It may be Spider-Man’s show, but producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach were all too eager to bring on the bad guys, as they spoke to reporters at the The Amazing Spider-Man 2 press junket on Sunday in New York.
“The truth is, we’re drawn to villains in movies and in literature — they’re so fascinating, the complexity of them, and they’re willing to cross a line that all of us are so wary of,” Tolmach said. “There’s a weird kind of vicarious thrill in that. But because specifically these characters are so tragically flawed in some way, it gives them some real dimension.”
Arad, a longtime fixture in Marvel’s cinematic history, agreed. “I think Spider-Man villains have something very unique over most villains — they are victims of circumstance,” he said. They’re not born villains, but instead, “something happens, and it changes their lives, which helps us a lot to make the difference between a villain and a hero.”
Discussing the development of Amazing Spider-Man 2 with the press, Tolmach and Arad said that it was always in the cards to bring back director Marc Webb to see the sequel to theaters.
“Obviously, you know, there were a lot of questions left unanswered, and we always planned on answering them,” Tolmach said. “So it was always sort of a fluid conversation, and the same way that [previous Spider-Man director Sam] Raimi took on the franchise as a trilogy, that’s how we always envisioned it for Marc, too.”
Tolmach added that screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner worked with the producers to expand the Spider-Man universe beyond Webb’s original vision for Peter Parker, adding that Parker doesn’t necessarily have to be in any movies with these villains. Like Avengers before it, the game plan was to give audiences an awareness of these characters before they teamed up as the Sinister Six or appeared in any solo films, using Oscorp as a unifying thread between them.
“It was the beginning of the unending story,” Arad said.
The producers also discussed the latest expansion of the Spider-Man universe, with the inclusion of Electro, the Green Goblin and the Rhino in Amazing Spider-Man 2.
“I think when you pick up and view Spider-Man, the most natural thing is to find his counterpart, and Harry is his friend… the best of friends, that is least likely to be the best of friends,” Arad said, praising actor Dane DeHaan’s portrayal of the Green Goblin. “He has a line in the movie that is just great: ‘We were both dumped.’ So they have a lot of common — they have Oscorp, they have science, they have been dumped, they both have very few friends in the world.”
Discussing the casting of DeHaan, Tolmach admitted that the Chronicle actor was not originally the producers’ top choice for the character, as they were a bit more familiar with some of the other contenders for the role.
Describing DeHaan’s screen test, Tolmach described his bond with Garfield as “very genuine.”
“These two actors, who didn’t know each other, and they started improvising on the day that we were doing this screen test, and it was the kind of improvisation; it’s that kind of thing that happens when you meet a friend of yours that you haven’t seen in 20 years, but you don’t miss a beat. You fall right into the rhythm,” Tolmach said. “They did that. That dynamic, we felt, was perfect for Harry and Peter.”
Electro, meanwhile, had a much more straightforward casting process, as Tolmach said Jamie Foxx was “the only actor we talked about, and the only actor we came to, truth be told.”
"Why?" Arad posed. “ I think probably the best answer would be he's an Academy Award winner who has the range to play Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” he said.
While Max Dillon started off as a pathetic nobody with a combover, Foxx himself “has the strength to carry it,” Arad added. “And as a villain, he’s terrifying. We get these reactions to him, as, like, ‘wow, he’s really scary.’”
The feeling was mutual, Arad added. “Everybody wants to play the villain — there’s nothing more juicy than that,” he said. “[Foxx] really wanted to do it, and his daughter wanted him to do it, and his friends wanted him to do it, and he just came in and said, ‘I want to do it.’ And that was it.”
Tolmach said that the interesting thing about Electro in Amazing Spider-Man 2 was the fact that his alter ego, mild-mannered Max Dillon, truly admired Spider-Man.
“He’s someone who is a supporter, he’s a believer — Max Dillon is the exactly kind of person that Spider-Man doesn’t overlook, in a world of people who overlook him. Spider-Man cares about those people,” he explained. “So the irony that it becomes distorted — in pursuit of doing the right thing, Spider-Man ends up on the wrong side of a guy who so loved him, is a really interesting spin on that dynamic.”
Rounding out the supervillain cast was Paul Giamatti as the Rhino, which was locked down in part because of a 2011 interview the Oscar nominee did with Conan O’Brien, in which he discussed his wish to play the hulking brute. “[Giamatti] just showed up with this image of who Alexei was, with the tattoos across his head, and the track suit, and the hard shoes — it was crazy,” Tolmach said.
“The important thing for us was to bring fun back to Spider-Man, to go back to the spirit of the comics, where it was possible for Spider-Man to be funny, and for the whole world to be funny,” Tolmach added. “Obviously there’s plenty of sadness and heartbreak in Spider-Man, but the comedy was really important. And Paul, on the set, all the comedy he does in the armored car — that was all Paul.”
All these villains in the same movie are unlikely to leave Spider-Man unscathed, and Arad and Tolmach said they heavily discussed the film’s ending in order to preserve the movie’s message of hope. “We needed to do a building block that would allow Peter to become stronger, to be better at what he does, because of events in his life, which is exactly how it started with Uncle Ben,” Arad said.
Tolmach said that many people doubted the team’s ability to stay true to the comics and take risks with the story, but preview screenings left him satisfied that Amazing Spider-Man 2 had sufficiently pushed the envelope.
“[Amazing Spider-Man 2] is about hope, and how important hope is. And it’s about how important hope is when you can’t imagine it,” Tolmach added. “It’s also about time… the idea that time is luck, that Jeff and Alex wrote that was in [Gwen Stacy’s] valedictorian speech, winds up being what the movie is about. So how you illustrate that in the movie is critical, and it all was tied together. But that was the message we were trying to send.”
Still, it’s not all gloom and doom for the Friendly Neighborhood Webslinger, as Arad and Tolmach discussed the injection of comedy into the script, such as Giamatti’s portrayal of the Rhino and Andrew Garfield’s work with British choreographer Cal McChrystal, playing up a slapstick scene where Peter spilled hot coffee on three Oscorp employees to give Gwen a distraction.
“It’s a testament to Andrew,” Arad said. “First, he’s a funny guy, and he has adopted the role — he is now Peter Parker. It’s movie #2, it’s this guy.”
“We didn’t do that in the last movie because we had to take on a lot of sacred cows in order to set up this franchise. And we felt liberated this time to make a big Spider-Man movie,” Tolmach added. “And I think going forward, we feel like we’ve taken care of business that now allows us to explore and have fun.”