The Amazing Spider-Man
Following the record-smashing success of The Avengers (grossing US$1.3 billion in its first month), it’s clear that audiences have sustained their enthusiasm for high profile super heroes. Now with the second wave of spandex-clad crime-fighters, expectations are high for The Amazing Spider-Man, followed by that other comic book legend, Batman, who bids farewell in his final appearance in The Dark Knight Rises.
The Spider-Man franchise encompasses three films, grossing nearly $2.5 billion worldwide. The collaboration of director Sam Raimi and his star, Tobey Maguire, debuted in 2002 and followed with sequels in 2004 and 2007. Originally, a fourth instalment was in the pipeline, however, the studio decided to go another route and the franchise was rebooted with a new director, Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer). His modus operandi was to go younger and grittier with a fresh cast that includes Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man, Emma Ston, as Gwen Stacy and Rhys Ifans as the villainous Dr. Curt Connors.
Unlike the trilogy, based on the ‘90s television cartoon, The Amazing Spider-Man is rooted in the original comic books series of the early ‘60s. According to the tag line, The Amazing Spider-Man promises to tell ‘the untold story.’
For a fan of the genre, what kind of ‘untold story’ can there be?
Explains Avi Arad, producer and CEO of Marvel Studios, “We all know Peter Parker, but we didn’t know what made him Peter. So we went to the origin-origin in which Peter actually lost his parents, encumbered by the fact that he didn’t know what really happened. Were they dead or alive, and were they good or bad people? All things that form the character of a child we’re exploring. So, we started with the earlier years and when you meet Peter you see the complexity of an orphan or a child of adoption.
“But, we also have an amazing love story, a new one. We have Emma Stone playing Gwen Stacy, and Gwen is the true love story of Peter Parker. She fell in love with Peter Parker, whereas, as you remember, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) fell in love with Spider-Man.”
For the producers, it was important to exploit the love story and leave the action behind, presumably to appeal to a female demographic. It’s for this reason Marc Webb was chosen to helm the project.
“Well, we wanted Marc Webb because of his name,” jokes Arad. “Yes, he was an unusual choice but what he did with 500 Days of Summer proved that he can make a relationship movie, and that’s what this movie is. In all fairness, almost anybody can make an action movie but an action movie that is driven by character is a big challenge.
“I think when Stan Lee created the mythology, he was more interested in the private lives of the superheroes than the crime-fighting aspect,” he says. “And those relationships need to have a specific currency in order for us to invest.”
Producer Matt Tolmach, adds, “This Spider-Man has to do with realism and serious relationships. Even our heroine, unlike in the early years of Marvel, women were well dressed. Now we’ve moved into the future and women are very smart. Actually, Gwen thinks she’s smarter than him. She’s first in the class, and he’s second.”
Having only directed one film, although critically and commercially successful, as well as several music videos, it’s surprising that Webb was entrusted to direct a film with an alleged budget of over US$220 million, let alone in 3D. It’s an incredibly fast rise for the 37-year old, Indiana-born director.
“There’s a part of you, the 17-year-old version of yourself knocking inside your brain, and going, ‘Are you kidding? I’m going to do a SPIDER-MAN movie,’” he acknowledges. “And yes, it’s scary. Of course it is. It’s intimidating and exhilarating but I believe that nervousness and excitement are always walking side by side.
“I loved the 3D aspect to it. It makes for a premium experience for theatregoers. We made sure it was done with a level authenticity and care. Our staff of 3D technicians made sure every shot feels right and has depth. It’s part of the foundation of the film and there is a genuine sense of gravity at work. We did things with wires to create a feeling of danger.”
Speaking of danger, as important, if not more so, to a comic book’s heroes, is of course the villains, who are usually a lot more memorable and interesting. In an unusual stroke of casting, Welsh actor Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill, Anonymous) brings his inner reptile to the role of ‘mad scientist’ Dr Connors. The theatre trained actor says, “I can see why Dr Connors finds the lizards so seductive. Becoming reptilian, of course, was initially about re-growing a limb, but then there’s the vanity which kicks in. So that’s what I expose,” he says. “And I like reptiles. They’re solitary, aloof, independent and beautiful. All these attributes as humans we wish we could be,” he says, straight-faced.
Despite his roles in substantial and serious film fare, the enormity of the role and the franchise is not lost on him. “I am as incredulous of getting this role, as anyone is. Never in my wildest fucking dreams would I guess I’d play this role. It’s massive.”
Ultimately, for Webb, the mythology of Spider-Man and why it’s endured over decades is because at its core, it’s a classic underdog story. He says, “There are many layers in Spider-Man. I think moral fulfilment is part of it but for me, it’s about a skinny kid, an underdog, and everybody identifies with that idea. Everyone identifies with having to overcome things by becoming stronger than you ever thought possible. There’s something that’s just really appealing about that and I think that’s where the idea of wishful fulfilment comes from.”
This version of Spidey seems a little more hipper than his past incarnations. Says Webb, “Yes, well, musically, there’s a couple of parts in the movie that give the character a bit more context and awareness of his surroundings. Like, the Ramones shirt he has. There’s a level of specificity to that which is part of his idea of trying to create a more realistic world. When people walk out of the theatre, I want to recognise and feel it’s a little more grounded.”
It’s interesting that superhero films have maintained such broad commercial appeal. Webb says, “I suppose it’s because they’re bigger than life and we desperately want the good guy to win. The first part of the fascination is that the good guy doesn’t win oftentimes and then what really drives it home is that they have to sacrifice a big part of themselves to make it happen. There’s a tragic bitter-sweet quality in which we can all relate.
“[Christopher] Nolan said that superheroes are gods, in a way. They’re our mythology, and for whatever reason we have a spiritual connection to these characters. And, I agree with him.”
Speaking of Nolan, is Webb worried about The Caped Crusader on the heels of Spidey’s opening weekend?
“Well, put it this way,” he smiles. “I’m glad we’re not coming out at the same weekend.”
BY MICHELE MANELIS
The Amazing Spider-Man opens in 3D at theatres around Australia on Wednesday July 4 distributed through Sony Pictures. You catch also catch it in 3D on the world's 3rd largest screen at IMAX Melbourne for a limited two week season.