There are a number of rumors behind why Sam Raimi didn’t get to direct Spider-man 4, and it’s possible there’s an element of truth in most of them. Let’s not get into that though, because I don’t want this to be a gossip or rumor blog. What we do know is that Spider-Man 4 was originally announced with a 2011 release date, but in 2010, Sony and Marvel announced that they’d instead reboot the series with a new cast and crew. Of its cancellation, producer Avi Arad said,
“We were working on what we called Spider-Man 4 and it was the same production team. The problem was we didn’t have a story that was strong enough and warranted another movie … between [Raimi], and Tobey and obviously the studio, we all went into it not feeling good about the next story.”
Days after Raimi’s departure, Sony announced that Marc Webb would take over, this being his second directorial film (his first being 500 Days of Summer). Before this, Webb directed a number of music videos for a wide range of artists, including a number of Green Day’s material over the years, Christian Metal Band POD’s Sleeping Awake video (their Matrix: Reloaded song), Rapper P. Diddy’s “Last Night”, and a variety of pop stars. He’s far from the only music video director to become a successful filmmaker. Others include Francis Lawrence (2005’s Constantine, Hunger Games: Catching Fire), and Michael Bay (well … successful and good are not inherently one and the same).
I won’t go into too much detail into the casting process, but while Andrew Garfield was chosen for the title role, Josh Hutcherson was considered for the role, probably most well-known for Peeta in The Hunger Games series. Garfield himself had previously appeared in movies, TV shows and on-stage performances, including a 2007 episode of Doctor Who, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Heath Ledger’s last released film), and The Social Network. In one of his on-stage performances, 2012’s revival of Death of a Salesman, he was nominated for a Tony Award, and would later win a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his 2018 performance in Angels in America.
Other major cast members include Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Connors, Denis Leary as Captain George Stacy/Gwen’s father, Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben, and Sally Field as Aunt May.
From the start, the crew didn’t want to remake Raimi’s Spider-Man. Web said in a press release, “The first three films are beloved for good reason … We’re not making Sam’s movie again. It’s a different universe and a different story with different characters.” He also likened Spider-Man to James Bond, because “there’s so much material in Spider-Man that there are so many stories to tell and so many characters.”
One such change is that, unlike the Raimi trilogy, Garfield’s Spider-Man would develop web shooters instead of having the organic shooters. Webb felt that the web shooters would double as dramatizing Peter’s intellect, and showed part of the development process on-screen.
Most of the filming took place in New York City or Los Angeles. It’s the first Hollywood production to use the Red Digital company’s RED Epic camera, shot in both 3-D and 5k resolution. Cinematographer John Schwartzman praised the camera quite a bit during production. “I can say for certainty the camera does exist and … it’s a true game changer.” He talked about how, without these cameras, they wouldn’t have been able to shoot this movie in 3D the way the director wanted to, although I didn’t find a good quote for him describing exactly why.
A lot of the swinging in the film was actually done, using special rigs throughout the city that were between 200 and 300 feet long. Garfield even performed some of these stunts, being fairly athletic himself. To help decide how Spider-Man would swing, stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong videotaped Olympic Games gymnasts swinging on a horizontal bar. He talked about how a lot of the CGI swinging in the earlier films show Spider-Man swinging down at the same speed that he swung up, which you wouldn’t notice if you’re not paying attention, but the constant speed isn’t exactly realistic.
James Horner composed the soundtrack for Amazing Spider-Man, in what would actually be his final film released before his death, although he did contribute to 2016’s remake of The Magnificent Seven and a couple of others. After Amazing Spider-Man, he decided to take a 3-year hiatus, partly because he didn’t like how his ASM soundtrack turned out. He died in June, 2015 after he crashed his plane, later ruled as an accident. Some of his other soundtracks include Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”, Apollo 13, Braveheart, and of course the greatest selling orchestral soundtrack in film history, Titanic.
Amazing Spider-Man, released in July 2012, performed fairly well both critically and commercially. It earned $758 million worldwide on a budget somewhere between $200 and $230 million. It earned a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 6.6/10. Variety’s review described the film as “mostly slick, entertaining and emotionally involving recombination of fresh and familiar elements.” The Los Angeles Times review called the movie “memorable in pieces but not as a whole”, saying that the relationship between Peter and Gwen is the best part of the movie. In what would be his final review of a Marvel superhero film, Roger Ebert felt that ASM provided better reasons for why Pewter became Spider-Man than its predecessor, and called it the second best of the Spider-Man movies, only behind Spider-Man 2. His biggest criticism was The Lizard, and felt that he was lackluster compared to Doctor Octopus, and “had the dramatic range of Godzilla”.
The most common complaint is that the retelling of Spider-Man’s origin was unnecessary, considering it was shown on-screen only 10 years earlier. Even so, pretty much every major critic praised Garfield and Stone’s chemistry and performances.
