My friend Jason Edwards and I decided to discuss the disaster that was the Amazing Spider-Man movies. Why were they the worst things to happen to Spider-Man in his whole film career? Let’s find out!
When I first heard that they were not, in fact, going with a Sam Raimi-helmed Spider-Man 4, my reaction was pretty muddled. On one hand, I figured that it was a smart move. Now, I would love another Sam Raimi Spider-Man film because A) I enjoy things that might be disasters, and B) There’s something about Raimi’s goofy, aw shucks earnestness that works for the character. But in 2010, I thought that Raimi’s Spider-Man had run its course.
However, the biggest thing I felt was an overwhelming wave of “This soon? I get that Spider-Man 3 was, for lack of a better phrase, “a mixed bag.” (I will fight whoever says that Spider-Man 3 is one of the worst superhero movies, though. It’s not as unwatchable as Batman Forever, as bland as X-Men 3, or as boring as Superman Returns. It’s a goofy, stupid mess for sure, but even being a goofy, stupid mess puts it in the middle ranks of the superhero genre.) But did we need a reboot of the whole thing? What person is clamoring to watch Spider-Man begin again? What demographic are you talking to, Sony?
How did you feel?
Daniel, my good man, you’re asking me to reach back to the long-forgotten time of 2010, almost a year before we even knew who the villains were going to be in The Dark Knight Rises! This is before we even knew for sure that The Avengers was going to happen. And you want me to lurk back into those murky waters to dredge up my reaction to the news of a new Spider-Man movie? I don’t think I can do it, but using modern technology, I think I can reconstruct what my reaction might have been.
Like most people, I was probably annoyed that this new Spider-Man movie wasn’t going to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; which is a little odd, since at that point the MCU consisted only of one really good movie and one passable movie. But still, the idea of an inter-connected series of superhero movies was, at that time, an exciting, novel idea, and I was (probably) a little disappointed that Spider-Man wasn’t going to be a part of it.
I don’t know when the plot details started to come out, but I can tell you for certain that when I found out that Rhys Ifans had been cast as the Lizard, I went into a period of mourning for Dylan Baker. Poor, poor Dylan Baker. They made that man tuck his arm into his shirt and stand around in a lab coat for two straight movies just so he could play The Lizard, and what do they do to my dude? They Tommy Lee Jones’d him, man. They did him like Joel Schumacher did Billy Dee Williams.
Granted, it’s not the exact same, since Amazing Spider-Man was a hard reboot and it would’ve been weird if someone from the old series just stuck around — but hey, James Bond did it with Judi Dench and no one complained! Well, knowing that fanbase, lots of people probably complained, but that’s not my point.
When the story and characters of Amazing Spider-Man started to take shape, what were you thinking? Like, when the first trailer came out, did that make you feel anything? Anything at all?
As soon as I heard that it was about the mystery with his parents and his Dad’s secrets, I groaned so loudly that I’m sure even Marc Webb heard it. So, Sam Raimi’s series was about a future where Uncle Ben’s death was the important death, and Webb’s series was gonna be the one that was launched by Richard Parker’s death? Okay. That sounds interesting I guess…
I’d always wanted to see The Lizard, because he’s one of my favorites. And Dylan Baker has that kind of face that doesn’t immediately scream “I’M GOING TO BE A VILLAIN IN THIS MOVIE/THE POSSIBLE SEQUEL” like Rhys Ifans has. It would’ve been interesting. To me, Rhys Ifans has always looked like a failed clone of Rhys Ifans that was sent back in time to kill his original self. I know that guy’s going to go on to fight Spider-Man. Hell, Rhys Ifans himself is going to fight Spider-Man somehow, in real life.
The first trailer I remember seeing was the one that ended with the big set piece of that antennae falling down and nearly crushing Spider-Man. I guess I felt…empty? Like “Why is this happening? How is this different?” It wasn’t set in the ’60s, and while a lot of people claimed that the “Amazing” series was going to bring back Peter Parker’s sense of humor, I got none of that from the trailer. He made more jokes, but not enough to be like “THIS is the true Spider-Man. None of that solemn Tobey bullshit.”
