Here I am in the Crosby Street Hotel in Lower Manhattan early on a Saturday morning in June. ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ producers Matt Tolmach and Avi Arad join director Marc Webb (’500 Days of Summer’) on stage for the first press conference of the day. They are much more awake than I am, and are beat boxing.
Press conferences are odd gatherings where a bunch of us sit in a room, pass around two wireless microphones and ask pretty basic questions of whomever gets tossed in front of us. This particular day, It was the producers, director and stars of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man,’ the “untold story.” Read: re-boot. Right down to spending an hour re-telling the whole spider-bite thing.
Most of the message from the cast was, subtextually: This is a new, different Spider-Man the world will love. And they’re mostly right, because it’s a very recognizable Spider-Man to those that saw the first Raimi film. The question that never feels like it’s adequately answered is “why reboot Spider-Man this quickly?” Arad and Tolamac think they have a pretty good idea (more on that tomorrow, back here at Latino-Review.com).
Avi Arad, producer of a handful of early Marvel movies, says that his biggest challenge was getting people to realize that comic books are a real art form, meanwhile, I look at my watch. It is 2012 still, the year of ‘The Avengers.’ ‘A History of Violence’ (arguably one of the better comic films ever made) came out 7 years ago. Matt says that Avi was one of the firsts and now we’ve come to a time period when superhero movies are all over. The new question is how do you do a character like Spider-Man, says Tolamac, and his answer is “a good story and a good director.”
Too bad this movie’s story cripples it because it has to re-origin Spider-Man in a way that isn’t interesting or different enough to provide momentum for the film’s second half. And it’s such a hard thing to hold against the movie, because everyone involved seemed to take a genuine stab at making it great and mostly succeeded. No one is going to fault the performances in this movie, and if people think Marc Webb’s at fault, well…I’d argue that they’re wrong.
They let Marc Webb talk about casting Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Webb brings up Boy A (as an example of how childlike Andrew Garfield can be) and Red Riding (seriousness) as examples of Andrew’s range, then goes on to describe the Peter Parker that I recognize from comics I like: witty, wise-cracking, outsider, physical and brilliant teenager. The balance between awkward Parker and science genius Parker works brilliantly in this movie.
Marc Webb finds Emma Stone “hilarious” but knew he couldn’t cast actors independently, so he needed to cast chemistry. When Emma and Andrew tested there was “some magic that was happening between them that was just fun to watch.” Webb wanted to build the Parker/Stacy relationship on ’500 Days of Summer’ type of moments. I think he succeeded by letting Peter and Gwen have a lot of smaller, charming moments when it’s just the two of them and Gwen isn’t being shoe-horned into the plot needlessly. You get the idea that Webb, Garfield and Stone were confident this relationship would work on screen, but also had to do this whole “bitten by a genetic mutant spider” thing.
Next question is about the crane swinging sequence that takes place later in the film. Really interesting story about Webb walking through New York and thinking about how he would web swing and realizing that without cranes, you can’t reach the fastest web-slinging velocity. Spider-Man doesn’t spend a lot of time swinging down the middle of avenues because there aren’t enough places to attach a web and still be able to swing in a straight line, hence the crane sequence and the physics based Web-Slinging all the way through the movie.
Webb says the mask is a symbol and when Peter saves the boy on the bridge, he’s saving himself. See, Marc Webb, you knew what this movie was supposed to be. Why’d you let them goad you into a new origin story?
Someone asks about Stan Lee and Webb geeks out. First thing he did was ask for Stan Lee’s number and asked him to lunch. First thing Stan Lee said was: “So Marc, let’s talk about my cameo.” The Stan Lee cameo is during one of The Amazing Spider-Man’s best moments. One word: Library.
Thirteen minutes in, Webb breaks down The Lizard voice: two pitch shifted Rhys lines, both pitch shifted down, played with a brief delay between each playback with some mucus and breathing sounds. Originally had more ‘Pans Labyrinth’ like clacking sounds, but it ended up being distracting.
Avi Arad just called Marc Webb a “chick flick guy” and everyone giggled. I know he meant it as a joke, but I can’t help but feel like some people at Columbia are going to continue to deragatorily call Marc Webb “the chick flick guy” if Spider-Man doesn’t open the way it should.
A brave journalist asks something that’s essentially: “Why is a reboot necessary?”
