7 Year Old Chase Johnson passed away on March 2, 2014 after losing his battle to cancer. Andrew Garfield had spoken to Chase on the day of his passing.
words Jamie Graham
Gold Crest Studios, Long Island, New York City. Midnight. A giant four-walled structure akin to a rectangular football stadium soars upwards into the crisp night air, above it a huge lighting rig like some apocalyptic moon. Surrounding the structure are several cranes. On the asphalt floor, cables as thick as human thighs stretch out in all directions, the hundreds of technicians seeming to step over them and around them without so much as a glance as they surge towards a barbecue so big it would surely defeat the Texas Longhorns.
Inside the structure, the four walls are green, each of them inscribed all over with letters to enable the CGI guys to “key off” (get their bearings, in layman’s terms). Within the screens themselves is a purpose-built power plant. It is, naturally, god almighty huge, though the row upon row of conductors and ruptured pipes and ducts will be expanded still further via the magic of CGI. An NYPD patrol car is parked at a slant, its reckless angle indicating it’s been exited in quite a hurry.
This is the location of the final scene of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Marc Webb’s follow-up to his 2012 origin story hit ($752m). The 100-day shoot will finish in a week’s time, and nine breakneck months of post-production – much of it heavy effects work – will race towards the movie’s April 2014 release date.
Nobody, of course, wants to give too much about the climax away, but it’s clear that Jamie Foxx’s big bad Electro is here to wreak havoc on the good citizens of New York while simultaneously increasing his own already significant powers, and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man must, naturally, stop him. It’s also clear that Spidey’s headstrong girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), is not prepared to sit this one out: in the distance, Garfield and Stone can be seen getting ready for the scene. A couple in real life and clearly enjoying each other’s company, this preparation seems to consist mainly of laughing and messing around.
Then things get serious. Marc Webb is on hand to oversee the rehearsal, wearing blue jeans, a blue shirt and Converse trainers. “If I pull down the lever, I could shut the whole thing down,” an unmasked Spider-Man tells Gwen. Brit Garfield pronounces lever the English way (as though spelled ‘leever’). With a minor djustment, in the second take Peter’s roots in Queens are firmly back in place: lever is said to rhyme with ‘ever’ and Webb is happy.
And… action. On the monitor, Electro lies unconscious on the ground, his head and shoulders in close-up. The camera rises above his prone body and fixes on the skewed cop car just as Gwen slams the door and shouts at Peter: “Really? You handcuffed me to a car?” The pair stridently ‘discuss’ the best course of action and Gwen heads purposefully for the grand entrance of Oscorpower, the suppliers of New York’s electricity. Then, front of frame, Electro rises. Strobe lights fizz. Electro shoots out his hand [add CGI here] and strides menacingly away from the camera, towards Spider-Man, growling, “You shouldn’t be here right now.” “I absolutely should be,” is the combative reply, “I know how to shut this thing off.” Webb calls “cut” but it’s fair to assume an almighty tussle will ensue…
Sitting at a picnic table under a Times Square/Broadway sign on the Long Island set, Webb is a calm and effusive presence. He freely admits that the gigantic production is all a little less overwhelming this time out – on The Amazing Spider-Man, he dived in with only (500) Days Of Summer behind him – and, origin story taken care of, he can now “cut loose” to make the Spider-Man movie he’s always wanted to. And that movie is big.
“It’s certainly the most ambitious,” he says when asked just what kind of scope we’re talking about compared to what we saw on The Amazing Spider-Man and the Sam Raimi trilogy that preceded it. “It’s huge. We’re pushing the levels of effects, the level of action and the emotional capacity of this kid. It’s an aggressive step forward.” Webb pauses, gathering his thoughts. It’s something he does often, though when he speaks it’s with confidence and charisma, showing just why Marvel and Sony would trust him with their crown jewel. “We throw around the term ‘operatic’ because of the spectacle and the theatre involved, which is pretty epic,” he continues. “There are enormous sets and great set-pieces. But really it’s a very intimate story – this relationship between Peter and Gwen is very delicate and beautiful.”