On that note, what is your opinion on the “perfect Spidey?” I know that he’s supposed to make jokes, but honestly, that stuff works way better on the comic page or in the cartoons. Making a “goofy” superhero is a really easy way to make an annoying superhero. What did you think of the idea that Andrew Garfield was going to bring the zingers?
I liked it in theory, I guess. “Oh, yeah, Spider-Man is supposed to make jokes while he’s fighting, right? This will… yeah, maybe this will be good.” The fact that Andrew Garfield didn’t have very good comedic delivery wasn’t apparent yet — nor was the fact that the script for this movie was a giant pile of trash — but I thought it could be a nice change from the Raimi movies. They were funny in their own Sam Raimi-way, but that shot of Spider-Christ being lifted up by the subway crowd in Spider-Man 2 is about as far from the wise-cracking Lee/Ditko everyman. Of course, so is the concept of Peter Parker as a genetically enhanced super-child with perfect blood bestowed upon him by his genius parents, but we’ll get to that.
I like Spider-Man so much that I clung to the hope that this movie might be good long after it became obvious that it wasn’t, which was right about the time that the first trailer was released. That first trailer looked like… well, it looked like the movie it was advertising: slick, stupid and pointless. But I didn’t care. I was a True Believer, Daniel! Plus, this was 2011 and I was still very good at trying to convince myself that Iron Man 2 was secretly good. I had a deeply-embedded pattern of self-deception when it came to movies based on comic books, a pattern that wouldn’t really be broken until I saw Amazing Spider-Man.
You and I are on the same page re: Spider-Man crackin’ wise. This aspect of the character is an awkward fit on-film. The only medium where it’s even less appropriate is video games. Now, I have plenty of positive memories tied to Spider-Man games; Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro and the tie-in game for the second Raimi film both consumed full months of my life, and you’ll remember the many hours of joyous embarrassment I suffered at the hands of Shattered Dimensions. But because video games often require you to play through the same section multiple times, and because there are only so many lines that the actor voicing Spider-Man can say, the player is often forced to endure the same obnoxious jokes, delivered at the exact same time in the exact same way. This has the highly counter-productive effect of making the player root for the death of his or her own character.
But enough about this. I’m tired of beating around the bush. Let’s set the stage: early July, 2012. A hot summer night. A young man named Daniel Dockery enters his local cineplex and purchases a ticket to The Amazing Spider-Man. He settles in with his soda and his pop-corn. The lights go dim and he turns his gaze towards the screen, his eyes wide with feverish anticipation. What does he see?
Sam Raimi’s films always had that goofy sincerity to them, where they didn’t have jokes as much as they had character moments that you could laugh at. Which are so, so preferable to wisecracks. I dug it in Deadpool, but Spidey is pretty entrenched in PG 13-ness. Watching a living, flesh person say “WHOA! DO YOU NEED A BREATH MINT, RHINO?” is torturous. (NOTE: THIS WAS WRITTEN BEFORE I SAW CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. WISECRACK ON, TOM HOLLAND, YOU PERFECT EXCEPTION. WISECRACK ON)
The Amazing Spider-Man was so, so okay to me that I tried to reason with myself about how much I liked it. It was on that 5/6 out of 10 tipping point, and it confused me. Do I like this? How do I feel about this? Are any parts of it good? Are any parts of it bad? All of the scenes are arranged in an order so that I can understand the plot, and the direction isn’t maliciously bad, and I don’t want the actors to leave the set and never come back, so I guess I’m…okay with it. I was okay with it. Watching it again really changes my hindsight though, because it was so corny and lame.
I wrote in my opening statement that it felt super soon, and part of this “too soon” feeling comes from the fact that while it’s different from Raimi’s movies, it’s not special. Watch Batman Begins. The way the plot moves and how the characters act, while still in the realm of the comic book, are way different from Batman. They’re both good movies, but they’re different enough that I don’t watch Batman Begins with my “Welp. Same old shit.” goggles on.
Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t have that. It’s also an origin story, but it’s like all the charm was ripped out of it. Emma Stone seems like a break out character, but everything else is in this weird, sterile world where nothing is much fun. And I don’t know how much is Marc Webb’s fault. 500 Days of Summer has an energy that a lot of romantic comedies lack, and I assumed that this would carry over to his Spider-Man. A big problem that people have with Raimi’s Spider-Man films now is that they’re all very simple. The good guys are hunk dory, and the bad guys are, aside from Venom, sad and conflicted. But this simplicity gave us J. Jonah Jameson, who is more like a character from Charade or one of those fun capers from Hollywood’s Silver Age than anything in a modern superhero film.
Amazing Spider-Man was lifeless. What did you think? Do you share the same sentiments?
I wanted to like it, Daniel, I really did — even when the first images of the Lizard started leaking out and all my friends made fun of it because he looks like a goomba from the Super Mario Brothers movie, I held out hope. Even through the awkward skateboarding scenes and the (as you succinctly put it) totally lifeless and rote re-telling of Spider-Man’s origin, I held out hope. I even tried to convince myself it was clever, the way they intertwined Peter’s obsession with his father’s disappearance into that fateful trip to Oscorp. In my defense, it would have been halfway clever if the new plot they were integrating was interesting or even decent. Unfortunately, the entire idea of basing a Spider-Man movie around Peter Parker’s parents is so wrong-headed that I don’t think it could ever be done well. Much like everything in this movie, it would only get worse in the sequel.
One thing I could latch onto — the only thing that’s there for us to latch onto — was the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. Every scene where the two of them interact stands tall above the rest of this cold, uninspired movie. The actual nature of their relationship is nothing interesting, and the script doesn’t serve them any better than it serves the rest of the characters, but the way those two actors bounce off each other was captivating. Maybe it’s just the relative warmth of their back-and-forth standing in contrast to ocean of blah around them, but I would gladly pay between ten and seventeen dollars to watch a movie where Garfield and Stone played actual characters together.
Other than that, this movie just fails on every level. The central mystery is dumb, important characters disappear from the plot with no explanation, the action is uninventive and covered in a coat of slick PS4 cutscene CGI. None of the character beats land and the story has no emotional impact. Even if you wanted to critique it purely on the level of Comic Book Stuff, the villain and his plan are 2nd grade-stupid. The Lizard wants to turn everyone in New York into lizard-monsters because… humanity is weakness? Because he’s angry at the world? I don’t know if we ever get a satisfying answer for why the Lizard wants to cover Manhattan in Lizard-gas. This is the sort of plotline that might be good for a two-issue arc in the comics when we could at least see, I don’t know, Captain American turn into a lizard. You can see it, right? He’s all monstered-up and he’s bursting out of the uniform, and maybe he’s even holding the shield with his tail. There you go, that single image is more interesting than anything in Amazing Spider-Man.
Am I leaving out anything exceptionally awful? This movie’s so forgettable that it’s slipping through my fingers like sand. I’ve already forgotten the stuff I wrote in those first three paragraphs.
Marvel Zombies was a big hit but, man, Marvel Lizards would’ve been way more my thing.
The end, which sets up the sequel in the most non-committal, direction-less way possible:
“Does Peter know about his father?”
Yeah? That’s how you’re going to end this thing. With some guy saying “There’s still plot left, right?” and someone else affirming that there is? Screw you, movie. At the end of The Avengers, you get all excited because you know that Thanos is gonna come wreck stuff eventually, but what am I supposed to do with “No.” “Maybe the next movie will be satisfying!” That’s what it’s saying. “Hey, I know that we didn’t cover any of the things that should be covered by a fulfilling movie plot, but watch the sequel! That might at least meet the basic requirements of cinematic storytelling. Your hope is lunch and I am ravenous.”
Also, just before the end, where Peter’s like “Gwen’s Dad told me to stay away from her but *reveals fingers crossed behind his back* I’m totally not!” That’s such an un-Spider-Man thing to do, and an unlikable thing to immediately follow through with. At least show me the internal struggle of wanting to be with the woman you love, but also wanting to honor her brave, dead Dad, while ALSO knowing that being close to people when you’re a superhero is a no-no. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man soundtracks were full of songs about “I love you, but I can’t be with you, but that sucks, because I am now,” but Amazing Spider-Man took that shit to heart and had Peter live out some All American Rejects narrative. Also, I don’t care about staying true to a superhero’s comic roots. Batman can attach bombs to clown chests all day if I at least like the dude and the movie that he’s in. But ending your movie with a smarmy “I tried for two seconds, but Ghost Dad can’t keep us apart. My hair is quirky and cool,” is not the way to make me interested in a hero, even if it is building up to Gwen Stacy dying.
