Strangely absent from the Super Bowl's batch of movie trailers was a teaser for The Amazing Spider-Man, the impending reboot of the lucrative Spider-Man movie franchise with Andrew Garfield taking over web-slinging duties from Tobey Maguire. The movie has certainly piqued the interest of fans, from the fact that it sends Peter back to high school and re-tells the story of how he became Spider-Man to the decision to swap the series' previous love interest Mary Jane out for Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) to the darker tone suggested by the first trailer. (Also? No more organic web shooters. Andrew's clearly got a bigger brain than Tobey.) We haven't seen any other footage from the film since that two-minute teaser debuted last July, but that changed today, when Sony held a simulcast of a new trailer and sizzle reel from The Amazing Spider-Man (due out July 3) at select theaters around the word. We attended the New York screening -- there were also presentations in Los Angeles, London and Rio de Janeiro, Berlin and Tokyo -- and here's our take on what we saw.
The roughly half-hour presentation started in La-La Land with an introduction by L.A. radio personality (and Kevin Smith cohort) Ralph Garman, who welcomed special guest, director Marc Webb (taking a major step into the big leagues after his indie debut, 500 Days of Summer). Garman threw us to Rio, where Emma Stone stood awkwardly alongside two of the movie's producers, Avi Arad (the founder of Marvel Studios turned independent Hollywood power player) and Matthew Tolmach, and then Rhys Ifans (who plays the movie's heavy, Dr. Curt Connors a.k.a. The Lizard) checking in from London. Then the action moved to the Big Apple, where our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man himself, Andrew Garfield, entered our theater to deafening cheers, which he reacted to in classic Peter Parker fashion (i.e., geeky enthusiasm). Each star uttered some vague generalities about how awesome the experience was and how excited they were for us to see the movie in July.
With the introductions out of the way, Webb got down to business, telling us that we were going to be the first on the planet to watch the movie's new, 3D-enhanced trailer. The lights went down and the two-minute clip began. If the earlier trailer was primarily geared toward introducing audiences to this new version of Peter Parker, this one was absolutely dominated by Spider-Man. After once again establishing Peter as a lonely outcast being raised by his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), the kid had his life altering run-in with a genetically enhanced spider in the laboratory of one Dr. Connors. After that were lots of quick shots of Peter discovering that he can do whatever a spider can, sewing his costume, building his web shooters and fighting bad guys. We also see Dr. Connors injecting himself with the serum that transforms him into his scaly alter ego and fighting Spider-Man, as well as several glimpses of Denis Leary as Gwen's cop father, who disapproves of Spider-Man's vigilante actions and uses all the resources at his disposal to bring him to justice. (Screenwriters Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves are pretty clearly going for more of a Batman/Commissioner Gordon from Year One vibe here.) The trailer ends with a pretty sweet shot (especially in 3D) of Spidey scrambling to escape an antenna that's collapsing onto the roof of the building he's standing on. All in all, a pretty strong trailer that sets up what this movie intends to do differently from Raimi's films.
After that, it was question-and-answer time, as Webb and each of the cast members fielded a series of generic, lame questions from each of the moderators in the respective cities. We won't bother repeating the queries themselves, but here are choice excerpts of their responses along with our commentary.
Webb: "A lot of things from the Spider-Man comics haven't been tackled cinematically, like the Lizard and Peter's parents. Also, the Gwen Stacy saga is something we really wanted to explore. We wanted to treat Peter Parker in a more naturalistic way." [Someone's obviously been watching a lot of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight]
Stone: "I always say that Gwen is the yin to Mary Jane's yang. She's from an affluent family and has a good relationship with her dad, which is very different from MJ's situation. She also falls in love with Peter Parker and I think MJ falls in love with Spider-Man." [Stone did her best to play along with the very forced, very scripted proceedings, but boy, could we tell that she was eager to make fun of the whole situation. And we would have loved to hear that.]
Ifans: "What I like about all of Spider-Man's villains is that they're human and real and flawed as much as Peter Parker is." [Snore. We'd rather have heard Ifans discuss that whole getting arrested at Comic Con thing.]
Garfield: "[Being Spider-Man] is the thing that everyone wants. All the people in this theater want it. I'm just the guy that's lucky enough to do it. It's overwhelming to represent this guy in the suit. Before me it was Tobey and now it's me and hopefully next time it'll be a half-African American, half-Hispanic actor." [Hear that Donald Glover? Get your agent on the line now!]
Just when we thought we were done, the presentation jumped back to L.A., where Webb introduced the final bit of footage we were going to see that day, a 5-7 minute sizzle reel that was basically an expanded version of the trailer with more character beats, a few more stunts and peeks at some of the bigger set-pieces (some of which were still lacking finished visual effects). Highlights of the reel included:
* A pre-powers Peter getting his butt kicked by Flash Thompson in front of the whole school. Far more brutal than the similar confrontation in Raimi's Spider-Man, this scene establishes that Garfield's Parker inhabits a meaner world than Maguire's.
* Peter awkwardly asking Gwen out on a date in the least direct manner possible. The sweet, slightly goofy interaction between Garfield and Stone in this sequence absolutely brought to mind Joseph Gordon-Levitt's wooing of Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days of Summer. No wonder Sony wanted Webb to direct this flick.
* After his spider bite, Peter tests his powers in an empty warehouse to the tune of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by the Stones. While this felt a bit like an outtake from the Footloose remake, it did have that sense of fun we previously complained was missing from contemporary superhero movies.
* Speaking of fun, unlike Maguire's web head, this one actually cracks wise when he's in the suit. While attempting to foil a carjacking, Spidey tells the guy behind the wheel, "If you're going to steal a car, don't dress like a car thief." When their fight moves outside the car, he strikes various comic poses while firing his webs at the crook. It's not clear yet if he'll be engaging in any lengthy internal monologues, though.
* Speaking of Frank Miller's Year One, the footage very clearly painted Spider-Man as a vigilante at odds with the NYPD, much like Batman was during his first year as a crimefighter. One of the most intriguing moments indicates that Spidey is actually shot and captured by the cops at one point and, as he sits on the ground in handcuffs, Leary steps forward and pulls off his mask. Peter manages to keep his identity hidden by immediately jumping into action and fighting them off, all the while keeping his head down, but it's a narrow escape. (The reel does suggest that at least one major character -- specifically Gwen -- does learn his real identity during the course of the movie, though.)
* We probably should say something about the movie's heavy, but honestly, the Lizard almost seems like an afterthought, unless there are added dimensions to his story that Sony is keeping in the vault for now. The main innovation here is that Dr. Connors used to work with Peter's dearly departed dad (played in flashbacks by Campbell Scott) and seems poised to befriend the kid before he turns evil. This material bears the strongest resemblance to Raimi's Spider-Man, as Willem Dafoe's Norman Osborn's transformation into the Green Goblin also occurred because he used himself as a human guinea pig. Unlike the Goblin though, the Lizard is a CGI baddie and the brief glimpses we caught of him suggested a cross between the Hulk and the Anaconda from Anaconda.
*After the sizzle reel concluded, the various cast members bid their farewells from their respective locations and we all filed out of the theater. Final thoughts? W like Garfield and Stone as Peter and Gwen, we like the look and attitude of this new Spidey and we like the scale and scope of the action sequences. The question marks right now remain whether the Lizard will amount to anything more than a digital nuisance and if the darker tone will work of just end up feeling like The Dark Knight-lite. Guess we'll find out on July 3 along with everyone else.
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