Before the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming came out it seemed as though everybody in the world had decided without a shadow of a doubt that this was going to be the best Spider-Man film since 2004. Suddenly, Toby Maguire was being hailed as some sort of hero because of his role as Peter Parker. I get that there were many disappointing things about The Amazing Spider-Man but the mistakes weren’t down to Andrew Garfield. They were down to poor writing and Sony desperately trying to build a franchise to compete with Marvel Films. It was handled terribly but I’ve always been a fan of Garfield’s Peter… even though he is a tad too old to play a high school student. Plus, how was everyone forgetting that Toby Maguire is kind of a terrible actor in these films? Those tears when Uncle Ben dies? That’s been a pretty strong feature of the meme circuit for years now. I felt like I had fallen in an insane alternate reality where everybody else’s memories of those films were different from mine. So, I decided to rewatch them for this week… just to be sure.
Who am I? You sure you want to know? The story of my life is not for the faint of heart. If somebody told you it was a happy tale, if somebody said I was just your average guy, not a care in the world… somebody lied. But let me assure you, this, like any other story worth telling, is all about a girl.
Toby Maguire delivers these lines in such a hilariously bad way that it just mars the opening scene. It’s supposed to be dangerous and enthralling but it just feels like a parody. Which is exactly what Maguire’s portrayal of Peter Parker feels like nowadays. I know classic Peter was a massive loser and was kicked around by everyone but these films don’t even seem to put us on Pete’s side. He’s a dummy but he’s also super annoying. People don’t like him but he never gives us a reason to think they should. This film came out 15 years ago but this portrayal feels so outdated it could easily have 30.
Then we have Kirsten Dunst’s Mary-Jane: I don’t know what to say about her because she’s such a non-entity. I don’t see why people are so obsessed with her because she never does anything. She’s supposed to be the cool and nice girl next door that Peter has been obsessed with for years. However, she’s just the bland, popular girl with the shiny red hair and a really questionable dress sense. And, the less said about James Franco’s Harry Osborn the better frankly. It’s a ridiculous performance that is only marginally better than Franco’s turn hosting the Oscars. I’m not saying Andrew Garfield was everything we wanted in a Peter Parker but he was better than this shit. Plus, with supporting cast members like Emma Stone and Dane DeHaan I find it impossible to see how anyone can say, so confidently, that the Toby Maguire films are better.
Still, there are still some good things about these films. The classic 60s Aunt May, played by Rosemary Harris, seems even more like a bit of a fuddy-duddy when compared to the likes of Sally Field and Marisa Tomei but she’s still perfect. Then there’s Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin. It is, for the time being at least, the best version of that character we have ever seen. The fights between Goblin and Spidey are a better watch then the ones in Marc Webber’s version even when you consider how outdated the effects are now. It’s an exciting film to watch and it provides us with a great villain. I also think this film handles Peter’s introduction to his powers really well. There are some great scenes as he comes to terms with his new abilities and it allows for a better sense of how far he comes as a hero.
Spider-Man was an important film in terms of the history of comic book movies on screen. It has pride of place but it is important to remember that it is not the greatest film ever. It’s not even the greatest film in its own trilogy. It was lucky in the sense that it was one of the first comic book movies in the new era of comic book movies. It didn’t have much competition then. It also came out just after 9/11 when New York needed a hero to get behind. The scenes where New Yorkers come to Spidey’s aid will never not be poignant given the historical context of this film.
However, this film falls down because of some underwhelming key performances, a often awful script, and a badly written story. There is too much emphasis on unnecessary things and not enough of a development on important characters. The story collapses under the requirement to show Peter’s origin; both being bitten by the spider and though the death of his uncle. There is so much here that is just in for laughs or for show that you can’t help but wonder what would have happened if plot points hadn’t been glossed over. I would have preferred more time with Ben and May before his death because it just feels shallow here. I will always love this film but watching this now it is even more confusing that people are putting it on such a fucking high pedestal.