In 2007, the Spider-Man franchise was dead and buried. Spider-Man 3 was a financial success, but fans and critics hated it. For superhero aficionados, it may have felt like deja vu. The same thing had happened in 1997 when Batman and Robin tanked the superhero movie genre and put the Caped Crusader out of business for almost a decade.
Spider-Man 3 wasn’t quite as destructive. The superhero genre took a hit, but one year later it came roaring back to life with Iron Man and The Dark Knight, but it took five long years for Sony to get Peter Parker back on track — and it only happened that fast to avoid the rights to the character from swinging back to Marvel.
The result was The Amazing Spider-Man, which premiered on July 4, 2012. Directed by Marc Webb fresh off his indie hit (500) Days of Summer, which has since been reevaluated less favorably by many, the reboot set out to do to Spider-Man what Christopher Nolan had done to Batman. Unfortunately, Sony learned all the wrong lessons from The Dark Knight.
Spider-Man vs. Batman
Batman, and all the heroes and villains from the DC Universe, are more mythos than characters. Marvel is different. From the beginning, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Peter Parker to be relatable human being first and foremost. The mythos comes second.
As a result, almost any time the comics try to take Spider-Man down a dark road, it’s an enormous disaster. If you feel like torturing yourself, check out the Todd McFarlane run or The Sins of the Past saga. (The one possible exception may be Kraven’s Last Hunt.)
The same thing happened in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 when producer Avi Arad forced the director to include fan-favorite villain Venom. The story takes a bizarrely dark and gritty turn that undercuts the perfect equilibrium of comedy, slice-of-life, teenage drama, and tragedy that defined Raimi’s first two movies.
Unfortunately, The Amazing Spider-Man embraces the dark and gritty from the beginning. A somber tone suffocates the film with imposed gravitas. Andrew Garfield still shines as Peter Parker and Emma Stone is perfect as Gwen Stacy, but the plot is a mess of Oscorp conspiracies that don’t do the franchise any favors.
Ultimately, The Amazing Spider-Man commits an unforgivable sin. If everything is dark and there is no light, the dramatic moments (Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy, etc) have no impact. Spider-Man works when it's tragic because it contrasts with the lighthearted web-slinger at the heart of the story.