Looking Back: Marc Webb's Two 'Spider-Man' Films Were Less Than 'Amazing'
by Dan Marcus
July 7, 2017
When a movie has the word "amazing" in the title, it comes with certain expectations. For The Amazing Spider-Man movies, however, they often failed to live up to their title. After Sam Raimi decided not to try to leave the franchise on a high note making Spider-Man 4, Sony and Columbia fast-tracked their plans to reboot Spider-Man. The response was mixed. After all, Spider-Man 3 had just come out a couple years before. Was a reboot needed so soon? That didn't stop the studio, however. The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, would revisit the origin story over two muddled films, star Andrew Garfield & Emma Stone and would be directed by 500 Days of Summer helmer Marc Webb. In the last installment of our Spider-Man retrospective series in anticipation of Spider-Man: Homecoming arriving, let's take a look at how Marc Webb's Amazing Spider-Man movies were, unfortunately, less than amazing.
After the negative reception to Spider-Man 3, which I tackled in my last editorial, Sam Raimi was eager to leave the series on a high note. He understood where he went wrong and wanted to right the ship. He had planned to come back to direct the fourth film in the series, once again starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane. However, after Raimi was unsatisfied with the progress of the script and was unsure if it would be ready by the time filming would commence, he left the project. Raimi's departure marked the end of his Spidey 'verse, but Sony and Columbia already had backup plans. They were going to reboot the Spider-Man franchise, with Zodiac screenwriter James Vanderbilt already writing a script for what would become the second Spider-Man origin story in ten years: The Amazing Spider-Man.
Marc Webb, who made a name for himself directing the indie smash hit 500 Days of Summer, beat out several contenders to direct. Andrew Garfield was cast as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, hot off the runaway success of The Social Network. Garfield beat out many young actors vying for the role, including Logan Lerman and Michael Angarano. Emma Stone was cast as Gwen Stacy, and the supporting cast included Martin Sheen as Ben Parker, Sally Field as Aunt May, Denis Leary as Gwen's father Captain Stacy, and Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Connors aka The Lizard. The film had all of the right ingredients for a successful reboot, with a talented director at the helm and an esteemed cast in front of the camera. When the filmed opened on July 3rd, 2012 it was met with decent acclaim from critics, resulting in a 72% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and ended up with $760 million at the worldwide box office. However, the film was considered something of a disappointment. How does $760 million and decent reviews equate to "disappointment"?
Well, for one, The Amazing Spider-Man was a film not many people asked for. 2002's Spider-Man was still seen by many as a definitive account of Spidey's origins. It was also considered a huge success, generating two very successful sequels. In order to differentiate this Amazing reboot from the original Sam Raimi films, Webb and the studio opted for a darker tone. The tone was less reminiscent of Raimi's trilogy, and more similar to the tone adopted by Christopher Nolan for his Batman trilogy. The tone and style of Raimi's films were often deemed one of the series' highlights, so many fans weren't so excited for a gritty reboot of a film many still had fond memories of. Which meant right out of the gate The Amazing Spider-Man was battling apathetic fan interest and was coming off the coattails of a series that was still fresh in many fans' minds.
The other problem is that The Amazing Spider-Man covers much of the same ground as Raimi's original. There's a moment where Martin Sheen's Uncle Ben is talking to Peter about responsibility, and you can tell the writers wanted to use the popular phrase "with great power comes great responsibility", but they also wanted to avoid it out of fear of rehashing the same material. Unfortunately, The Amazing Spider-Man does exactly that, rehashing much of the same material from Raimi's original and not nearly doing it as well. It doesn't change enough to warrant its existence, which is probably the film's biggest sin. After I left the theater when The Amazing Spider-Man ended, I kept on asking myself and my friends if the film was even necessary. We kept on coming up with "no." If the Raimi films had not existed, The Amazing Spider-Man might be remembered differently. It's actually a decent film, but as a result of living in Sam Raimi's shadow it can't help but feel hollow.
The film does try to add in new elements in order to differentiate itself, however. The film's writers tried to separate their films from Raimi's by introducing characters that he opted not to include in his films: Peter's parents Richard and Mary Parker. In the comics, Richard and Mary were spies who disappeared when Peter was young. The marketing for The Amazing Spider-Man advertised the film as "The Untold Story" (see image above), however many important parts of that storyline were exorcised from the final cut of the film. The studio thought the storyline shouldn't be resolved in the first film, choosing rather to save certain moments to be expounded upon in a sequel. That left many plot threads dangling by a web, hindering the film rather than helping it. These moments were cut late in the post-production process as well, meaning several storylines that were hinted at in the trailers were simply left on the cutting room floor.
