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Long before there was a Marvel Cinematic Universe and endless comic book adaptations on the box office and small screen, there was Spider-Man. Sam Raimi’s original trilogy was a box office juggernaut, and Sony made plenty of money off its follow-ups in the two Amazing Spider-Man films — though those continuities were abandoned when the studio cut bait and cast Tom Holland to join the wider world of Marvel heroes.
But that Amazing Spider-Man series? It wasn’t all bad.
**SPOILER WARNING: Though most everyone on the planet has already seen it at this point judging by those opening weekend numbers — fair warning — spoilers ahead for Spider-Man: No Way Home**
As pretty much everyone assumed and now knows for certain, both original Spider-Man stars Tobey Maguire (from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy) and Andrew Garfield (from the two Amazing Spider-Man films) return to the role of Peter Parker in the multiversal mash-up that is Spider-Man: No Way Home.
The set-up is a classic comic book mess: Doctor Strange’s spell goes awry and drags in villains from across the spectrum of those two previous franchises, and of course, those OG Spider-Men also make the journey for an epic team up two decades and eight movies (or more than that, if you count Holland’s several appearances in other MCU movies) in the making. It’s a movie filled with fan service, but it’s fan service for characters we’ve spent decades loving and missing at this point, so it feels more than earned.
The film is loaded with meta jokes and gags between the trio of Peter Parkers, from Holland and Garfield freaking out over Maguire’s natural web-shooters (Raimi’s adaptation of the canon had Peter develop the ability to shoot webs from his wrists without the need for mechanical web-shooters), to Maguire giving Garfield a pep talk and telling him he’s “Amazing” all his own. There’s also the deep cut references to the events of those old films, from Maguire recounting how his best friend turned evil and tried to kill him, and Garfield feeling a bit inadequate because he never fought any aliens.
Oh, and the Avengers? That sounds cool — is it a band or something?
The mostly-skipped saga
More than anything, jokes aside, No Way Home finally put Andrew Garfield’s short-lived and prematurely abandoned version of Peter Parker on equal footing with the two versions of Spider-Man that are (admittedly) the most successful. Movies have to make money, and there’s a reason Sony cancelled plans for a third Amazing Spider-Man and teamed up with Marvel Studios to reboot and share the character. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 made less money than the first installment (and was largely savaged by critics), which shook confidence that a third installment in that run would right the ship. So, Spidey headed off to play with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes instead.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had some beautiful moments but was a bit of a mess on the margins, trying to introduce too many villains and threads with the aims of setting up future spinoffs and sequels (it had a bit too much Iron Man 2 in its DNA, to put it into MCU terms). Despite all that set-up, the continuity was abandoned anyway, and the final tease of that universe was a looming Sinister Six team-up that never came to fruition.
But even though the Amazing Spider-Man films are relegated to the largely skipped, mostly forgotten black sheep of the Spider-Man film canon, the series did some interesting things with the character with a funny, human, more modern take with Garfield in the title role. He was finding his way through a reality that felt more like our own, growing up in a more grounded world than the timeless, comic book-y universe Raimi built. He was more outcast than nerd, and tapped into a kind of street-level goofiness you’d likely get with a teenager developing superpowers (“My weakness. Small knives. Anything but knives!” remains one of the funniest Spider-Man movie moments to date).
The chance to do it differently
It’s the darkness, the loss and the love story, though, where Amazing Spider-Man really finds its through line. The story of Spider-Man has always been one of death and responsibility, but the Amazing series put those concepts into the foundations of every story it told. First we lose Uncle Ben, then Capt. Stacy dies while helping Spider-Man stop the Lizard. Then that promise: Peter vows to a dying Capt. Stacy to keep his distance from Gwen (Emma Stone), to protect her from the dangers of his superhero world.
As anyone who’s read a Spider-Man comic likely knows, Peter doesn’t keep that promise. Gwen’s own agency and efforts to help Peter stop Electro and Green Goblin find her in harm’s way, and Peter ends up half-a-second too late to save Gwen’s life in the climax of Amazing Spider-Man 2. The movie may have been a bit of a mixed bag, but that sequence still stands as one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking scenes in superhero cinema. It’s gorgeous, and will rip your heart out no matter how many times you’ve read the comic and know that moment is coming.
That served as the unceremonious end of Garfield’s Peter Parker story for the past eight years, but his long-awaited return in No Way Home finally brought closure to that tragedy and a moment of catharsis and healing we’d been deprived. Garfield’s Peter talks openly about the death of Gwen, and how it drove him to a bitterness and rage he’s still reckoning with all these years later. He’s still fighting to be the type of man she would be proud of, but it’s hard. Garfield’s Spider-Man finally gets his long-delayed redemption in a scene many fans had predicted, as MJ (Zendaya) is thrown from the top of the Statue of Liberty, and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is hit by the Goblin (Willem Dafoe) and unable to save her.
Eight years later, Garfield’s Spider-Man has learned from his mistake and is ready for his second chance. The scene is framed, shot, and even composed to evoke the moment of Gwen’s death from Amazing Spider-Man 2. He makes the rescue, being sure to catch her in his arms instead of snagging her with a web — which was the fatal move he tried while reaching for Gwen. As they safely hit the ground, Garfield’s Spider-Man bursts into tears. It’s an admittedly short beat in a much wider battle and fight scene, but it speaks volumes for this character’s journey for him to finally have that moment of atonement. To replay that scenario and finally have the opportunity to do it differently.
If this is the last we ever see of Garfield in the Spidey-suit, he’s at least brought a sense of closure to an arc that seemed like it would likely be left open indefinitely. He’s not perfect, but he’s trying. He’s damaged, but despite the trauma he’s still a hero. Garfield’s Spidey is just as much a hero as the rest, and No Way Home finally gave his saga a chance to shine.
Despite a fervent social media fan campaign ripping around this week, it's admittedly unlikely we’ll ever get to see Amazing Spider-Man 3 at this point, but at least we finally know his story isn’t over. And if Sony does decide to double dip with some parallel universe Spider-Man movie franchises down the line, this one remains as ripe as ever for a return.
Long live Spider-Man. All of them.