Several months ago, Chad and I did a Love & Hate article on the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy, with his representing Love and my representing Hate. It was always intended that we would follow up with a joint article on the Andrew Garfield Amazing Spider-Man flicks with our roles reversed.
But here’s the thing… neither of us are as passionate about these movies as we are with our feelings on the original trilogy. So it just kept getting pushed back… and back… and back. Until we felt like putting something together for it, but that moment never came.
But the thing is… there is a new MCU/Sony joint Spider-Man venture coming out soon, and it seems timely that this should wrap. So I have decided to strike out alone and give my somewhat two-sided thoughts on the Garfield Spideys myself.
I will say that while I obviously enjoyed the Amazing Spider-Man movies vastly more than the O.G. Maguire ones, they were hardly without fault, and they have paled in comparison to the MCU’s and Tom Hollands’s handling of Peter Parker. There were some holdover tropes from the Maguire films that caused me to groan, most notably in the ridiculously maudlin handling of the love story of each franchise, which often left our arachnid hero a conflicted, confusing, sappy mess. Both films took far too much glee in manufacturing absurd reasons why Peter and [Mary Jane / Gwen] couldn’t be together (until they could) in the wake of an old guy’s death (be it Norman Osborn or Captain Stacy). Each movie treated its romantic lead angle as if it was a game of ping-pong, incessantly bouncing from side-to-side and leaving the audience unmoved as to how it ended. Watching beautiful people bemoan whether or not they love each other over two-to-three movies is tedious!
Additionally, each movie gave us the cheesy Come Together moment where some New Yorkers banded together to assist the webbed hero. Whether it was throwing debris at the Green Goblin or an extremely heavy-handed Christ allegory in the Raimi movies, or the forced and silly coordinated cranes scene in Amazing Spider-Man, none of these were handled with much tact and were just forced in to speed the viewer through the city’s complicated relationship with its superhero. Unnecessary moments that were not organic and should have been omitted, one and all.
Then there is Amazing Spider-Man 2, and I’ll be honest… It’s the only Spidey movie I only watched once. Not because I disliked it; I just never got back around to it. Maybe I’ll watch it again today just to spite you! But I definitely recall Jamie Foxx’s ham-fisted performance as Max Dillon and the horrible Green Goblin look for Harry Osborn being low points.
That said, for all their problems, Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield’s efforts never felt like they were humiliating me for enjoying comic books, and their cinematic effects (both practical and CG) weren’t an absolute dumpster fire that were embarrassing to watch within a year or two. So right off the bat, there are two huge plusses over the Maguire/Raimi films!
I’m just going to come out and say it: whereas the quality of storytelling in the ASM movies may not have been a substantial improvement over the trilogy, the casting and acting were off-the-scales superior. There is an argument to be made that each major cinematic casting and take on Spider-Man was based on a different era, with Maguire being the Steve Ditko-inspired hero (nerdy and unassuming), Garfield as the John Romita version of the hero (charming and handsome), and Tom Holland as the Brian Michael Bendis iteration (younger and funnier). But I feel the Maguire casting missed the mark. He came across more as a man-baby than anything else, and aside from the maligned Spider-Man 3 where he got to play with a dark side, he was boring and nondescript at his best. When he wasn’t ugly-crying and being a mopey brat, he was just… there. There was no joy to his performance. You would never get the sense that Spider-Man was a quippy, entertaining hero with a big personality from the Maguire movies. He was too busy being flat. The Garfield movies got the inherent joy of Spidey right.
Andrew Garfield made the titular hero amusing and life-size! He wasn’t just wallpaper in his own movie, but was, instead, the star he should have been. Maybe the film’s take on Peter as a skateboarding hip kid was somewhat of a miss, but it nailed Spider-Man himself (and I also think that in allowing Peter to design his own web shooters, it did a better job of portraying the secret identity’s aptitude for science). And the movie is, you know, called SPIDER-MAN. Kind of important!
Do we even need to compare Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy to Kirsten Dunst as May Jane Watson? The former was a firecracker of passion and intensity who had brilliant chemistry with the lead and deserved equal-footing. The latter was a one-dimensional damsel-in-distress prize to be won. No comparison! Oddly enough, their characters really should have been reversed; Dunst’s performance was more befitting the bland, barely-there character of the original Gwen Stacy. Stone’s rambunctious, infectious, and determined take is much more reminiscent of the comics’ Mary Jane.
I will cop to one indisputable fact: whereas the ASM era movies showed marked improvement on the primary cast, Raimi’s did an almost unimpeachable job on secondary characters. I mean, JK Simmons alone, right? But aside from him, there was the burgeoning James Franco brooding about, Willem Dafoe chewing 18 movies’ worth of scenery, Rosemary Harris, Alfred Molina, Thomas Hayden Church. So yeah, admittedly aside from Garfield and Stone, the rest of the cast is actually a step down. See? I am fair!
All told, the Amazing Spider-Man movies just felt more competently made to me. There wasn’t a self-congratulatory director shoe-horning in homages to himself. The effects are better in every conceivable way. They didn’t seem to be heckling the source material, but, instead, dove into it and wanted to tell a deeper story about Peter’s parents that casual viewers may never have thought about. It all just felt more polished and more professional to me, and the STARS were the stars, not the secondary and tertiary characters. It’s hard to explain… but while I may not LOVE the Marc Webb movies, I do at least respect their hustle.
And yet, the Tom Holland efforts are the best yet. So at least they kept getting better with every outing! And I’m excited to see what happens in Far From Home!
And who knows? Maybe one day we will get to see Holland, Garfield, and Maguire all face off!