Is this to say that all of the blockbuster’s small-scale choices are flawless? Most definitely not. There are definitely script issues (why does he just totally give up searching for Uncle Ben’s killer?) and the idea to put Peter’s parents at the center of a conspiracy is bad enough in the first film before it totally shits the bed in the second. The larger point is that the general profile of The Amazing Spider-Man supersedes its actual content, and there is actually a whole lot to like about the movie – thus making it the most underrated Spider-Man feature.
First and foremost there is Andrew Garfield’s performance, which is delightful and ultimately true to the character. The whole “rebel with a skateboard” issue only actually exists for his pre-bite persona, as that attitude squarely fits with his evolution into the web-slinging superhero. Furthermore, Garfield leans into the beloved humorist side of Spidey when he is under the mask, and he’s able to get genuine laughs as he antagonizes everyone from a car-jacker, to the big bad, Curt Connors a.k.a. The Lizard (Rhys Ifans).
The movie also does a far superior job compared to its predecessor highlighting the technical genius of Peter Parker. Being outfitted with organic web-shooters, Tobey Maguire’s iteration of the character didn’t get a great number of opportunities across three movies to practically demonstrate his impressive intelligence, but Garfield’s web-shooters is just one example of that in The Amazing Spider-Man. While he’s admittedly piggybacking on his father’s work, he stands side by side with Dr. Connors on his regeneration experiment, and you believe it.
Another realignment with comic canon is the re-establishment of Gwen Stacy as Peter’s high school love interest, and Emma Stone takes what could have ended up being a thankless role and gives the character presence and agency. She has a part to play in the third act, utilizing her own intelligence to contribute to the plot to stop The Lizard, and is kept miles away from the “damsel in distress trope.”
Even stylistically there are aspects of the film on which MCU Spider-Man director Jon Watts should take notes. The Amazing Spider-Man was initially designed as a 3D movie, and while there aren’t a whole lot of people who are actually watching it in that format today, some of the choices it demanded in the cinematography still very much work without the aid of specialized glasses, and actually look spectacular. The first person shots are next level, providing the dizzying rush of what it would be like to fly on webs through the streets of New York, and some of the 360 degree camera moves in the swinging sequences are a blast.
It won’t ever rank as one of the best Spider-Man movies, but The Amazing Spider-Man is definitely better than most people give it credit for. If it’s been a minute since you’ve last watched it, you may be surprised to see how it’s changed in a new context.