Today in New York, we were treated to a sampling of footage from “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” this summer’s hotly anticipated super-sequel, complete with a Q&A afterwards with director Marc Webb. While the showcase of footage might seem unnecessary and redundant given the amount of trailers (the final one dropped today), clips, and other miscellanea that Sony has been unleashing, in a steady torrent, since last year, it was nice to see three sequences, mostly uninterrupted, that totaled 35 minutes of screen time. Conservatively, we’ve now seen a quarter of the movie, so we have a much better idea of what “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” has in store. Coupled with Webb’s comments, this movie seems bigger and, thankfully, much better than it’s predecessor. Those wishing to avoid spoilers are advised to sashay away now. Those who want a peek behind the web, please stick around.
Firstly, a note about the footage: it looks really good. And not just because we saw it projected on a giant screen and in glorious 3D. Unlike the first movie, which was largely consumed (and, unfortunately, weighed down) by the dreary, teenager-in-love emotions of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” seems to belong to the Spider-Man character. That means that things are more elastic and energetic, with a newfound emphasis on the kinetic motion of Spider-Man, swinging through the urban canyons of New York. We saw three sequences: the full opening of the movie (lasting about fifteen minutes), a big brawl with Electro (Jamie Foxx, glowing blue) in Times Square, and a quieter moment between Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) and Electro that happens, we presume, right before the calamitous finale.
The opening sequence at the very least ties up the loose ends of what happened to Peter’s parents, before transitioning into a large action sequence/chase in the streets of daytime Manhattan, with Spider-Man running down the Rhino (Paul Giamatti), a Russian gangster who has stolen a bunch of plutonium. That leads into a sequence of Peter graduating high school, with his gal pal Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) serving as valedictorian. It’s one of those transitions that is supposed to double-underline the fact that Parker is, when not fighting crime on the streets of New York, just an average kid from Queens.
After that, we get a big sequence set in Times Square with Electro sucking up energy from an underground grid (he’s got, for lack of a better term, “electric vision” that allows him to see the currents of energy coursing underneath the streets). Spider-Man and Electro have it out, in appropriately big budget, city-destroying fashion, with Electro finally felled by a well-placed fire hose (like a gremlin, getting him wet will do a lot of damage). This sequence is preceded by a moment when Gwen and Peter are talking for the first time since breaking up. It’s touching and quiet, and maybe the best thing that’s been in either movie (so far as we’ve seen). When Peter admits that he’s been following Gwen and she asks why, he sheepishly explains, “It’s the closest I can get to still being with you.” It’s wonderful and heartbreaking and both actors kill it.
The third sequence is more obtuse and comes later in the movie. It’s a sequence between Harry Osborn and Electro, with Harry trying to convince Electro to help him break into Oscorp. Electro is strung up in this crazy contraption and Harry shocks him a little with a taser in order to get him out of his bind. In a flash, Electro turns into pure energy and zaps away from his mechanical straight jacket, killing a bunch of guards and a scientist that has clearly been fucking with him. Two of the three villains (at least that we know of) are now aligned. Electro looks at Harry and says, “Let’s go catch a spider.”
All in all, the footage was really wonderful. It was, unlike the first film, willfully cartoon-y, in a good way, and almost resembles what would happen if some studio handed over $200 million to Joe Dante and asked him to do a superhero movie. The score, too, is pretty incredible, if somewhat overstuffed—it’s the work of Hans Zimmer and an all-star collection of confederates, including Pharrell Williams, Johnny Marr from The Smiths and DJ Junkie XL, and at times sounds exhilarating while other times it sounds like 100 pounds of shit, shoved forcibly into a 10-pound bag. (We’re pretty optimistic about it, though.) This is not the movie that the first “The Amazing Spider-Man” was—it’s bolder and more confident, a movie that makes no bones about being based on a four-color pamphlet enjoyed by children, instead of the first movie’s ripped-from-The–CW tone (not to mention it’s stringent adherence to the Sam Raimi movies’ general plotting and action).
Afterwards, Webb was charmingly frank about learning from the mistakes of the first movie and going for broke this time around. “The learning curve on the first film was huge,” he admitted. And yes, he says, he fucked up from time to time. “Obvious things like the suit—I was committed to how a kid would make this suit. That was a mistake. I sensed what the fans said and went back to the suit, which is more inspired by the ‘Ultimates’ version.” And it wasn’t just fan whining that he took stock of. “I also learned what Andrew and Emma were capable of,” Webb said, noting that they were both gifted in comedy but could also handle dramatic stuff.
When it came to villains, Webb said that he wanted to up the “challenges and obstacles” that Peter Parker would encounter. “Villain is a simple word,” Webb explained. “There’s a complexity to the villains, and they always have a preexisting domestic relationship with Peter. Which is what we do here.” Later he remarked that, particularly with Electro, “there are so many visual possibilities,” noting that “Spider-Man is a dream world full of figures of the subconscious.” And you can tell, by the footage that was screened, that he is really upping his game (in the final sequence, he said that he just “unhooked the camera”). Reiterating what he said in Austin, Web noted that “I wanted that spectacle. There’s a 12-year-old kid in me that can’t believe what he’s doing every day. I wanted to embrace that.”
Considering that Webb is now overseeing Sony’s newly expanded Spider-Man “universe,” he said that he isn’t too overwhelmed. “It’s tricky but it’s fun,” Webb said. “We have a great time. It’s so fucking fun… But it’s a bit of a puzzle.” The director also emphasized the role of women in the movies, which is nice considering how marginalized they were in the first film (and, honestly, it doesn’t seem all that different with the sequel). “My mom is my hero,” Webb started out by saying, before getting into the Spider-Man aspects. “It’s important to the universe and it’s a crucial part of the movie. When you have people like Sally Field and Emma, you have to give them something to do.”
While it might seem easier to do a sequel, considering the amount of work that went into the first film, Webb put that to rest. While it was easier for Webb to pass off certain sequences earlier in the production pipeline, they still faced challenges. One of the first things we saw today was a shot of Spider-Man plummeting towards New York, with the back of his costume gently rippling. “It took 16 days just to render that effect, because we kept watching it and it never worked.” Webb paused, and in a moment it seemed like the weight of the giant production (and the new, expanded universe that Webb is now overseeing) had descended, resting heavily on top of Webb. He sighed. Then he finally exhaled: “I mean… what the fuck?” Exactly.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” opens on May 2nd.