If Sony had any doubt about the public curiosity about their upcoming “The Amazing Spider-Man,” my guess is that the the massive lines outside the AMC Century City theater where the Los Angeles portion of today’s big multi-media sneak peek event took place must have gone a long way toward putting them at ease.
They had events happening at the same time today in Rio, London, New York, and Los Angeles, with different people representing the film at each event. Here in LA, director Marc Webb showed up to introduce the presentation and to kick things off. In Rio, Emma Stone was joined by producers Avi Arad and Matt Holcum. In London, Rhys Ifans was on hand, and in New York, Andrew Garfield showed up to once again prove himself the most breathless advocate the new film could ever hope to have.
At heart, today was a big media event to premiere a new trailer, and I’m glad I knew that going in. I was prepared to drive an hour in early morning LA traffic to watch ten or twelve new minutes of footage, and all told, I probably got a little less than that. You’ll see the new trailer later tonight as part of a big online premiere, but there was also an extended sizzle reel that featured a fair degree of unfinished effects work. The guys seated behind me were convinced they were going to see the whole movie this morning, and I wonder how many of the hundreds of fans who I saw queued up outside the venue thought the same thing. It’s a film that comes with a fair degree of hype and expectation, and for many people, the question has been the same since it was first announced: why, exactly, are we already getting a reboot of this franchise?
Several things seem apparent at this point, having seen last year’s Comic-Con presentation and now having seen everything they showed today. First, we can expect a fairly extensive retelling of the origin story, and they seem to be going out of their way to make sure that they assert a new narrative, with a very different take on Peter Parker. This Peter is haunted by the loss of his parents in a way we never really got from the Raimi films. In Raimi’s take, that loss was simply part of his past, something he’d already dealt with. Here, they weren’t killed in an accident. They vanished mysteriously, leaving behind unanswered questions and unfinished work, and Peter’s entire identity seems to hinge on him being old enough to finally start answering those questions for himself.
That’s what leads him to track down Dr. Curt Connors, played by Rhys Ifans, who was an important collaborator for Peter’s father. When he shows up, he’s able to step in and help Connors complete the research they were doing together, and in that way, Peter becomes responsible when Connors eventually becomes The Lizard, a giant mutant monster who we got a fairly decent look at this morning. He is indeed large, green, and mostly CGI, and I think he’s pretty much exactly what you would expect when you hear that they’re using him as the bad guy this time.
Instead of Mary Jane Watson, who was played by Kirsten Dunst in the Raimi films, this time the focus is on Gwen Stacy, one of the other key ladies in the life of the comic-book version of Peter Parker. If you know the general arc of Gwen Stacy’s story, then you can imagine how they’re working to set her up as someone very different than the MJ we’d gotten familiar with over the previous films. Stone explained that the characters are pretty much “polar opposites,” pointing out that Gwen is her class valedictorian, that she’s got a great relationship with her father, Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), and that she comes from an affluent background. What I thought was most telling is that she specified that Gwen falls in love with Peter Parker, where MJ seemed to fall more in love with Spider-Man. This film seems to be working hard to establish the distinction between the two characters.
One thing that seemed evident is that this is finally the funny Spider-Man we haven’t really seen onscreen. I love it when writers make Peter laugh-out-loud funny when he’s in the costume. I see that as a nervous tic, something Peter does to try and distract the people he’s fighting, a defense mechanism that betrays just how nervous he is. It humanizes Parker for me, and I’ve always though that Bendis got it right in a way that feels like an inspiration for this movie’s take on the character.
i liked the extended footage we saw today. I thought it worked overall. I think Sally Field and Martin Sheen make a strong Aunt May and Uncle Ben, and we got a few glimpses of them in scenes with Garfield that suggest a family bond that will be very important to the way the film works. The chemistry between Stone and Garfield, a key to the film working, seems very easy and natural. In particular, they seem to be playing off of Gwen’s upbringing as the child of a cop and her fear every day regarding him and the danger he faces in his job. She’s obviously in on Peter’s big secret in this film, and she worries about what his self-imposed responsibility could cost her in the long run.
They’re definitely trying for a more physical approach to the web-slinging in this movie, and it looks like Webb’s approach here is to try to make it feel as experiential as possible, emphasizing how it would feel to throw yourself around on the end of thin nylon lines. We saw a little bit about his web-shooting cartridges, and I hope they’re going to take advantage of the drama inherent to him running out of web fluid at the least convenient times. It’s interesting to see how they’re working to set this version apart, and considering how adamant they were in the build-up to launching the Raimi version that no one would accept Parker making his own webbing. Now that they’re trying this other version, I’m sure we’re going to hear about how important Parker’s scientific background is to the character.
Do I have problems with what I saw? Some. It makes me nervous that we saw so much footage emphasizing origin story material. It makes me nervous that so much of the action footage we saw featured Parker in the Spider-Man suit but without a mask, something which started to wear on me by the third Raimi film. I get the difficulty of balancing the dramatic demands with the logic questions when you’ve got a masked superhero, but once again, it appears the filmmakers will take every opportunity to get that mask off. And The Lizard makes me a little nervous, too, because he’s so apparently a CGI creation in the footage we saw. I hope they nail the sadness underneath the monstrosity, and that Ifans is able to really create a character here. None of my concerns would keep me from seeing the film, obviously, but it’s worth reporting that this wasn’t just “loved it” across the board.
I think they’re in a hard spot here. The films so far are generally well-regarded, and Raimi and Maguire and Dunst can claim a certain degree of ownership over the franchise. For Sony to ask people to accept such a radical reinvention while memories of the previous films are still fairly fresh is a big step, and today’s event demonstrated just how hungry audiences are for Spider-Man in general. While I think the response in the room was strong, I think we’ve still got a ways to go before we know if they’ve successfully reinvented the property.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” will be in theaters July 3.