[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home.]
This December blew audiences away with the release of Jon Watts‘ Spider-Man: No Way Home, the third outing in Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man trilogy, which reset our favorite web-slinger to his default settings and put him up against Spider-Man’s greatest rogues from the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb installments. Bringing three generations of Spider-Men together was no easy feat, as Tom Holland, Tobey Maguire, and Andrew Garfield all had to keep their mouths shut leading up to the release of No Way Home, but the results speak for themselves.
Garfield’s less-beloved incarnation of Spider-Man first debuted in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, a reboot that many thought was “too early” at the time, leading to the series’ impending financial downfall. This version may have suffered from not having a bunch of Avengers by his side or by failing to face Spider-Man’s most iconic foes, like Venom or Doc Ock, but Garfield’s version of the web-slinger dove head-first into Peter Parker’s personal history, which made him unique among the rest. This Spider-Man wasn’t afraid to get real, to get raw, and express his more tortured side as he investigated the Oscorp conspiracy surrounding his parent’s sudden death, something the other incarnations never attempted to shed light on. The Amazing Spider-Man films give us the absolute best that Spider-Man has to offer as Garfield’s performance hits it out-of-the-park, with a willingness to go to deep and dark places to express Peter’s inner turmoil, masking his pain with a comics-accurate, comedic approach to crime-fighting.
In Spider-Man: No Way Home, Garfield doesn’t miss a beat, hiding the pain of Gwen’s death with false confidence that slowly breaks down as he gets to know the other versions of himself. As Maguire’s Peter tells him, “you’re amazing,” Garfield’s variant can’t bring himself to say it, and isn’t that the most Peter Parker thing… This, Garfield’s uncanny ability to get into the mind of the tortured Peter Parker, is why Andrew Garfield is the best Spider-Man, and why it’s time to revisit his tenure under the mask.
There are many things to love about Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man films, one of which is the more realistic, and excitingly conspiratorial, interpretation of Spider-Man’s origin. Yes, Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) is still shot by a man that Peter refused to apprehend, and yes, he is still bitten by a radioactive spider, but The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel expand on his personal origins even further. The inclusion of Oscorp in the story (much like the Ultimate Spider-Man comics), and the revelation that Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) was working on a secret project for Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper), serves the Amazing story well, providing an emotional backbone to the origin of Peter’s powers. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 goes on to reveal that not only were Oscorp’s super-spiders a product of Richard Parker’s initial research but that he used his own blood as the basis for his experiments.
This small explanation, which comes after Peter discovers his father’s secret lab, helps us better understand why Peter’s body reacts positively to the spider’s venom, giving him superhuman abilities rather than mutating him as it does with Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). While not a necessary addition, it’s a logical one as it stands to reason that many Oscorp employees would have been bit by those spiders over the years, yet only Peter walks away with incredible abilities. This built-in failsafe is just another piece of Richard Parker’s Oscorp puzzle that the series explores, though sadly didn’t get to finish.
Garfield’s interpretation of Peter Parker also highlights Spider-Man’s high intelligence. Maguire’s Peter was a boy-genius to be sure, but with Garfield’s, we see Peter more as a prodigy. Between helping Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) finish his father’s formula, developing his own web-fluid, and his electrical experiments after fighting Electro (Jamie Foxx), we actually get to see Peter’s grungy scientific know-how first hand. He even uses his webs to track down the Lizard in the first film by observing vibrations in the sewers, like an actual spider. Take the Stark tech away from Holland’s Peter Parker, and Garfield’s is easily the smartest in the room. The Amazing Spider-Man films excel at highlighting this, even in the wake of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and her own genius, which is more of an asset to Peter than a threat.
Speaking of Gwen, this Peter’s romantic relationship is a lot more believable, and natural, than the other live-action variants and their respective MJ’s. Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) never noticed Tobey Maguire’s Peter before he got his powers, and it was only once she knew his identity as Spider-Man that they were able to begin an honest relationship at the end of Spider-Man 2 (she even runs away from her own wedding). The MJ (Zendaya) of the MCU pays Holland’s Peter no mind in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and while their awkward romance is the emotional backbone of the sequel, it’s somewhat random given the events of the first film. This isn’t true at all of The Amazing Spider-Man or its sequel.
In these films, Peter and Gwen have a naturally awkward teenage dynamic from the get-go and are mutually interested in one another before and after the former’s transformation into Spider-Man. In fact, if the revelation of Peter’s identity as the wall-crawler does anything, it puts further strain on their relationship rather than sealing the deal. This becomes their struggle in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and is a lot more compelling than the will-they-won’t-they of Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man trilogy. Their adorkable witty banter and explosive chemistry put them miles ahead of the other Peter Parker’s and their MJs.
Gwen proves to be an excellent addition to The Amazing Spider-Man by truly being Peter’s equal. While she can’t swing around New York City or stick to walls, she’s as smart as Peter (if not smarter) and proves invaluable to stopping both the Lizard and Electro, becoming more than a simple damsel in distress. Gwen has her own dreams, her own family, and her own life apart from Peter that isn’t constantly revolving around his world as Spider-Man. Peter and Gwen are both self-sacrificing for one other, they (healthily) know when to put the needs of the other ahead of their own and when to double down on their own dreams. Because of this, Peter is even willing to move to England for her. Although Gwen is killed at the hands of a Green Goblin-wannabe Harry Osborn, her graduation speech is the catalyst for Peter’s decision to return to crime-fighting as Spider-Man. Sure, her death has made him bitter, angry, and he doesn’t always pull his punches (as explained in No Way Home), but he is still Spider-Man by the end of the second film because of her.
For all its faults, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 highlights a larger Spider-Man universe that opened the door for countless possibilities, something the MCU has only teased thus far. With Oscorp at the center, Spider-Man’s greatest foes were set to appear in a canceled Sinister Six film that would lead into two more Amazing Spider-Man installments, building a bigger narrative. While many believe that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 went “too big, too fast”, it actually tends to fall more in line with Spider-Man’s life in the comics. Spider-Man is always busy. There is always too much going on in his life that he has no control over, which is why Peter Parker often has to take the backseat for Spider-Man. For the other issues many claim the Andrew Garfield films had, multiple villains were never The Amazing Spider-Man‘s problem.
With recent Marvel hits like Loki and What If?… which play with variants and multiverse stories, not to mention Spider-Man: No Way Home and the upcoming Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (which is directed by original Spider-Man trilogy director Sam Raimi), it seems possible, and even plausible, that Andrew Garfield’s Amazing Spider-Man could return in the future. The recent Sony/Marvel Venom films and the upcoming Morbius all tease a connection to Spider-Man, with Morbius even showing Oscorp and the apparent return of Michael Keaton‘s Vulture from the MCU (or a variant of him). Why couldn’t Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker be the one to reside in the same world as Venom (Tom Hardy) and Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto)? Both Tobey Maguire and Tom Holland’s Spider-Men have completed arcs that have rounded out their respective interpretations; could No Way Home have opened the door to finish the story of Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker?
We could hope and speculate all day as to whether Sony and Marvel would consider continuing The Amazing Spider-Man in some fashion, and obviously, this author hopes they would, but regardless, Garfield’s Spider-Man trilogy (including Spider-Man: No Way Home) is one of intrigue and excitement that challenged everything we knew about Spider-Man and, just like his comic’s counterpart, wasn’t afraid to wreak havoc on Peter Parker’s life. With so many plot threads webbed together and emotional anchors that hit the spot every time, The Amazing Spider-Man films really give it their all, and what more could we hope for from Spider-Man?