I think that wraps up the first movie, but I do have two more questions relating to the soundtrack and the score:
- Best song from the soundtrack?
- How does the score compare to Danny Elfman’s original?
I’m honestly pretty ignorant when it comes to film scores — I don’t tend to notice them in the moment unless they’re unique (read: synth-based) or really incompetent. If a score is doing its job, I just let it be. That being said, re-listening to the score from Amazing Spider-Man and comparing it to some of Danny Elfman’s work on the original confirms what I expected: James Horner’s work on Amazing is perfectly fine, if a little standard, while Elfman seems more willing to experiment with unexpected percussion sounds. Plus, it’s always fun to listen to Elfman do his foreboding-yet-whimsical shtick without a Tim Burton movie attached to it.
As for the songs — I like that Phantom Planet track alright, though it does feel like the director said “we need a song WITH GUITARS” and the music supervisor scrambled for the nearest one he could find. But “Bus Bus” by Amy Ray is just spectacular. How did a song this good end up in a movie this bland? I certainly don’t remember hearing it, but it’s possible that the memory of this aggressively mediocre movie may have crowded out any bit of joy that I gleamed from it.
What about you?
Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man work is just so comic book-ey to me. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s goofy and weird and ponderous when it needs to be, but it also builds up so triumphantly, especially during Spider-Man’s big battles. I think James Horner does a good job, but I feel like it’s pretty exchangeable among other superhero movies. Like, if I heard it in an X-Men film, I wouldn’t think anything was out of the ordinary.
Danny Elfman really matches Sam Raimi’s sweet and sort-of innocent “Well, golly gosh. We’re making a Spider-Man!” approach. I can’t necessarily say whether or not it’s a perfect representation of the character, but I do feel like Danny Elfman helps Spider-Man in the same way that he helped Tim Burton with Batman. They may not be the most comic book accurate visions of either character, but they’re full visions. They feel complete, and that’s hugely in part to Elfman’s contributions. And that’s a big problem with the two Amazing Spider-Man movies. I don’t feel like I’m being dropped into a new world. I feel like I’m watching shit just…occur.
BUT onto the next one. After Amazing Spider-Man came out, and no one was quite sure if there was going to be a sequel or A MASSIVE FRANCHISE OF INTERCONNECTED MOVIES OH JESUS CHRIST, how did you feel about the possibility of an Amazing Spider-Man 2? Did you have any hopes for it? How did you feel when you started to see it come together, first with Electro, and then Green Goblin, and then Rhino, and then everything?
If I remember correctly, I was still in a suspended state of foolish hopefulness after the first Amazing Spider-Man, having convinced myself that it was Not That Bad. Somewhere deep down I knew that the first movie was a failure, but hey, hope springs eternal in the human breast, am I right? Maybe the filmmakers could build on the shaky foundation of the first movie to deliver a fun, exciting Spider-Man movie. Now that they were free of having to re-tell his origin, what was stopping them? Spider-Man is one of the most iconic characters in the world and he has a slew of memorable stories to draw from. And hey, remember that chemistry between Peter and Gwen from the first movie? That was something, right?
I’d say it all started to go downhill around the time we got our first look at Jaime Foxx as Electro. Just like last time, I put up a half-hearted defense against friends who claimed that the villain “looked really stupid” or that “this movie was going to suck.” But now there was even less feeling behind it.
I didn’t really get that sinking feeling until we found out that Harry Osborn was going to be in the movie, which meant that Green Goblin was going to be in the movie. Along with the Rhino. And Black Cat. And the guy who invented the Spider-Slayers. And Norman Osborn — but wait, I thought that shadowy figure from the end of the first movie was Norman Osborne. But that guy’s back, too? And wait, is the Rhino just a Russian gangster in a stupid robot suit? Why is he played by Paul Giamatti? Why does Electro look like that? Why does Dane DeHaan sound like he’s permanently in the second week of a head cold? Are they really teasing the Sinister Six in the trailer? Why are we still talking about Peter’s dad? Does anybody care? Who made this movie? What’s happening? Where am I? Does anyone else hear that high-pitched ringing in their ears?
