It’s difficult to find someone who would argue that both Amazing Spider-Man movies worked on fundamental levels. It’s not just that they missed the mark, but that their foundations were cracked from the beginning, creating a crooked structure that toppled in front of our eyes regardless of how hard Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were trying to bolster it with charisma.
Fortunately, we’re far enough away from that era (a full year!) that a new, new Spider-Man will appear in MCU-official films, and personnel from the Amazing days can admit that the movies weren’t good while protected by a safety net.
It’s become a trend for filmmakers ‐ particularly directors ‐ to bash their previous movies. It’s usually meant as a mea culpa advertisement for whatever they’re currently shilling. We’ve entered a world ruled by reverse psychology where saying the film you made last year was terrible somehow acts as proof that you aren’t a terrible filmmaker. Self-awareness in lieu of follow-through.
Everyone involved in shaping the crap pile is back, but they’re really, no foolin’, gonna nail it this time. Promise.
As an ambassador for the last series of Spider-Man movies, Garfield in particular has nothing to apologize for. Still, he recently shared his opinion on his own role in the problematic superhero movies with interviewer Zaki Hasan, and it’s interesting not only because Garfield had publicly declared how profoundly the character meant to him when he was initially cast.
Hasan asks, “What have you learned from being Spider-Man?,” and Garfield explains (emphasis his):
“Well, nothing, because I was never Spider-Man. Because Spider-Man’s a fictional character. He’s not real. [laughs] You know what’s funny, to give you the vulnerable answer, I thought I was going to be Spider-Man, you know? I went into it going… ego shit came in. It’s like, “Okay, here it is. I’m fucking Spider-Man. I fucking made it.” All that shit. [laughs] I didn’t actually make it. I was never Spider-Man.
“I was the actor that I am. The person that I am. Struggling with trying to match up with something that I’d elevated so high in my mind. Elevated beyond what I could attain, what I could achieve. The great thing is, that’s what Peter Parker was doing as well. Peter Parker created this symbol that he couldn’t live up to. It was never enough. He never felt enough, and I never felt enough. I never felt like I was able to do enough. And I couldn’t rescue those films…even though I didn’t sleep. [laughs]
“And I wanted to…not to say that I needed to rescue those films, but I couldn’t make them as deep and soulful and…life-giving as I could ever dream. And I’m never gonna be able to do that, with any film. It was especially difficult in that situation because…well, just because. And it was especially important because that character has always meant so much to me, and you saw that if you saw the Comic Con thing, which, thank you for reminding me about that.”
The Comic-Con thing he’s referencing is, of course, his heartfelt appreciation of Peter Parker laid bare for the Hall H crowd in a breathy poetry slam patter of raw paroxysms of geek joy.
His words are still beautifully inspiring ‐ a recognition of a fictional character’s power to alter us and let us convert their adventures into our dreams. It’s also bittersweet to compare his opening enthusiasm for the best day of his life with the sleepless nights that came with the two productions. He had a chance to play one of his favorite characters, and it seems natural that there were fantastic moments that came with it, but the portrayal was for two films that acted as messy corporate behemoths, burdened by too many edicts, serving too many masters, and ultimately failing to impress broader audiences. Was there ever a more obvious sign of desperation than ‐ after lambasting Spider-Man 3 for being overstuffed with three villains ‐ Sony pushed hard to have three villains in Amazing Spider-Man 2? Perhaps it’s second only to building an advertising campaign around a major plot element that never made it into the first film.
Garfield’s answer is diplomatically melancholic. If you’re prone to cynicism, you can almost hear him finish, “I couldn’t rescue those films,” with “because I was never given the tools to do so.” If you’re not prone to cynicism, he appears as an appropriately thoughtful and injured creator who made something with a thousand other people that didn’t work out, now trying to make sense of what his direct failings might have been and come to terms with the fact that he’ll never have another shot at playing the character he so admires.
But Garfield, in turning inward, is wrong about why Amazing Spider-Man never earned its superlative. From watching the finished product, it’s easy to see that he and Stone made full meals out of their scenes together. He was snappy and sharp and witty, fully embodying the broken heart and sarcasm that offered a different ‐ but no less genuine ‐ version from Tobey Maguire’s. He was fun and angsty, and it worked within Marc Webb’s framework for a lot of scenes, even if the finished product never came together as a whole.
It’s true that he couldn’t save the movies, and now they’ve gone to greener pastures because the story was never quite right. There’s no reason to think that Garfield somehow let the project down, and, while fully understanding what he means about inhabiting a fake person for a fake reality, I still disagree with his opening comment.
He was Spider-Man.