“We’ve seen the story of the origin of Spider-Man, we haven’t always seen the story of the origin of Peter Parker,” says Marc Webb in a way where I can’t tell whose idea he’s representing. “I think there was details that surrounded, say, the spider bite and his reason for getting bitten that was important in an ongoing world that I had thought of early on. So I felt like it was important to expand on an understand – for the audience to understand those details and that connection with OsCorp. While honoring the iconic elements of the Spider-Man origin, I wanted to re-define it in a wayt hat made sense for the larger, newer story they were telling.”
And if you agree with that statement, The Amazing Spider-Man is a justifiable exercise in entertaining summer fare. If you see the movie and disagree that this story needed to be retold, like I did, that line sounds like something Marc Webb needed to say to sell an origin story he had to tell. It’s up to you if you think you would have had trouble believing Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker without seeing him bit by a spider.
Quick break, I pump myself full of more coffee, realize that everyone else I’m going to talk to did a fantastic job in a film I enjoyed in an under-plotted-but-still-feels-long summer movie way (John Carter much?). Martin Sheen wanders in before anyone sees Sally Field and starts making jokes with the journalists on his way to the stage.
Martin Sheen and Sally Field are doing something more like a early morning chat show than a press conference. It is one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. Apparently, they haven’t seen the movie. This is adorable. Sally Field has never read a Spider-Man comic, she was a Little LuLu fan. She was a comic book freak, just the girl ones, Bettie and Veronica, etc. Her physicist brother, though, was mainly into Spider-Man and golden age comics. She’s familiar with the movies, but not the comics and not her movie, because – once again – they haven’t seen it. Martin Sheen read Nancy comics but mostly went to movies or watched afternoon serials.
Sally Field doesn’t like to look at herself. She didn’t like watching herself on TV and a 3D movie means she might not see it. She wants to see everyone’s work, just not herself. She doesn’t even think that actors should watch dailies, because you’ll start to be aware of and imitate your own performance. That’s why sometimes actors get “pose-y” in their third or fourth film. Martin Sheen agrees: avoid dailies if at all possible. It was easy for a 3D movie, because it was hard to see dailies even if they wanted too. He knew an artist who didn’t want to hang his own paintings in his house so he wouldn’t influence himself.
Martin Sheen: be my grandpa!
They both only acted with Andrew and each other. I would have loved to watch that movie of the life of Peter Parker. Sally Field really gets that Peter Parker has a troubled soul and she is a much less annoying Aunt May than we’ve ever been on screen. “As far as we knew, we were shooting a little kitchen drama…with a hand held 3D camera,” says Field and I wish I had seen that kitchen drama. Never thought I’d want more Aunt May.
I think Sally Field successfully connected ASM to the Arab Spring…it sort of works, but sort of doesn’t because I’m not sure the agency Peter Parker takes in his own life is anything like taking agency from your own country, but everyone’s so charmed by the flying nun, we smile.
Denis Leary walks in, takes the stage, stands half in the light and doesn’t sit down. I’m hoping he’s just going to do a stand-up set (because Captain Stacey in ASM is, character wise, exactly like J. Jonah Jamison from the Raimi films – he might even call Spidey a “menace”).
Denis Leary was very happy to just be an actor after wearing so many hats on Rescue Me. Got to watch SportsCenter when technical things were happening on set. He improvised “the Godzilla line” in the Police station scene he gets with Peter. I realize it might be one of three scenes Captain Stacy gets to talk in and once again, I’m kind of wishing there was more of this character in the movie. Marc Webb wanted to make a character movie and the actors seems to think that he’s pulled that off. He let Leary and Andrew play around on set. During the dinner scene, Marc Webb told Leary he had to step it up because he might have been phoning it in a little; Leary stepped it up. Leary says he’s played a bunch of NYC public service heroes, and has had too many good experiences to mention. He also had a detective call him out for outing his affair via Rescue Me plots.
“There’s a lot of actors walking around saying ‘I do my own stunts’… Fuuuuuck you.” – Denis Leary.
Leary talks about the new self-distribution model of stand up comedy. He won’t be releasing new material any time soon because he needs to tour to make new material and he hasn’t had the time, but he’s excited by the business model. And he’s shuffled off in time for a beautiful woman to take his place.
I’m dreading 25 minutes listening to made up Rhys Ifans questions, but first Emma Stone shows up first, looking amazing.
