The Best-Cast Spider-Man Never Stood A Chance

Andrew Garfield deserved better.

Andrew Garfield in 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'
Sony Pictures

In the aftermath of The Avengers’ industry-changing success in 2012, Marvel Studios’ competitors suddenly felt a real pressure to build cinematic universes of their own. DC famously rushed into theirs by following up 2013’s fairly straightforward Man of Steel with the overstuffed Justice League prelude, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Warner Bros. was, however, beaten to its many superhero miscalculations by Sony.

The studio’s efforts to build an entire cinematic universe out of just Spider-Man characters have prompted many passionate responses and memes from fans over the years. At no point have Sony’s misguided superhero franchise ambitions been quite as frustrating, though, as when The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was released. Time hasn’t been particularly kind to the Marc Webb-directed film, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this week. Its flaws remain as apparent as ever, but so do its strengths, of which there are more than the film’s reputation would suggest.

Revisiting it, one can’t help but get the sense that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 may rank as one of the biggest and most tragically missed opportunities in superhero movie history.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has all the hallmarks of a bad superhero film. It has too many villains (Electro, Green Goblin, and — somehow — the Rhino), a wildly inconsistent tone, and a screenplay that is so overstuffed with subplots and Easter eggs that almost none of its storylines are allowed to accumulate any depth. It’s a film that caps off its third act by bouncing straight from a cartoonish fight between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Electro (Jamie Foxx) to the genuinely gut-wrenching, tragic fate of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) at the hands of Peter’s best friend-turned-rival, Harry Osborn (a wildly miscast, perpetually sneering Dane DeHaan). In case all of that wasn’t enough, it also tries to pack in an unnecessary conspiracy involving Peter’s dead parents and a teaser for a future, live-action Sinister Six team-up that would never come to fruition.

In between all of The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s numerous issues, though, there are flashes of brilliance. For starters, Andrew Garfield is astonishing as Spider-Man. He beautifully balances the character’s loneliness and scrappy, sarcastic fighting spirit, and his and Stone’s onscreen chemistry grounds the film in enough humanity and relatable romance to make Gwen’s eventual demise still hit with considerable force. As far as this writer is concerned, the film’s midpoint argument between Garfield’s Peter and Sally Field’s Aunt May, in which they confront each other about the unanswered questions of his parents’ disappearances, also ranks high as one of the most well-acted scenes of any superhero movie. (To this day, it’s hard not to get chills when May lashes out at Peter, exclaiming, “I don’t know how to do this without Ben, and you’re dreaming about your perfect father who was never here!”)

While Marc Webb may have always been destined, much like Sam Raimi was on Spider-Man 3, to be steamrolled by The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s franchise-hungry producers, he does pull off some breathtaking stylistic flourishes throughout the movie. Peter’s opening chase through New York City is stylish and alive with a kind of madcap energy that’s hard to come by in the world of modern superhero filmmaking. His desperate clocktower battle with Harry is also taut and dread-inducing, and it climaxes with a moment of stomach-churning tragedy. It is, additionally, difficult to think of a moment in any other superhero movie that more beautifully or elegantly communicates the depth of a character’s grief than when Webb uses a few simple cuts to show Peter standing in front of Gwen’s grave across multiple seasons — never changing position or moving on.

Andrew Garfield’s performance as Peter Parker still has yet to be topped.

Sony Pictures

Thanks to his scene-stealing return in Spider-Man: No Way Home, everyone now knows just how well-cast Andrew Garfield was as Peter Parker. The strength of his take on the character is present in both of his original Spider-Man films, though, which ultimately crumbled beneath the weight of their producers’ unrealistic expectations. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, in particular, had everything it needed to be great. Having moved on from its hero’s well-worn origin story, the film had the chance to fully flesh out the inner life and world of Garfield’s Peter, as well as pay off the seeds of heartbreak that had been planted in his and Gwen’s love story from the very beginning.

Instead, Sony chose to bury all of The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s best and most promising elements under its nonsensical franchise ambitions. Along the way, one of the most committed and lived-in performances in superhero movie history got lost in the shuffle. If that isn’t tragic, then what is?

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is available to stream now on Netflix and Disney+.

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