Amazing Spider-Man: The Wall Crawler’s Footnote
Sam Raimi made history with his trilogy of Spiderman films. The first codified how to make a superhero movie. The second is an all-time great film, with a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize winner, Michael Chabon. The third was a hot mess, but it sure wasn’t boring. Then Marc Webb swung onto the scene, directing two Spidey flicks that will be largely forgotten. Despite the flak they get, the first Amazing Spider-Man is not a bad film. The sequel though is one of the worst superhero movies ever made. So what happened with the forgotten Spider-Man movies?
Andrew Garfield’s Trash Talking Wall Crawler
Even the detractors of the ASM movies usually admit that the cast is pretty good. Andrew Garfield wasn’t the earnest sniveling nerd that Tobey Maguire brought to the part. He was a lot like the Peter Parker of the comics. He was believably an awkward high school kid, but also pulled off Spidey’s sense of humor in a way Maguire never did.
The supporting cast was just as good. Emma Stone was fantastic as Gwen Stacy, and the role catapulted her from fan-favorite to bona fide star. Casting Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May was inspired. Rhys Ifans was underwritten as the Lizard, but he brought a lot to the role.
Amazing was certainly not the classic that the earlier Raimi movies were, but it was cute. Stone and Garfield had real chemistry, enhanced by their actual on-set romance. The Lizard’s evil plan was goofy but no sillier than Doc Ock’s plan to build an artificial sun because his artificially intelligent tentacles told him to. The movie had the right tone and a lot of charm. Where Raimi took his influences from the Silver Age 60s, Webb looked to Seth MacFarlane’s 1980s art and Brian Michael Bendis’s original run on “Ultimate Spider-Man” for his dweeby skater boy aesthetics.
Plus there was that crane scene. Cheesy? Undeniably. But it’s one of my favorite instances of New Yorkers rallying around the wall-crawling menace, a staple of a good Spidey flick.
Then the second film happened. The Same charming cast, same cutesy director, but the movie was the hottest of messes. It did everything wrong.
Let’s start with Electro. In the comics, Matt Dillon is a blue collar shmo with endless elemental abilities. In the movies, he was just a weirder take on Doctor Octopus, but looking like Doctor Manhattan. The movie killed off Green Goblin in his first appearance then turned his son Harry into the Goblin in one of the last scenes. The death of Gwen Stacy- a storyline so powerful it singlehandedly ended the Silver Age of comics, was simultaneously broadcast from a mile away, and not foreshadowed at all, a disaster that’s so awful, it’s impressive. On top of that, Amazing Spider-Man 2 never felt like a movie; it was a commercial for future movies that will never get made.
So who’s at fault here? I lay the blame at the feet of screenwriter Alex Kurtzman. He’s repeated this disastrous film structure on at least two other universally despised projects: Star Trek Into Darkness and the recent The Mummy. All of these films feature magic blood as a weak plot device and are less about the movie you’re watching than the movies to come. ASM2 loves to awkwardly shoehorn characters into scenes and easter eggs into backgrounds with breathtaking awkwardness. The actual movie is broad and boring. It’s a dumpster fire of a screenplay.
The Webb of Life
With a new superhero movie coming out practically every month, these Spidey flicks are destined to be forgotten. Like the MCU entry The Incredible Hulk, the movies offended a lot of people when they came out, but the ship was quickly righted and everyone moved on. Spider-Man: Homecoming seems to be what fans want to see, no one wants to linger on these movies.
That is the kiss of death. People remember true disasters. We still talk about Star Trek Into Darkness. Batman V Superman will be debated until the end of time. Amazing Spider-Man 2 is arguably worse than either of those movies, but in a few years, no one will care. That’s because it’s less of a movie than something more disposable: a commercial.
It’s a shame that Webb’s adequate first entry will forever be marred by the weight of everything that came after.