There’s little denying that 2021 was Andrew Garfield’s year. He starred in three Oscar-nominated films, as the embezzling evangelist Jim Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, as the brilliant young composer Jonathan Larson in tick, tick, Boom! and his much-lauded return as Peter Parker in Spider-Man: No Way Home. In addition, he garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his part in the semi-autobiographical movie musical about Larson and proved to the world that he has a remarkable musical talent that even he didn’t seem to know he possessed. Garfield also had the chance to reprise his role as “Peter Three” in the Marvel film that brought all three Spider-Men together for the first time.
All of that makes this the perfect time to revisit Garfield’s first appearance as Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man, which also happens to be celebrating the tenth anniversary of its release this year. In 2012, Marvel and Columbia Pictures decided to reboot the Spider-Man franchise with a film written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves. It came after decades of Spider-Man comics and just five years after the end of the popular trilogy by Sam Raimi, which premiered from 2002 to 2007.
In the film, directed by Marc Webber, Peter Parker (Garfield) is an ordinary high school student being raised by his Aunt May (played by two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). After being bitten by a radioactive spider, he gains abilities that he uses to fight crime in the city – namely Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans), who, after an experiment gone wrong, is determined to change everyone into a lizard for the supposed good of humanity. The film includes familiar beats for the Spider-Man story, like the death of Uncle Ben and Peter’s transformation into the friendly neighborhood hero.
But Peter also has regular high school problems, like dealing with bullies during lunch period and trying to get the courage to land the girl of his dreams, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, who would win a Best Actress Oscar just four years later). But Peter’s love life is more complicated than most because his crush’s father (Denis Leary) is the police captain who disapproves of Spider-Man. This creates challenges for the boy, who is beginning to lead an increasingly split life.
The film attempts to juggle the Peter Parker and Spider-Man sides of the story but never quite nails the balance. While it was well-received at the time of its release, both by critics (72% on Rotten Tomatoes) and in its box office numbers (earning $750M worldwide), the film’s reputation has tarnished a bit over time. Perhaps understandably so, as the film’s middle section veers on being downright dull. In addition, the special effects don’t entirely hold up, and there’s a lack of development for most of the side characters – notably Aunt May.
However, even though the Amazing Spider-Man movies don’t quite live up to their predecessors or the new MCU trilogy, Garfield is still an excellent Peter Parker. He’s a fascinating blend of cool and nerdy, with his endearing awkwardness and his skateboard he totes around the school. He not only tries to save the city from a mad scientist, but he also tries to diffuse situations with school bullies, even if it results in him being beaten up instead.
Garfield’s Peter is witty and often sassy; he’s dedicated to seeing the best in people, even when they might not deserve it, or it puts him in danger. He has all the awkward moments one would expect from a teenage boy, but he also cares for others deeply. Garfield is able to portray Peter’s despair at the end of the film flawlessly while also capturing his shy charm throughout. The two-time Academy Award nominee has had the most critically acclaimed career of the three actors that have played the character, and his talent is on display even in this film.
Garfield has fantastic chemistry with Stone, which allows their romance to be the central part of the film. (Seeing them together now serves as a reminder of the years in which they were one of the media’s favorite couples in real life.) From the awkward dinner scene with Gwen’s family to the sweet part in which she cares for an injured Peter, their high school love story helps lighten the film and keep it from being just another superhero movie.
Gwen is also a better love interest than you would expect from a 2012 film: she’s intelligent, funny, and the chief intern at Oscorp. Stone brings all of her plucky charisma to the role, creating a woman Peter needs just as much as she needs him. He is ultimately willing, despite his urge to protect her, to treat her as a partner in his mission to stop Connors from turning all of humanity into lizards. The way that this relationship and the character of Gwen are cultivated could provide a lesson to many superhero films today that struggle with their female characters.
Is The Amazing Spider-Man better than Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films or the new trilogy of MCU Spider-Man films? Is it even superior to its sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2? The answer for most people would most likely be no. However, Garfield’s Peter and Stone’s Gwen shine amongst the otherwise somewhat drab film, making it clear why Garfield remains many people’s favorite iteration of the character. Watching The Amazing Spider-Man today, it’s fantastic to see where Garfield’s arachnid superhero first came into being, especially in light of his charming and emotional appearance in last year’s Spider-Man: No Way Home. After rewatching the film, it’s easier to understand the people on Twitter proudly declaring, “Andrew is MY Spider-Man.”
The Amazing Spider-Man was released by Columbia Pictures/Marvel Entertainment on July 3, 2012. It is currently available to watch on Netflix.
Photo: Jaimie Trueblood/Sony Pictures