With great box office comes great responsibility -- and after director Sam Raimi's three "Spider-Man" movies grossed nearly $2.5 billion, the filmmakers behind the reboot "The Amazing Spider-Man," opening Tuesday, had a responsibility to keep web-spinning pulp into gold. And beyond that, they say, they felt a responsibility to the Marvel superhero whose 50-year canon attests to his relevance and adaptability. As filmmakers also say, there are countless Spider-Man stories to tell.
So the unavoidable question becomes: Then why not tell a new one instead of an origin-story reboot?
"I think there are new stories in this fourth film," says director Marc Webb, speaking in a hotel room in Manhattan last month. "There's [the story of] Peter Parker's parents, there's the Gwen Stacy saga, and then there's the Lizard," the supervillain bedeviling Peter's heroic alter ego. "I think all of those are new stories and new things to explore."
They're also more youthful things to explore, which may be the bigger point. "The Amazing Spider-Man" -- starring Andrew Garfield as Peter, Emma Stone as love interest Gwen and Rhys Ifans as scientist Dr. Curt Connors, aka the bestial Lizard -- skews younger than the 2002 original, which starred Tobey Maguire. While that earlier film begins with Peter in high school, he soon graduates, moves in with his college roommate and gets a job. "Amazing" begins and ends in high school, with all its attendant concerns.
" 'Spider-Man' has always been about a boy who was in high school, who was approaching manhood," says Matt Tolmach, the film's producer with Avi Arad and the late Laura Ziskin. "And the further you get from that in your storytelling, the more you lose some of the real metaphor of what the comic was always about" -- although, to be fair to the comic books' many writers over the years, Peter graduated high school in a 1965 story and finished college in 1978. Spider-Man has been in his spider-manhood for quite a while now.
But a movie or even a movie trilogy is different from comics -- and it's not as though some talented writers didn't try to tell "Spider-Man 4." Starting in 2007, when Raimi was announced to direct the planned 2011 release, no less than James Vanderbilt ("Zodiac"), David Lindsay-Abaire (the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Rabbit Hole") and Gary Ross ("The Hunger Games") all worked on iterations of the script. The process had even progressed as far as the producers approaching John Malkovich to play the supervillain. (The producers won't confirm which villain, although Tolmach says, "You can probably figure it out if you go on the Internet," where Movieline.com reported it was the Vulture).
"We had a meeting in New York with Malkovich, and everybody wanted to do it," says Arad, a 1972 Hofstra graduate. "Because no one knew what was wrong with [the script] yet."
They eventually figured it out. "I'll tell you what was not working," Arad allows. "At the end of the day was always the same question: So where is Peter in all of it?"
Without a satisfactory script, plus a post-"Avatar" decree that the film be in 3-D, Raimi voiced concern about meeting the release date. Finally, Arad said, "We all decided to pay homage to the franchise by saying, 'Let's not just milk it' " and make a sequel for a sequel's sake. "The creative integrity of not making movie four cost everyone who made that decision a fortune."
Eight days after the studio announced Raimi's exit and that the next film would be a reboot, "(500) Days of Summer" director Webb was aboard. At this stage, Webb says, "There was a script that Jamie [Vanderbilt] had written, and I worked with Jamie for a while, and then I worked with two-time Oscar winner] Alvin [Sargent] for a little bit. Jamie was in and out the entire time." Steve Kloves, who wrote all but one of the "Harry Potter" films, did a polish, particularly of the teenage characters' scenes.
"The script was incredibly secretive," says Hannah Marks (USA's "Necessary Roughness"), who plays a high-school classmate. "I didn't get to read the entire thing."
With Maguire out, Webb looked at half of young-male Hollywood for the role that eventually went to Garfield. "I love Spider-Man, because I felt like Peter Parker when I was a kid," says the American-born, U.K.-raised, classically trained actor best known for "The Social Network." Although he was a gymnast who competed nationally at age 12, "I also felt like I was too skinny to be athletic," Garfield says. "I was good at sports, but I would get concussed all the time playing rugby." He understood Peter's combination of vulnerability and resilience.
In fact, he felt that firsthand after getting the role. "I had a split second where I was so happy," he remembers. "And then when you start really working on it, you go, 'This is such responsibility! I don't know if I can handle it. I love this so much, and I don't want to disappoint myself as a fan, I don't want to disappoint other fans.' And then you don't sleep, and then you're losing weight."
Responsibility. There's a familiar word. If that isn't Peter Parker, what is?
Where's the love?
BY FRANK LOVECE, Special to Newsday
What scenes didn't make it into "The Amazing Spider-Man" that may someday turn up on DVD?
One of them, say star Andrew Garfield and director Marc Webb, was a long "date" sequence that followed a shot of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) holding onto Spider-Man as they web-sling through the city at night.
"They had the 'love nest' scene," as Webb describes it, "where he took her out, and there's a moment where they sort of coalesce as humans, shall we say. I'll let you interpret that as you will!"
Why cut it? "It's this constant choice between pace and feelings," the director explains. "It was a pacing decision, because they're very lovely in that scene, but we needed to keep the action going."
A version of the scene before this, with Gwen and Peter talking and sharing a kiss on a rooftop, was one of three scenes used for the screen tests. Another "was a scene that wasn't in the script, which I wish had been," Garfield says. "It was a scene in a diner between Gwen and Peter, which was awesome. And then there was one more scene -- I forget what it was. But it was a fun day."