As for myself, this movie always felt a bit strange to me. I was in my early teens when Spider-Man released in 2002, and even though I didn’t watch any of the Maguire movies between Amazing Spider-Man’s release and preparing for this theme month, Maguire still feels like Spider-Man to me. That said, there’s a lot I like about Amazing Spider-Man. Compared to Maguire, Garfield is much more convincing as a mad genius, and that’s a major part of Peter Parker’s character as a whole. While Maguire is better at the social awkward, shy aspect of the character, there are still moments where Garfield pulls off the awkward side.
I agree with the critics that the relationship between Peter and Gwen really is the best part of this movie. It works fairly well as a romantic comedy, and they work well as a team, and not just as a couple. Gwen getting directly involved with the plot, showing her own bravery and intelligence, only strengthens their relationship. I like that they start talking after Peter stands up for a kid that Flash Thompson is bullying, and gets beat up himself. It’s great how Peter tells her about his superhero work fairly early on, even after he learns that her cop father doesn’t like Spider-Man.
The changes to Peter’s origin story work in a different way, even if I always felt a bit iffy about it. Instead of being cheated out of prize money a wrestling ring, Peter has a frustrating encounter with a convenience store clerk, and doesn’t help when he gets robbed shortly after … only for that same robber to shoot Uncle Ben just outside. At first, Spider-Man is all about revenge, specifically seeking out his uncle’s murderer, but he slowly changes into a hero. There’s also a nice touch where Flash Thompson actually shows sympathy towards Peter after his uncle died, making him a more rounded character than his Raimi trilogy counterpart. On that note, by the end of the movie, they seem to be casual friends, which is actually comic accurate. They eventually become close friends in the comics, with Flash becoming a superhero in his own right.
The scenes where Peter struggles with getting used to his new strength are amusing. Instead of the dramatic, getting sick angle that the Maguire movies used, Garfield’s Parker goes for a more comedic approach. He doesn’t know his own strength, getting his hands stuck on things and unintentionally breaking stuff both at home and all over town. The scene where he shows off playing basketball in the gym always felt off to me though, especially since he’s shown a willingness to fight before that.
There’s also a nice moment early in Spider-Man’s superhero career where he’s saving a kid from a car that’s hanging over a bridge. The kid is too scared to climb up, so he gives the kid his mask, encouraging him to think that the mask gives him his powers, and then the kid starts climbing up. This scene shows how relatable Peter Parker really is, and that he would like to inspire others instead of just being a hero.
Although I miss the Daily Bugle stuff from the previous trilogy, it’s nice to see Peter’s affinity for photography showing in other ways. He’s already a photographer for his school paper, and he tries to use these skills to help with his investigation into The Lizard. On that note, this movie borrows a touch of James Bond tropes in a sense. Peter tries going undercover on several occasions. He’s actively investigating both the Lizard and his missing parents. He uses gadgets, some his own creations, to help with his investigation. While this is different from most iterations of Spider-Man, it both still works for the character, and it gives this movie a different feel.
The action is also very good all-round. The fights are intense, kind of brutal at times, and both Spider-Man and The Lizard make great use of their environments during their fights. One such fight scene, taking place in Peter’s high school, also features what I consider to be the greatest Stan Lee cameo of all-time. That said, the climax of the film includes what is, at least in my memory, the silliest moment in any Spider-Man movie to date. The crane scene. Don’t get me wrong, I find this scene entertaining because of the silliness factor, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s quite silly.
Amazing Spider-Man does have a lot going for it, but after watching this for the first time since 2015, I felt that The Lizard himself was a bit generic. Sure, the drama behind him wanting two arms kind of works, and the connection between his cross-species genetics studies and Peter getting his powers from a spider does work on a thematic level, but once Connors becomes The Lizard, he feels like a generic “take over the world” sort of villain. There’s no sense of conflict between his two halves. His mentality becomes 100% lizard, and he believes all people should become lizard people. What made the villains in the Raimi trilogy so fascinating is that every single one of them had some sort of inner conflict. Well … except maybe for Venom, but he was underdeveloped and forced into the movie by the studio. Even after Connors is cured, he shows very little regret over what he did. In that sense, his conclusion feels rushed.
Beyond that, most of my problems with this movie have to do with stylistic choices and personal taste. This movie has a lot going for it, but although I’ve always liked this movie, something just feels off to me. Something I can’t quite explain. For one, I don’t like the way Aunt May is handled. She always seems … oblivious. That becomes a much bigger problem in Amazing Spider-Man 2; we’ll get to that.
Amazing Spider-Man is definitely worth checking out for Spider-Man fans, and it’s an alternate take on Peter’s superhero origins that works far more often than not. It’s not my favourite Spider-Man movie, and Garfield isn’t my favourite Spider-Man actor, but it’s still an entertaining watch. I’ll wrap this story up with Amazing Spider-Man 2. I know it’ll probably bleed into October a bit, but I’m ok with that. My plan is to do a Tom Hanks theme month for October, and I’m planning on starting with Forrest Gump. There will be at least one early Tom Hanks movie in there, but I haven’t completely decided which movies after Forrest Gump to focus on. I’ve got a much bigger list of options than I’ll have the time to write about.