The Amazing Spider-Man was always facing an uphill battle. Marc Webb‘s reboot of cinema’s most iconic superhero franchise came on the heels of an upsetting Spider-Man 4 cancellation and was attempting to establish everyone’s favorite wall-crawler for a whole new breed of teenager. It was never going to please everyone, and it certainly lived up to that expectation. The film debuted in 2012 to a stream of mixed reception, with some praising the Andrew Garfield-led film for its modern take on the title character and others ripping it apart as a hollow recreation of Sam Raimi‘s original masterpiece. Upon yet another rewatch, I’ve discovered that the movie, while flawed, may be more misunderstood than actually all that bad. In fact, it may have been the perfect superhero movie for the generation taking over cinemas when it released, even if hardcore fans missed it at the time.
I couldn’t be more aware of the fact every Spider-Man movie has been reviewed to death. Perhaps it would be better to think of this as a retrospective, just a year shy of The Amazing Spider-Man‘s decennial anniversary. Doing this requires an understanding of 2012’s film landscape. Comic book movies had only just truly reached mainstream popularity, and the highest grossing films at the box office were mostly adaptations of young adult novels. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 had just dominated the cultural hive mind only a year prior to Amazing‘s release, and one of the only movies to outgross the film in its actual release year was The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2. Not far behind was The Hunger Games, and although it wasn’t a money-making juggernaut, The Perks of Being a Wallflower managed to capture the minds of 2012’s teens and critics alike. Before long, theaters would be filled with hormonal youth, cash in hand to see movies like Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars on the big screen.
Sure, The Avengers also came out in 2012. However, the impact that film would have on the future of Hollywood and the format of superhero movies could not have been known when Webb and screenwriter James Vanderbilt were crafting the story and tone of The Amazing Spider-Man. There had to have been a reason Sony hired a director best known for his work with romantic comedies to helm their spider-reboot, and it’s because they were creating a new take on Peter Parker designed to appeal to the same masses who would turn out for Katniss Everdeen and Edward Cullen. In this regard, the studio and creative team succeeded.
Andrew Garfield‘s portrayal of Parker is often knocked for being “too cool” and lackadaisical. Yet, he fits right in with the effortlessly attractive and sullenly charming crowd of early 2010’s protagonists. Garfield‘s Peter is not just angry about his life and the deaths of those he loves, he’s angsty instead. His chemistry with Emma Stone, whose Gwen Stacy is still considered a top-tier rendition of the character, is not only incredibly agreeable to watch, but filled with the same pulpable tension as any forbidden teenage love story. The film presents us with two attractive, intelligent characters teeming with lust, who will continue to battle their own fates in an attempt to truly be with each other. That is the crux of the entire plot, a dramatic romance supporting a story that involves giant lizard men and plenty of spandex.
It’s true that this often leads to moments that conflict with the comic book ideals of Spider-Man’s mythology, but it’s no more or less committed to its own bit than the Raimi films before it. Part of the appeal of The Amazing Spider-Man is the way it so desperately wants to birth its own filter for the wall-crawler’s universe. As much as I love the current Spider-Man entries, they do tend to lack the definitive look and feel that the franchises before them managed to achieve. It’s hard to genuinely insult Amazing for its specifically dark coloring and nearly full-blown emo tone when you consider how unabashedly it doubles down on those things. There is not a corny moment that’s any more or less cheesy than some of the comical scenes in revered adaptations likes Spider-Man 2; the difference is that 2012’s goofball actions and dialogue are written for a different audience than the one seated in 2002. When that 2002’s Spider-Man is taken as the standard, 2012’s becomes a hard pill to swallow.
I’m not saying that this movie is perfect by any means. Rhys Ifans puts together an admirable performance as Dr. Curt Connors, but his work is undermined by poor character development. A side story involving Peter’s parents having mysterious backgrounds feels unnecessary and overcomplicated, taking away from Martin Sheen and Sally Field as the best Uncle Ben and Aunt May we have seen on film. Based on his actions, everyone should have figured out Peter was Spider-Man almost immediately. Yet, beneath all the complaints you’ve heard a million times, there’s actually a superhero movie based in love that’s campy in a way only the early 2010’s could have pulled off.