swing in the same world inhabited by Iron Man, Captain America, et. al. makes it seem even more insignificant in retrospect (Tom Holland’s version is obviously the younger sibling in this metaphor). Sam Raimi’s trilogy a.k.a. the oldest sibling, will always be remembered for its significance in helping to usher in the modern age of superhero movies. Webb’s film doesn’t have anything like that to cling to.
Why The Amazing Spider-Man Is Underrated
Problematic as The Amazing Spider-Man is (and it is problematic), what you may notice as a common trait among all of the points above is that they can be identified as macro issues – which is to say issues that have more to do with the general existence of the movie rather than the movie itself. Like the proverbial Curly, it’s a victim of circumstance.
Is this to say that all of the blockbuster’s small-scale choices are flawless? Most definitely not. There are definitely script issues (why does he just totally give up searching for Uncle Ben’s killer?) and the idea to put Peter’s parents at the center of a conspiracy is bad enough in the first film before it totally shits the bed in the second. The larger point is that the general profile of The Amazing Spider-Man supersedes its actual content, and there is actually a whole lot to like about the movie – thus making it the most underrated Spider-Man feature.
First and foremost there is Andrew Garfield’s performance, which is delightful and ultimately true to the character. The whole “rebel with a skateboard” issue only actually exists for his pre-bite persona, as that attitude squarely fits with his evolution into the web-slinging superhero. Furthermore, Garfield leans into the beloved humorist side of Spidey when he is under the mask, and he’s able to get genuine laughs as he antagonizes everyone from a car-jacker, to the big bad, Curt Connors a.k.a. The Lizard (Rhys Ifans).
The movie also does a far superior job compared to its predecessor highlighting the technical genius of Peter Parker. Being outfitted with organic web-shooters, Tobey Maguire’s iteration of the character didn’t get a great number of opportunities across three movies to practically demonstrate his impressive intelligence, but Garfield’s web-shooters is just one example of that in The Amazing Spider-Man. While he’s admittedly piggybacking on his father’s work, he stands side by side with Dr. Connors on his regeneration experiment, and you believe it.
Another realignment with comic canon is the re-establishment of Gwen Stacy as Peter’s high school love interest, and Emma Stone takes what could have ended up being a thankless role and gives the character presence and agency. She has a part to play in the third act, utilizing her own intelligence to contribute to the plot to stop The Lizard, and is kept miles away from the “damsel in distress" trope.
Even stylistically there are aspects of the film on which MCU Spider-Man director Jon Watts should take notes. The Amazing Spider-Man was initially designed as a 3D movie, and while there aren’t a whole lot of people who are actually watching it in that format today, some of the choices it demanded in the cinematography still very much work without the aid of specialized glasses, and actually look spectacular. The first person shots are next level, providing the dizzying rush of what it would be like to fly on webs through the streets of New York, and some of the 360 degree camera moves in the swinging sequences are a blast.
It won’t ever rank as one of the best Spider-Man movies, but The Amazing Spider-Man is definitely better than most people give it credit for. If it’s been a minute since you’ve last watched it, you may be surprised to see how it’s changed in a new context.
The Best Way To Watch The Amazing Spider-Man
Should you decided to try and revisit the underrated The Amazing Spider-Man, the good news is that there are many options for you to go with. The movie can be purchased physically on Blu-ray and DVD in addition to being available on digital platforms. It’s also currently streaming on Hulu+Live TV and Sling TV.
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NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.