For while The Amazing Spider-Man 2 boasts three primary villains and nods to several others (more on this later), plus a slew of tech-pushing, 3D action sequences and state-of-the-art stunt work – much of it performed by Garfield himself – it is, at heart, about Peter and Gwen. And about Peter and Spider-Man.
“One of the beauties of Peter Parker is he’s always a mess,” sighs Andrew Garfield, on a break between takes. We’re sitting in a cold, spacious warehouse and he looks tired and agitated, rarely making eye contact and forever clutching at his face and spiky hair. “If you change that, you haven’t really got a film or a story or a comic. So yeah, he’s still a fucking mess. I think what I really enjoyed exploring on this one is the dynamic between Spider-Man and Peter, and how they are really two different people at this point, and how the alter-ego has overtaken and is not allowing Peter to function. He’s always short-wiring in his life, whereas there’s a great relief that comes with putting on the suit and the mask.”
Garfield, it quickly becomes apparent, takes his character(s) very seriously, digging into the psychology to such a point he’s visibly on edge just talking about it. “But also there’s this resentment I found Peter having towards Spider-Man. Peter feels like a little brother in the shadow of the big brother that is Spider-Man, who gets the praise, the joy, the physical release.” And how about Peter’s relationship with Gwen? “Everything’s a mess. Gwen is the love of his life. But, well, erm, yeah… it’s difficult to have a relationship with a superhero.”
Stone pulls up a seat to join the discussion. Her slight frame is lost inside her baggy black sweater, her round eyes dominate her face.
“I think the reason that Gwen understands Peter so well is her father was always heroic,” she points out. “Even though he died in his line of duty, she’s always understood having a hero as her male figure in her life. She has so much wisdom about her – especially in this new installment, where she has gotten past the death of her father and has a greater awareness of mortality. She’s very, very clear on what she wants, and she wants to be with Peter.”
Getting in the way of the couple’s happiness is, primarily, Maxwell ‘Max’ Dillon, aka Electro. Despite first appearing inThe Amazing Spider-Man #9 in February 1964 and being a firm fan favourite, who’s been depicted in numerous cartoons and videogames, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 marks Electro’s cinematic debut.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach are excited by their baddie. “With Electro, we’ve never before played that card, that Spider-Man’s biggest fan becomes his biggest foe,” says Arad. “This is really interesting. We have to spend time with Electro to understand why this happened.” Tolmach nods. “He’s not a one-dimensional character,” he promises. Both Arad and Tolmach are clearly fanboys first and smart, well-remunerated businessmen second – they wear Spider-Man baseball caps and t-shirts and their excitement is, well, electric.
In the comics, electrical engineer and lineman Max Dillon develops the ability to control energy after being struck by lightning while working on a power line. Initially weak, his powers become so strong they rival Magneto’s, who approaches Max to join his Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants in a crossover of the Spider-Man and X-Men universes. In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, however, it’s a case of this time it’s personal: saved by Spider-Man in the opening scene of the movie, set in Times Square, Max thinks they’re friends because Spidey calls him by his name (in reality, he simply reads his nametag). An awkward, alienated soul, Max begins to have imaginary conversations with Spider-Man in front of his mirror. We’re talking Rupert Pupkin in The King Of Comedy levels of creepy here. Then Max bumps into Spider-Man again and the webbed avenger fails to remember him. Cue a seething hatred, which will find a terrifying outlet in the form of his newfound powers. (How Max comes by these powers in the film, no one will say, though Marc Webb promises it’s “so fucking cool”.)
Talking of cool, Jamie Foxx wanders over to Total Filmdressed in black sweatpants and a hoodie, his face and fingers painted blue with white capillaries of pure lightning. The make-up job takes an hour-and-a-half each day, though Foxx’s face won’t appear blue on screen – it will ripple with colours and energy, the actor describing it as “like watching a thunderstorm out of the window of an airplane.” It’s an iconic look that might even steal the, ahem, thunder from the new Spidey suit, with its large eyes and pleasing reverence towards Stan Lee’s classic design.