Emma Stome was supposed to be Mary Jane. Then she got a call that it was Gwen Stacey and fell in love with the epic version of Gwen Stacey in the comics. She worked very hard to read the comics and figure out what elements to bring into this version of Gwen Stacey. She says she doesn’t think this Gwen would have Norman Osborn’s children and I’m the only one in the audience who audibly cheers at this comic reference. We make eye-contact for half a second. She also wanted to impress Andrew since she respects his work. Was Andrew the bar for all the actors on this movie? Seems right.
She was cast before the script was finished, only saw sides.
Emma Stone comes off as incredibly intelligent. So much so that a question about Gwen Stacy becomes a story about how she wanted to be part of some science program but was rejected because she was homeschooled and how unfair that was, because she’d been learning the exact same things as all the other people her age. Intelligent and charming. I’m pretty sure I’m not being critical at this point, I might be in love.
This girl knows the full names of her support crew (hair, costumes, make-up, writing). If you made her look good, she knows your name. Andrew Garfield will be this way too. It’s great to see younger actors that have both talent and respect for the institution of big-studio filmmaking.
Emma talks about how the hallway scene of half-sentences where Peter and Gwen flirt was mostly improvised. A lot of the comedy between her and Denis Leary was improvised as well, including a period joke. She figured the last thing a father wants to talk about is his daughter’s period. I can’t help but wonder what happened to her in her life to make her think that, then I feel gross.
Stone talks about how the 3D lens is so reflective that it’s like a mirror and she had to learn to to react to seeing her own performance as she was giving it.
“This feels different, the press feels different, that’s when you know you’re in Spider-Man” – Emma Stone.
Emma Stone leaves and my life gets darker.
Rhys Ifans time!
2 minutes in – This is already boring.
Luckily everyone did my work for me by keeping ridiculously off topic. No one mentions that Curt Connors’ story arc is exactly the same as Normon Osborn’s from the first movie, there was some motion capture. Rhys Ifans tried to add depth to something not that deep, he did a fine job with it, but mostly just seemed to think the situation was kind of cool in a “we’re all chilling making a movie, I’m Rhys Ifans, hey” way. He talks about his band a little.
Rhys Ifans is the first one teasing a sequel. It seems odd, because I’m not sure where his character is going. He had something to do with the unanswered Parker backstory (yes, there is quite a bit left unanswered at the end of the film). After the press conference, word will spread the through the journalists that who we all thought was Norman Osborn in a surprise appearance was actually a different, as-yet-unnamed character. Rhys Ifans leaves me super-confused about what this movie was for, considering he seems to think he might be in the next one.
Rhys Ifans says that he used to be part of acting classes where they’d ask him to be sizzling bacon or a tree and it all felt stupid, but one of the things they asked him to be was a lizard and look at him now, so maybe being an actor is just a little silly after all. Deep, Ifans.
Andrew Garfield is super charming and seems like the consummate professional. He knows all his references for being a teenager, the names and personalities of his stunt crew and has a genuine fan mentality towards the Spider-Man character. The problem is that there’s not much he can say about the movie outside of what he actually does on screen. He says it was hard to get into a rhythm with 3D cameras, he likes to keep going and going and going, why he liked Fincher, but this was different because it took so much technical setup and the rigs were much larger. He says that being in the Spider-Man costume is more hellish than we probably imagine. He talks about being able to improvise a good amount of Spider-Man’s witty dialogue. The Car Jacking scene was improv’d and because all the web was CG, Garfield was a little surprised at the car jacking scene because he imagined Spider-Man would web his own spider insigina on the groin of the car jacker.
Everyone has a good-natured laugh and Andrew Garfield is off, knowing he’s going to make at least one more ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ movie when it’s sequel hits in 2014.
That was the Spider-Man press conferences – many hours of vague answers and entertaining asides about how this Spider-Man reboot is fresh enough to justify it’s own existence while everyone in the audience who had seen the movie the day before secretly feared that it isn’t.
‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ opens TOMORROW in theaters just in time for your 4th of July weekend.
Come back to Latino-Review on Tuesday to read my 10 minutes of Q&A time where Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach try to convince me that the origin needed to be retold (hint: SEQUELS)…They might have actually succeeded! If not, we at least get to talk about one of my favorite Marvel Movie legends of ALL TIME.