When the sequel, titled The Amazing Spider-Man 2, picked up those dangling story threads two years later (opening on May 2nd, 2014), director Marc Webb and the studio opted for a different tone. After fans and audiences somewhat criticized the first film for its bleak and gritty feel, a lighter tone and aesthetic was adopted. Sony was also trying to mirror the shared universe of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so they decided to introduce several new characters and plot threads that were going to be explored in future spin-offs and sequels. Dane DeHaan joined the cast as Harry Osborn, Chris Cooper cameoed as Harry's father Norman, and Jamie Foxx was cast as the film's primary villain Electro.
The result is an expensive superhero movie that is muddled with convoluted storylines, overstuffed with too many characters and featuring a tone that is all over the place. Jamie Foxx's Electro feels like he jumped right out of Batman Forever, spouting some truly terrible one-liners and featuring powers that either go unexplained or just appear for the sake of the story. Harry's friendship with Peter is rushed, and his quest for Spider-Man's blood feels ripped right out of another middling sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness. Which is the only thing that really makes sense about the film, as the film was co-written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the screenwriters behind Into Darkness and some of the worst Transformers sequels. The film tries to shoehorn in so many different, conflicting elements that it makes The Amazing Spider-Man 2 one of the most schizoid sequels in recent memory.
This sequel is somewhat saved, like the first film, by Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone's magnetic and charming chemistry. If Marc Webb did anything right, it was to cast Garfield and Stone in these key roles. Garfield has that angsty, fumbling teenager down pat. Stone is perfection as Gwen Stacy, with the right amount of spunk and earnestness to never feel grating. It helps that Garfield and Stone were dating at the time the films were made, and that chemistry translates to these movies better than anything from the screenplays ever did. Garfield is also a wonderful Spider-Man, embodying the character's signature wit with ease. For all the film's faults (and the film has many), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 nails Spider-Man's charm and his acrobatics with definite ease. The costume is also perfect, and with Garfield's performance it results in the best live-action depiction of Spider-Man yet.
However, Garfield and Stone's chemistry wasn't enough to save these films. The film garnered some truly terrible reviews – to date the worst out of any Spidey movie – and also continued the franchise's streak of diminishing returns, earning $709 million at the worldwide box office. Even though making $700 million worldwide is pretty good for any movie, for Sony and Columbia it wasn't good enough for a Spider-Man movie. Plans for an eventual third film were scrapped, as were the studio's plans to spin-off The Sinister Six co-starring some of the villains from the first two films. Andrew Garfield has gone on record saying how much the failure of the films bothered him, calling the missed opportunities "absolutely devastating." It eventually lead to Sony partnering up with Marvel Studios to make Spider-Man: Homecoming, a rare case of corporate synergy. The joint affair seems to have worked, with Homecoming receiving some of the best reviews (so far) of the franchise since Spider-Man 2.
While both of Webb's Amazing Spider-Man movies are often considered a disappointment, they do present a valuable lesson to studios and executives. Even if you have a popular character with great potential, it doesn't mean you have to squander that potential with needless world-building. These films failed for several reason – coming way too soon after Raimi's films, for one – but the studio's incessant need to set up future storylines, characters and spin-offs ended up backfiring. In an ironic twist of fate, Homecoming is earning early praise because it is doing exactly the opposite of that, not focusing on world building but instead just focusing on telling a good story. With Universal's reboot of The Mummy tanking this summer, putting their whole planned "Dark Universe" shared universe into doubt, it reinforces this simple strategy more than ever: First and foremost, just focus on telling a good story.
It looks like Kevin Feige, Sony Pictures, and director Jon Watts realized exactly that and simply told a good story about Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Feige has mentioned that Spider-Man will possibly have a leading role in "Phase 4", so it will be interesting to see how he progresses as a character moving forward. Hopefully Marvel Studios doesn't fall into the same traps that plagued the Amazing Spider-Man films. While the films themselves were less than amazing, they presented an important learning experience for those in charge making these movies. Spider-Man will always have rabid fans all over the world, but for now it appears Spidey has swung home and his homecoming couldn't have come at a better time.
So what do you think? Were both of The Amazing Spider-Man films truly disappointing?