“I’m feeling a little blue today!” Foxx jokes before launching into a bizarre autobiographical story to illustrate just how real and dangerous Electro’s hatred towards Spider-Man is. “It’s sort of like something that happened to me,” he starts. “I was in LA by myself, a comedian, and sometimes you run into rough spots. This guy, he’d follow me through the city, always messing with me. I asked this dude who was a gangster, ‘There’s a guy…’ He said, ‘Point him out, Foxx!’ I was like a little girl: ‘He’s right there.’ And he took care of it. But after he took care of it, I owed him. At one point, I couldn’t do anything [to get him into] this club, and he had this look on his face, like, ‘I did all of that for you. This is how you treat me?’ I had to really negotiate that. That was the same thing with Electro. When Spider-Man meets Max, he simply says, ‘You’re my eyes and my ears out here. You’re my friend, Max.’ No one’s ever said Max’s name.” Foxx snaps out of his reverie, shaking his head. “So I bring that same sort of gangster character into this.”
While Electro is the main man, this ambitious sequel also features other classic Spider-Man villains Rhino (Paul Giamatti) and Green Goblin (or at least Norman Osborn and his son, Harry, meaning the promise of Green Goblin is there). The super-talented Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, Kill Your Darlings), who’s playing teenage Harry to Chris Cooper’s Norman, isn’t about to match Foxx’s strange tale, but he does confess to dressing up as Spider-Man as a kid. “It’s always important to understand the history of these characters,” he says, before promising surprises. He won’t say what they are, but it’s evident that Oscorpower is the linking factor between all the evil doings in the movie. “This is a Harry that’s different than we’ve ever seen before,” is all DeHaan will part with. “He honours who Harry is, but this particular storyline and the particular stuff he’s going through shows a Harry of today.”
The roster of badasses doesn’t end there, either. Trailers and fan chatter hint at cameos for Vulture, Venom and Doc Ock, and there are also insistent rumours that Felicity Jones is in fact playing Felicia Hardy, aka Black Cat, a love interest of Spidey’s and a villain going back to issue #194 in 1979. Hell, it’s hard to know whether to swing from the rooftops in excitement or cower in the shadow of Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, a film undone by its crowded narrative.
“It’s not the same as Sandman,” says Arad, referring to Raimi’s third film. “You live and learn. Although we have multiple villains, we use them in a way that they are not stepping over each other. Electro is centre stage. The Rhino [in the comics, a rather dim Eastern Bloc thug who has great strength and speed and likes to ram stuff] has a smaller part at the beginning of the movie; he is someone we are setting up for the future.”
Webb, earlier that night, had also stressed that his film should not be compared to Raimi’s trilogy closer. “It’s about the story,” he insisted. “Electro is the main villain. Look at Harry Potter, or the Batman movies: how many adversaries? Look at the comic-book world, the mythology. There are tiers of villains. I’m very confident in how the story plays out. I think it’s a lazy criticism to just assume we have too many villains.”
Let’s Talk About Six
The director’s far too relaxed and in control for the tone of his voice to waver, but it’s clear this is a subject he’s not too keen on, and understandably so given people are pre-judging his movie. The next round of questions are also ones that he must be vexed by, but they have to be asked: why axe Spidey’s friend and future love interest Mary Jane Watson? Was it down to overcrowding? Will she be back in The Amazing Spider-Man 3? And, if so, will she still be played by Shailene Woodley? In June, the star of The Descendants and the upcoming Divergent learned that her scenes had crashed to the cutting room floor.
“The truth is, I don’t know. We have an idea where we want it to go but I can’t answer that with any degree of certainty,” sighs Webb about the future status of Mary Jane. But as for losing her from The Amazing Spider-Man 2, he is completely clear of the reasons. “We just are trying to get the right balance in the movie. You’re constantly making adjustments and tweaks. She was only in the movie for like a scene or two. But because Peter and Gwen’s story is so powerful, we really wanted to focus on that; we didn’t want to skew the thing.”
