Since Andrew Garfield appeared in Spider-Man: No Way Home, there’s been a re-appraisal of his wallcrawling action movies. Fans of The Amazing Spider-Man have been pushing for it as an underrated take on the classic Marvel hero, even starting a fervent campaign to give the Oscar-nominee a third instalment as Peter Parker, now that he’s become part of the fabric of the MCU.
At risk of yucking someone’s yum, this renewed appreciation for Garfield’s Spider-Man movies leaves an odd taste in the mouth. The first was genuinely quite well received, if perhaps subpar compared to Raimi’s genre-defining take some years prior, and the second, though markedly worse, still made bank. A third was on the table before Marvel and Sony started to play nice, creating a partnership that allows Spider-Man to appear in the MCU. Sony still distributes Spidey’s solo films, but Marvel Studios would co-produce them.
Unceremonious end though he had, Garfield got two blockbusters playing one of the most beloved comic book characters, and a hero’s welcome for his part in another. His time as the web-slinger isn’t underrated, it’s remembered exactly as well as it deserves, and treating The Amazing Spider-Man like some modern cult classic doesn’t do it any favours.
Even if you consider it more The Average Spider-Man, by any metric general audiences and critics were aligned in enjoyment. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has 72% in reviews and 77% for audiences, Metacritic gives it a slightly cooler critics score of 66 and 7.1 for users, and IMDb has rated it a nice 6.9. Those are respectable numbers. Worldwide box office is believed to be north of $750 million. People showed up for the film, and they generally weren’t displeased.
They didn’t love it, but they liked it enough to easily justify a sequel, and inspire a whole franchising plan that involved the Sinister Six and a rumoured Aunt May spin-off. Little of this saw the light of day, but, again, studio politics was a greater force in that than audience reaction.
But there’s the rub – The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t wholly loved, and the recent hubbub seems predicated on Garfield’s Peter Parker holding some untapped promise that hasn’t yet been realised. Underdog status has been awarded based on what could’ve been, even if what could be is really only marginally better than what already is.
Fans are reverse-engineering a cult classic by focussing on the way Garfield’s run fizzled out. We got a pretty good first film, and a bad second film. Where’s his Spider-Man 2? Or his Spider-Man: Homecoming? One that enshrines his place in the lexicon of comic book movies, and pop culture at large.
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That’s not how cult status works, though. We don’t just decide something is underrated and deserves another go, mitigating factors cause a community to flourish organically. Take Blade Runner – the first cut wasn’t what Ridley Scott wanted, and after one incidental screening without Harrison Ford’s marration, the desire for this alternate edit grew.
Eventually we got Blade Runner: Director’s Cut in 1992, followed by The Final Cut in 2007. The version that released in cinemas in 1982 wasn’t just bad, it went against Scott’s artistic vision, and gradually it became clear that cinephiles would like to see Blade Runner how it was meant to be.
Look at The Thing. Have you read the reviews from 1982? It was slated! That seems weird in retrospect, but in the early ’80s, John Carpenter’s effects-heavy nihilism was at odds with the colour and optimism of Tron, E.T., and the Star Trek movies. It was literally the Marty McFly meme: cinema-goers at the time weren’t ready, but their kids loved it.
There needs to be some fundamental misunderstanding between how and when a film or TV series comes out, and the art itself. This can be as simple as bad timing in theatres: Scott Pilgrim Vs The World was a box office bob-omb, but it’s become ingrained as some word-of-mouth sensation, even though we’ve really all seen it by now.
Event Horizon will forever seem like some hidden treasure I must share with anyone who’ll humour me, because I stumbled onto it at my local Video World. I don’t think I’ve ever met another horror fan that hadn’t seen it, and depending on age, discovered it in the same way I did. The point is, cult classics aren’t forced, they’re quietly decided through luck and happenstance, not just being loud on the internet.
We could write several theses on how social media continues to warp fandom, but for this piece, we’ll focus on the sportification of movie and television reception. DC and Marvel diehards are relentless when it comes to box office returns and review scores. Despite neither of them mattering one iota to anyone’s personal enjoyment – seriously, it doesn’t matter, like what you like – they want everything to be top tier, and falling short of that is seen as failure.
There are no 7/10s. “It’s grand if you need a weekend thrill” simply will not do. There is only 10/10, or the franchise is in the gutter. This tribalism becomes so fervent that every part of whatever you like has to adhere to this standard. Unless you’re a filmmaker involved in the process as it happens, you have no power over the contents of a movie, thus we get petitions and hashtags and online events where fans try to push an agenda onto studios.
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Demands are sometimes realistic. A new cut, like Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever? That could be doable. A new film, written and put together from scratch, with A-list talent? That might be a stretch. Right now, The Amazing Spider-Man 3 would require so much negotiation between Sony and Marvel, so much arranging of schedules, and so many things to go right, it hardly seems worth it.
We’ve already had a perfectly good conclusion for Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker in Spider-Man: No Way Home, redeeming Jamie Foxx’s Electro all the while. The Amazing Spider-Man might not be topping as many Spidey movie rankings as Spider-Man 2, but it was still a good film that plenty of us saw on the big screen and beyond. That’s not something any Marvel character gets, just ask Morbius.