Today in various cities across the globe (and linked, through the magic of technology, seamlessly), Sony presented a smattering of footage from July’s hotly anticipated reboot “The Amazing Spider-Man,” as well as the brand new (3D!) trailer. While much of the footage seems fairly familiar, with many of the same story beats being hit from Sam Raimi‘s original 2002 iteration, there were enough surprises to hold our interest, and visually the movie appears to be absolutely ravishing — deep and immersive in ways most 3D movies lack.
The presentation started with each city being introduced – in Rio de Janeiro, the audience watched alongside longtime franchise producer Avi Arad and Emma Stone (who plays the reboot’s Gwen Stacy); in London they were menaced by Rhys Ifans (Curt Connors aka The Lizard); in New York we were graced by Spider-Man himself Andrew Garfield; and in Los Angeles director Marc Webb acted as the de facto master of ceremonies, introducing the clips and tossing it over to the various international audiences.
Then they ran the new trailer, in 3D no less. The clip was very quick but gave a good sense of the universe that the new team is trying to create – nerdy Peter Parker is bullied at school, falls in love with the glamorous Gwen Stacy, lives with his aunt and uncle (Martin Sheen and Sally Field), and, after being bitten by a glowing spider, begins developing superpowers. It sounds pretty familiar so far, right? A lot of the footage did seem eerily reminiscent, and the tagline of “the untold story” seems a bit of a mislead (unless Spider-Man having a skateboard is “untold”). Even the central conflict of Peter Parker coming under the tutelage of a scientist with a god complex (who of course becomes a superhuman monster) closely mirrors plot of the first and second Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” entries.
Where the footage seems different is in the approach – Spider-Man seems to brood more. There’s less bounce in his spider-webs. He brushes up against Gwen’s father, Captain Stacy (Denis Leary). At the dinner table, Peter says that he thinks Spider-Man is doing what the police can’t. Captain Stacy bristles. Gwen giggles uncomfortably. In a telling sequence teased in the trailer, Spider-Man is surrounded by a bunch of armed policemen and unmasked and he still manages to kick all of their asses (Spider-Man, his face bruised and bloodied) — it’s one of the trailer’s more memorable images.
As the trailer progresses, more of the action sequences are shown, with Connors injecting himself with the lizardy serum (you don’t see his face in the trailer, but we did see it in the footage shown afterwards), and Spider-Man swinging around a neon-lined New York City. The visuals are considerably darker this time around – we’re mercifully free of the sunny god-and-country optimism of Raimi’s trilogy. Instead, things are denser, deeper, and more complex. The 3D looks genuinely amazing, with each scene having an extra layer of oomph and pop. Spider-Man’s suit, in particular, is kind of hypnotic to watch. It glitters, catching moonlight or streetlight, making him look more organic and complex.
The trailer ends with a gee-wow moment of a structure crashing down on the top of a building, and Spider-Man zooming off towards the camera. And it’s hard not to be impressed. So far the footage hasn’t inspired much excitement, but probably because so little of it was actually finished. Seeing a more completed version of the action not only gives you a greater sense of what the movie will be, but how it will be different. It might be the same story slightly altered but it seems like the filmmakers have given it their all; this will hopefully be a very distinct Spider-Man, tonally (more comic book-y wisecracks!) and visually (there’s a great shot of the Lizard’s tail descending behind Peter that looks positively “Alien“-y).
After the trailer was shown, the various participants talked about the film. Webb said that the thing that set his Spider-Man story apart was the emphasis on Peter Parker’s parents, something that hasn’t really been explored, as well as the Gwen Stacy character and, of course, the Lizard. The way he began, “There’s a lot of Spider-Man’s story left to be covered cinematically,” made us think that he’s already begun plotting (or at least mentally preparing) for future installments of the web-slinging saga. Stone said that her Stacy is “The ying to Mary Jane’s yang,” noting that “MJ falls in love with Peter Parker, while Gwen falls in love with Spider-Man.” Ifans stated that he loves the fact that the Spider-Man villains “are human, real, and flawed.” He said that, as far as the Lizard goes, “What makes him have a more emotional presence is his relationship with Peter’s father.” Apparently (and this is revealed in the trailer and the footage), Peter’s father and Connors worked together on a secret project. It’s widely believed Peter’s parents will be presented as spies of some kind or another.
When Garfield spoke, he seemed genuinely taken aback, saying of the character, “It belongs to everyone, not just me.” He also noted his place in the cinematic continuum, saying “It was Tobey’s, now it’s mine…and hopefully next it will be a half-Hispanic, half-African American actor,” giving a shout-out to the current Ultimate Spider-Man in the comic books.
Then, another batch of footage was shown, totaling ten minutes and much of it seemed to the same stuff that was screened at Comic-Con last summer. An early, charming scene, showed Peter, pre-powers, intervening in a schoolyard scuffle. When Uncle Ben comes to pick him up, they’re interrupted by Gwen. Ben cranes around to see her and says, “He has a picture of you on his computer.” It’s a cute, funny moment, followed by some charming flirting between Peter and Gwen, and you can feel Marc Webb, director of “(500) Days of Summer,” easing back into the reality-based romantic comedy groove. We see more of Peter becoming Spider-Man (lots of nifty glow-in-the-dark Oscorp spiders), learning how to use his powers, which first involves him accidentally breaking a lot of stuff in his room and then moves on to him jumping off of things (the swinging seems more practically-based, less wirework more actual leaping). The montage of him getting ready is set to a Rolling Stones song, and the flirty scene was scored (temporarily we assume) with a Coldplay track (could this be a pop-soundtrack Spider-Man?). We even briefly see Peter sewing the Spider-Man costume, with its arachnid logo inspired by a piece of street art he sees in a darkened alleyway.
Another extended sequence takes place on a suspended bridge, with The Lizard attacking cars and Spider-Man forced to use his webs to dangle them from the bottom of the bridge. This is when we get a better look at the Lizard, who is large and reptilian but has a smoother, more human head. He’s still a monster but he lacks the crocodilian features that he is sometimes portrayed as having. Also he’s a big computer generated beast so his eventual scariness will probably depend on the artfulness with which he is conjured. But it looked impressive and menacing and the bridge-centric nature of the sequence could imply a bit of famous Gwen Stacy lore…
After a few brief goodbyes, the presentation was over. And ultimately, we’re pretty impressed. Between “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Avengers,” and now “The Amazing Spider-Man,” this summer is shaping up to boast a pretty outstanding superhero crop. Or maybe we just really love that glittery Spider-Man costume. Turn off the dark.