It’s interesting that Webb, who will almost certainly directThe Amazing Spider-Man 3, says he has an idea where the MJ story will go. On set, just picking up snatches of overheard conversations and peeking at storyboards, it becomes evident to Total Film that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is all part of a bigger picture that might even lead to the introduction of super-villain team the Sinister Six (see boxout). Five months later, in mid-December, Sony announces that just such a thing will happen, with the studio appointing a Spider-Man brain trust in the form of Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner, Ed Solomon and Drew Goddard. Kurtzman and Orci will team up with Solomon to write the screenplay for Venom which Kurtzman will also direct, and Goddard (co-writer and director of The Cabin In The Woods) will then pick up the strands of the various villains introduced by the main series, ready to write and likely direct The Sinister Six.
Speaking to Total Film on a conference call a week after Sony’s announcement, Arad and Tolmach are happy to expand. “As we tell Spider-Man’s story and introduce a number of new villains, the idea is to complicate his life from movie to movie,” starts Arad, before Tolmach cuts in. “There’s gonna be two moreSpider-Man movies, then Sinister Six and Venom. We’re opening up the universe and this movie is really the beginning of that. We honestly haven’t defined [the order of the next films]. There’s going to be a Spider-Man 3, that’s for sure. That’s the next movie you’ll see from us. But because all of these stories and universes are interwoven, we have not figured out exactly when it’s all gonna happen. That’s literally what we’re in the process of defining right now.” Arad laughs down the line. “It will be a nice puzzle!”
Webb, who picks up the phone the following night, is happy to offer his take. “We’re trying to create a universe that will sustain a lot of different films,” he says. “I know I’ll probably do the next movie [The Amazing Spider-Man 3] and I’ve already talked to Alex and Drew and all those guys. We’re doing something that is… pretty cool! We’re trying to create a universe that is somewhat serialised and related in a deeply aesthetic way. That’s what was so successful about Marvel comics in general. And The Avengers was inspiring.”
So here’s the multi-billion dollar question: will there ever come a time when Spider-Man teams up with The Avengers to take on the Sinister Six or another raft of fiendish foes? It’s happened in the comics and it’s hard not to fantasise that this will be a concluding event in some 20-year Marvel masterplan.
Arad’s having none of it. “I for one don’t see the value for us in it. I think we’re doing such a good job with the Spider-Man universe. Spider-Man is arguably the number one character in the world. He shouldn’t make a cameo.” Then he opens the door to a hint of possibility. “If there is a natural alliance, for some reason… I cannot talk for Sony.” Tolmach steps in to close the door firmly. “The practical side of it is, look, how many movies have we just talked about?” he says. “It’s all we can do to build that universe. We’re not going beyond that.”
But all that’s for the future (or not). For now, Team Spidey are intent on making The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as amazing as it can possibly be, and that means one thing: having fun. Garfield said as much on set, allowing a rare smile to chase away his frowns. “As soon as we wrapped the first one and watched it, I was like, ‘We need more lightness. We need more pleasure.’ So now, while Peter’s saving New York City, he can pause to help an old lady across the street, or web a girl who’s texting and driving.” He’s positively grinning by this point. “Bugs Bunny was a big thing. I was like, ‘I want that element in there, this idea of a trickster quality.’”
Webb agrees when talking on the phone during the final stages of the edit. Tweaking concluded, he’s confident his movie will deliver joyous thrills. “We really wanted to embrace that playful spirit, especially at the beginning of the film,” he says. “Spider-Man is a kid, he’s fun. He’s going to have to face enormous amounts of conflict, external and internal, but there is a whimsy that he starts out with.” He chuckles delightedly. “He’s having a blast!”
"queens crowned in golden-jeweled halos, rule like angels among demons. their eyes shine like ethereal emeralds and stunning sapphires."
We asked for Spider-Man sightings, and our readers delivered! Several hundred emails later, we’ve culled the best of the best. Spidey’s here to stay, and it sounds like he’s got a New York attitude.
Ian C., Sunnyside
“I was training for the marathon on Queens Boulevard. Usual route, but then Spider-Man swung by on the 7-line el track and he started talking to me! I didn’t know what to do except run, but Spider-Man kept pace, slinging back and forth, twirling. He was pushing me! Telling me to keep up with him. I stayed with him for a few blocks, but he waved and disappeared around 40th Street. The guy is fast, man, like, sub-four-minute-mile! He got me to run my personal best. So, Spider-Man, if you want to pace me from above during the marathon, just do it.”
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