In Defense of the Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man movies aren’t very good.  The plots don’t make a lot of sense, the events themselves are really weird and strained, and some of the acting is just really terrible.  That said, I feel like they aren’t as bad as everyone says they are.

Yesterday, ‘Movie Bob’ Chipman released a video on a thought experiment where he imagined how Spider-Man would be introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe if he were in charge (along with the requisite disclaimers about how well it has done and what likely implications the franchise would face were he or somebody like him in charge and given total creative control).  That said, it’s a fun video with some neat ideas and I really dig these fantasy booking shows (WhatCulture Wrestling has a bunch of great ones if you’re a wrestling fan).  Like Movie Bob, I concur that any observations on changes to the existing lore doesn’t dismiss the excellence of how Tom Holland looks to be in Spider-Man: Homecoming.  Movie Bob’s thought experiment is just a fun idea and, likewise, this is just a rebuttal on one point.

Anyway, Movie Bob spent more than a second extolling the virtues of the Sam Raimi trilogy while bashing the Amazing Spider-Man series.  And he’s certainly not wrong.  The Sam Raimi Trilogy is superior in many regards, but I would argue not all regards.

First, I think Andrew Garfield is a better actor than Tobey Maguire.  It’s not that I think Maguire is bad at all, quite the opposite.  I say this as praise to Andrew Garfield, not disdain for Maguire.  I think Garfield also better approached my idea of Peter Parker.  Maquire didn’t affect a socially awkward nerdiness that I felt Garfield achieved.  It wasn’t helped that the instant I saw Topher Grace cast as Eddie Brock in Spider-Man 3, the rest of the franchise was retroactively marred for me by realizing how much better I think Topher Grace would have been than both of them.  But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

While we’re talking about the sheer casting, I think the Amazing Spider-Man duo had stronger supporting performances.  With all due respect to Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson – who were FANTASTIC – I think Sally Fields and Martin Sheen were equally well-cast and brought different but equally fantastic spins on their respective characters.  While Cliff Robertson’s death in Spider-Man may have been more canonical, I loved the variant spin (no pun intended) given to Martin Sheen’s scene in Amazing Spider-Man.

Kirsten Dunst versus Emma Watson is largely personal preference, but just personally speaking, I never felt like Dunst LIKED Mary-Jane.  I never felt like her heart was in it (though her ‘phoning it in’ is still stellar).  Emma Watson, on the other hand, seemed to at least be having fun with her role as Gwen Stacy.  Plus, Garfield and Watson just have better chemistry than Maquire and Dunst.  And with all due respect to James Cromwell, Denis Leary is a much better Captain Stacy.  Even little roles like Flash Thompson seemed to be a little bit more lifelike in the Amazing series.  Joe Manganiello in the Raimi Trilogy did fine, but Chris Zylka’s more human and humane version resonated with me better.

I’ll also give the casting in the Sam Raimi Trilogy to James Franco.  While I like Dane DeHaan a lot, I didn’t feel his performance was anything but a let-down.  Likewise, while I like Rhys Ifans in general, Dylan Baker was better cast for the role of Curt Conners.  I didn’t particularly care for the Green Goblin’s general presentation in the Raimi Trilogy, but I’ll give it to Willem Dafoe for…well, being Willem Dafoe.  That boy doesn’t halfway do anything.  Alfred Molina as Doc Oc, I could take or leave.  He was more than fine but he didn’t leave me with much of a lasting impression.  Additionally, Jamie Foxx’s Electro made very little sense and Paul Giamatti’s Rhyno was barely even a cameo.  Topher Grace was distracting as Eddie Brock because, again, I felt he was criminally miscast (though he did a fine job) and Thomas Haden Church was almost uncomfortably brilliant as the Sandman.

And please, let’s not even pretend JK Simmons as J Jonah Jameson isn’t one of the greatest casting jobs in cinema history.

Casting preferences aside, I also tended to prefer Amazing Spider-Man’s depiction of characters.  Peter Parker’s little quirks of being spider-like (eating flies, sleeping in a sunroof, etc) were beyond fun and were a really interesting development of the character.  I feel Garfield brought a fidgety anxiousness to the character that, whether meant to be spider-like or just teenage restlessness, felt very genuine to me.  Likewise did Spider-Man spinning his webs throughout the sewer, and then him playing a mobile game on his phone.  Little things like that I found tremendously endearing.  Maguire, by comparison, felt very stiff.  Garfield’s Spider-Man also captured the character’s humor.  Even the vastly superior (and very excellent) Spider-Man 2 only did a halfway decent job of making Spider-Man witty.

The Amazing Spider-Man movies had better costumes and I feel better action sequences.  The fight with Electro at the end of Amazing Spider-Man 2, while it made no damn sense, was visually excellent and captured Spider-Man’s agility in ways the Raimi Trilogy never managed.  That said, the big set pieces in the Raimi Trilogy (like saving the train in Spider-Man 2) were much better delivered.  Swinging from crane to crane in the Amazing Spider-Man just felt painfully forced.

So yeah.  I think the Amazing Spider-Man movies are underrated.  They aren’t good per say, so I tend to put them on par with the original X-Men or Batman Forever.  Hardly required viewing but still having merit.  I feel like they are significantly more flawed than the Raimi Trilogy, but yet also seem a little bit more fun.  I don’t consider them the mar on the franchise or comic book movies in general that others do (and definitely don’t consider them even close to the awful of Man of Steel or Dawn of Justice).

This isn’t to say I disagree with Movie Bob’s idea on how to introduce Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (sounded great!).  Nor do I think the Amazing Spider-Man movies should have been the ones to be added instead.  I just think the Amazing Spider-Man series deserves more credit and less heat than it gets.  If you’ve avoided these two movies become some reviewers denounce them (and not incorrectly), maybe give them a try.  You might be surprised.

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Author: Robert V Aldrich

Author. Speaker. Cancer Researcher. Martial Artist. Illustrator. Cat dad. Nerd.

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