The build-up to Amazing Spider-Man 2 really felt like a primer course to better handle the build-up to Batman V. Superman. More and more characters and villains were added, and I started to get the feeling that most characters would exist to introduce themselves, vaguely allude to the atrocities that they’d cause in Amazing Spider-Man 5 or whatever, and then either sneer to show that they were one of the bad guys, or smirk to show that they’d end up wanting to make out with Spider-Man. I, too, had kind of convinced myself that Amazing Spider-Man had somehow been more than just a shaky, mediocre start to the new franchise. I remember calling you up and talking to you about the series, and when we got to Amazing Spider-Man, we both sounded like we were trying to reassure each other that we didn’t need to be having the conversation. “Amazing Spider-Man is good, right? Of course it’s good. It’s not Spider-Man 3, so of course it’s good. It’s not that bad. Actually it’s good. It’s better than bad. Is it better than bad? Of course it is. We’re not dumb. We’re smart.”
Honestly, Amazing Spider-Man 2, for me, is way better than the first. The first is such a whatever attempt at a Spider-Man movie, while the second is interesting in the lunacy of it. Nothing is coherent about it. No character comes out of it unscathed. The motivation of each person seems to change depending on what part of the sentence they’re on. None of the big action scenes really work, either. The final battle with the Green Goblin, where Gwen is killed, happens about a minute after the final battle with Electro, so there’s no rise in tension at all. Why would someone make a movie that way? That’s the biggest event in the history of the Spider-Man film series. Give us a chance to breathe after the Electro dubstep battle, then kill off Gwen. But nope. The plot of Amazing Spider-Man 2 plays out like someone poorly describing the plot of Amazing Spider-Man 2.
The best scene in the movie is when Electro and Harry Osborn team-up to off that executive. Good villain team-up scenes are a dime a dozen. Also, the soundtrack has this weird Electro Theme Remix that I wish I didn’t dig, because it’s inanely dumb. But I love it. I love it so much.
What did you think about ASM 2’s attempt at being a movie?
I’m glad you mentioned the Electro/Harry Osborn team-up, because it’s the only point during the movie when I was actively rooting for any of the characters, because really, they’ve both got a point. Electro has been abused and disregarded by the company he works for and has every right to seek revenge, while Harry is desperately trying to save himself from a genetic disorder. Peter is never as sympathetic as these two are in that moment, and in fact, when Harry comes to Peter and says, “If you give me some of your blood, I can develop an antidote that will save the life of me, your oldest and dearest friend,” Peter just blows him off for no good reason. Sure, the whole “magical blood antidote” doesn’t actually work out that well, but Peter had no way of knowing that!
It’s not a long shot to say that this is the most unlikable version of Spider-Man to ever exist, even worse than the one in Shattered Dimensions. The relationship between Peter and Gwen, which was the one redeeming factor in the first movie, is stuck in neutral here as Peter forces Gwen to endure his irregular spasms of guilt over his broken promise to her father, who occasionally pops up to leer at him with ghostly judgement. It’s obvious that the filmmakers wanted Peter to pay for breaking his word and putting Gwen in danger, but they wanted to save her death for the climax and had no idea what to do until they got there, so they just had Peter jerk her around for 130 minutes.
Worse still, Peter seems to have little interest in protecting the innocent from evil-doers; most of his spare time goes towards making vision boards about his dead dad’s science projects. I cannot imagine the frame of mind you’d have to be in to make a Spider-Man movie that opens with a ten-minute corporate espionage prologue about Peter’s father, includes almost no reference to Uncle Ben and includes a scene where Peter actually gets to teach Aunt May a lesson about morality. This Spider-Man isn’t the put-upon nerd struggling to balance normal life with super-heroics, forever striving to do good in order to repay his greatest failure; he’s a smug jackass who uses his bitchin’ spider-powers to investigate solipsistic mysteries and beat up victims of genetic engineering.
Also, he kills Electro, right? Electro is 100% dead at the end of this movie and no one seems to care, especially not Peter.
