The Amazing Spider-Man
The half-life of pop culture keeps getting shorter. Exhibit A: It’s been only five years since Tobey Maguire was seen swinging around skyscrapers in Spider-Man 3. And even though that glum and gloomy installment divided fans of the iconic Marvel superhero, it still managed to rake in nearly $900 million around the world. So when Maguire and the original trilogy’s director, Sam Raimi, decided that they’d reached a creative dead end, Sony scrambled to keep the hand-over-fist franchise humming. After all, Spider-Man is too big a brand — and too important to the studio’s bottom line — to let die. Sony quickly rebooted the series, dipping back into the comics and spinning a new story with a new director and a new Spidey.
On paper, Marc Webb might seem an unlikely candidate to take the reins of a nine-figure film shot in 3-D and festooned with hundreds of F/X shots. The director’s previous film, 2009’s quirky rom-com (500) Days of Summer, cost a mere $7.5 million. But anyone who saw that film could tell that Webb cared about complex characters and emotions. And that’s exactly what Sony wanted to see amped up in its new Spider-Man: Peter Parker as existential high school outsider. ”You look at (500) Days of Summer and you can see that Marc is a softy,” says producer Avi Arad. ”Sam was very interested in the comic-book world and the specific look of certain panels. What Marc brings is a more realistic, more contemporary feel.”
As for the man replacing Maguire behind the mask, Webb auditioned hundreds of actors before handpicking Andrew Garfield, the 28-year-old Brit who had just popped in David Fincher’s The Social Network. What the director didn’t know at the time was just how familiar Garfield was with his webslinging alter ego. ”The first time I saw Spider-Man was on the animated TV series,” says Garfield. ”It floored me as a kid. I loved the character and pretended I was Peter Parker.” Adds Webb, ”Listening to Andrew talk about Spider-Man, you almost get the sense that playing this part was his destiny.”
To raise his Spider-Man above the standard superhero story, Webb filled his cast with actors as compelling as his leading man. Enter Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and Emma Stone as Peter’s love interest, Gwen Stacy. The Gwen Stacy story line is well-known to comic-book fans, but less so to moviegoers weaned on Raimi’s trilogy of films, which starred Kirsten Dunst as Peter’s other major girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson. ”There’s a different texture to the relationship with Gwen,” says Webb. ”She’s incredibly smart, maybe even smarter than Peter. They have a Hepburn/Tracy dynamic that I love’.’
Another crucial departure for the new Spidey is his nemesis. The Green Goblin and Doc Ock are out, Dr. Curt Connors (a.k.a. the Lizard) is in. Webb, whose knowledge of Spider-Man minutiae borders on the obsessive, insists that the Lizard (Rhys Ifans) is a more complicated baddie than we’ve seen before. Not only does his past intersect with that of Peter’s dead father, he also lost an arm, which leaves him scarred in more ways than one. ”The Lizard is the literal embodiment of the theme of our movie,” says Webb. ”We all have missing pieces — Peter is missing his parents, Dr. Curt Connors is missing his arm. It’s how we try to fill that void that defines us.”
If all this seems like a lot of change for die-hard Spidey fans to accept, Sony’s marketing team has been waging a nonstop war to win hearts and minds. In February the studio hosted a global simulcast that introduced the cast and unveiled some rough-cut scenes. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Now, less than three months before Spider-Man is reborn, Webb is busy fine-tuning the last of his film’s 3-D F/X sequences. After that he plans to go to New York City, where he just bought an apartment, and decompress by sleeping and taking in a few Broadway shows. We’re guessing Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark won’t be one of them. —Chris Nashawaty July 3