After Tobey Maguire’s three-film run as Spider-Man ended in 2007, Andrew Garfield swung in to take the role just five years later. 2012 brought the beginning of a completely new franchise for the web slinger titled, The Amazing Spider-Man.
A lot has been made over the past few years since Garfield was replaced by Tom Holland about whether he was a good Spider-Man, whether the movies were good, Garfield’s relationship to the studio, and much more. But I want to focus on how he was as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and his attitude towards the character and the movies.
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
First of all, I want to mention the most under-appreciated part of these two movies is that they were directed by a man named Marc Webb. This is a man who just seems destined to direct a Spider-Man movie.
Anyway, overall, these really aren’t great movies. The special effects and action are overall well-done and there are some cool musical themes, but the story and plot, especially in the second one, are jumbled messes. But the one thing that is redeemable throughout the entirety of both of the movies is Garfield’s performance, both as Peter Parker and Spider-Man.
Garfield looks too old to be a high schooler, but that, along with some other problems I have with these movies, I blame on bad writing more than his performance. He does an amazing job with what he is given. A complaint that I’ve heard about these movies is that Peter isn’t nerdy or geeky enough – that he’s too “cool”. But he’s shown in the beginning of TASM to be extremely awkward and weird, especially when he tries to ask out Gwen Stacy.
And that leads into what is one of the very best parts of these movies: Peter and Gwen’s relationship and on-screen chemistry. Garfield and Emma Stone dated in real life during these films and for a little while after. Their natural chemistry and enjoyment of each other’s company comes across in these movies so well. And this chemistry is easily the best part of the second film.
From this relationship brings Peter’s relationship to Captain Stacy, Gwen’s policeman father. When Captain Stacy finds out that Peter is Spider-Man, he has Peter promise to stay away from Gwen. This is where Garfield is at his best in these movies: when he’s allowed to go to deep and heartbreaking places emotionally, as he did in Never Let Me Go and The Social Network. But the biggest example of this in these two films is at the end of TASM2, when Gwen dies. Garfield displays such raw emotion and hopelessness. At this point in his life, he’s lost everyone that he loves, except for Aunt May. His parents, Uncle Ben, Gwen’s father, and now Gwen herself are all gone. It’s a character who has gone through so much loss, and this one moment shows the sum total of Peter’s emotions just crashing down on top of him.
Finally, there is the way Garfield acts as Spider-Man himself. Spider-Man is traditionally a character that is constantly quipping and being witty during his action scenes, and it is obvious Garfield enjoyed this part of the films. His Spider-Man was ever-mouthy and fun, but at the same time, always concerned with saving lives and doing the right thing. This is the reason Peter broke up with Gwen early on in 2, because he had made a promise to Captain Stacy and always wanted to do what is right.
I think this is what made Garfield such a good fit for the role. Just about all of his roles have had legitimate and genuine layering to them, which is often difficult to come by convincingly in a superhero film. The new Spider-Man wants to prove himself to Tony Stark, but it is nothing compared to what Garfield brings to the Web Head.
In a 2016 interview with The Guardian, Garfield talked about what he was trying to do with the character.
“And when I took on Spider-Man, I thought, ‘Holy s—! This is exquisite and terrifying and incredible. I have been given the responsibility of reaching my hand out from the big screen and putting it on [young boys’] shoulders. That is a gift for me and a big burden to carry. And I’m so up for it.’”
Spider-Man was so much more than just another character to him. He wanted to bring more depth and personality and teaching to the young kids who looked up to the character.
He continues in the interview by saying,
“I thought, if I can infuse all this ancient knowledge and wisdom into [Spider-Man], it could be profoundly affecting for young people in the audience. That was always my intention and what I tried to do.” He laughs. Wasn’t that naive? “Yes, of course! I was 25 and I was naive – not because of that, but because I was naive to the whole process of making one of those big-budget films.”
This is where he hits the nail on the head. He was able to understand the problem with these huge films. It is the same reason I love originality. He was in the wrong medium and wrong setting to do something profound, such as bring something so deep to something so shallow. It has only happened a handful of times with this genre and doing it with The Amazing Spider-Man just wasn’t the place to do it, unfortunately. He said in an interview that story and character were not at the top of the priority list when making these films, and I can only assume that spectacle and making money were at the top instead. This isn’t how any film should be made, and it is very unfortunate for the character and for him. But it informed Garfield of where, when, and how he could “infuse ancient knowledge” as his following films would do.
It really is too bad to me that I’ll never get to see a Spider-Man movie done the way Andrew Garfield wanted it done. He did the very best with what he was given and was one of the few bright spots of two mediocre movies. But it brought him to a place where he could build on what he learned and take the regrets he’d formed to move forward to something even better.