I feel like I could go on forever about how terrible this movie is – from the incredibly awkward use of a Phillip Phillips song during one montage to the way Peter’s webbing literally turns into a little hand and reaches out to Gwen as she’s falling. This movie is dense with terrible choices. But in the interest of brevity, I’ll throw it back to you. Any final thoughts on the premature death of what I will generously refer to as the Amazing Spider-Man Cinematic Universe?
If there was ever a superhero movie series that could be described as “filler,” it would be this one. In retrospect, it almost seems like these two movies were made so that people wouldn’t forget what Spider-Man looked like in between Spider-Man 3 and Captain America: Civil War. I wrote a similar thing about how Tim Burton’s Batman films almost feel like Elseworlds stories, but the same goes for Marc Webb’s duo of Spider-Man films, except in a bad way. “WHAT IF Spider-Man Was A Character That You Couldn’t Even Remotely Give A Shit About?”
I think it’s funny to read back through my responses, and see how much I grew to openly hate the first Amazing Spider-Man movie. I’ve always been morbidly curious about the second one because, as we’ve stated, the movie trips over its own feet with every step that it tries to take, but I didn’t know that I hated Part 1 so much. I guess it’s because it feels like a backhand compliment to the Spider-Man mythos as a whole. “Yeah, the Uncle dying thing is interesting and all, but the story should reaallllly be about…” I get not diving into Spider-Man’s tired origin story because it’s been told a thousand times, but Amazing Spider-Man feels so unnecessary. I’ve never once wondered what it would be like if Spider-Man’s aloof parents were the focal point of multiple Spider-Man movies. And I don’t like anyone who has. Sorry, anyone who has.
While it would’ve been fun to see this series explode forward like multiple, brake-less trains, as Sony originally intended, I’m glad we got a Marvel Cinematic Universe Spider-Man instead. I’d rather have a Spider-Man that I can root for. You?
I’m right there with you. We still don’t know if Spider-Man: Homecoming will be any good, but so far it feels like we’re experiencing a mirror universe version of the build-up to Amazing Spider-Man 2. Tom Holland’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War essentially turned that movie into a twenty-minute preview for the next Spider-Man movie and I have zero complaints about that. If what we’ve seen so far is any indication, this could be the first cinematic Spider-Man that’s actually funny AND likable! It’s like they paired Tobey Maguire’s wild emotionality with the biting wit of Andrew Garfield! Actually, wait, forget I said that.
Then there’s the casting announcements, which seem to promise that no matter who you are, there will be at least a few moments of Spider-Man: Homecoming that will leave you overwhelmed with joy. Michael Keaton? Marisa Tomei? Bokeem Woodbine? Martin Starr? Donald Glover? We’re one step away from the entire cast of Firefly making an appearance. In the past week alone, Hannibal Buress and Michael Mando have come onboard, and while I bet that Hannibal will fill the role of “comedian who shows up for one funny scene then leaves,” there’s always the possibility that he’ll fill the same role that Bruce Campbell did in the original trilogy.
You heard it here first, folks: Hannibal Buress confirmed for Mysterio in Spider-Man: The Sinister Six.
Look, Spider-Man is probably my favorite superhero of all time; it doesn’t take much to get me on-board with a new movie. When Amazing Spider-Man was first announced and people were complaining that it was ‘too soon’ for a new Spider-Man series, I didn’t understand what they were talking about. It had been five whole years since the last Spider-Man movie, what are we waiting for? Of course, those people turned out to be right, but like I said before, even that didn’t discourage me. I have such a deep, lasting fondness for the world of Spider-Man that, even now, it’s hard for me to really hate Amazing Spider-Man 2, even after we’ve catalogued it’s many, many failings, just because it’s got Spider-Man swinging around and shooting webs at a guy who’s made of electricity. I’m like a lab rat; if you flash the right series of reds and blues at me, some tiny gland in the back of my head would probably flood my brain with pleasure-inducing chemicals that override my common sense.
That, more than anything else, is my greatest hope for the next Spider-Man movie: that it won’t need to manipulate the chemicals in my stupid rat-brain to make me happy. And if anyone can pull that off, it’s the guys who wrote Horrible Bosses 2.