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Chatting villains, reboots and video games with the producers behind Spider-Man 2

Marvel’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man swings back into action this weekend in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, director Marc Webb’s sequel to the 2012 film that reboot the wall-crawler’s big-screen franchise and cast Andrew Garfield as the new face of nerdy superhero Peter Parker.

Not content to rest on the laurels of a successful reboot, Webb and the Amazing Spider-Man team seem intent on throwing everything they can at the franchise’s hard-luck hero in the upcoming film, with not one but three villains making life difficult for Spider-Man. As any Spider-fan can attest, however, Peter Parker’s real superpower just might be his uncanny ability to juggle his love life, his professional life, and his costumed, supervillain-fighting life.

“We wanted to really up the stakes for Spider-Man in terms of having to save the city.”

This time around, Spider-Man finds himself challenged by a friend from his past with dark secrets, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), and a former fan named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) whose opinion of the webslinger takes a sinister turn after he suffers a freak accident that gives him electrical powers. Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, he also has to contend with Russian gangster Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti), who’s just too stubborn to know when to give up, as well as some major complications in his relationship with his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).

Digital Trends spoke with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach about their new film and the public perception of big-screen villains, as well as the use of digital effects and the blurring line between video games and movies. Along with getting an update on some of Arad’s upcoming films based on popular video-game franchises like Uncharted and Mass Effect, we also spoke a bit about the lessons the first Spider-Man trilogy taught them. 

With the previous film, the question that kept coming up was “Why reboot the franchise?” This time around, the big question relates to the number of villains in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Did you ever find yourself wondering if the skeptics were on to something — that maybe you did have too many villains in this movie?

Avi Arad: There are movies out there with as many villains or more and it’s not an issue, but it became an issue here because of Spider-Man 3. Everyone was looking for a reason to be lukewarm about [Spider-Man 3] even though it was the most successful movie in the trilogy. In planning The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it’s not like we said, “This movie is going to have three villains” from the start. As the story goes on, you figure out what the opportunities are for villains that have the proper connection to Peter and that also give the movie a visual excitement. They should build something that tells you, “I think I understand the future of what’s going to happen here, and what is going to take place after this story.” The creation of Oscorp as the center of villainy in this universe and meeting Electro and Rhino and Green Goblin — all of these villains have a reason to be in it and they are all connected to Spider-Man… and a pain in his ass. [Laughs]

amazing spider man 2 dane dehaanMatt Tolmach: Each of the villains serve a very unique function in the story, and we knew — without giving anything away — that the big idea in the middle of the movie involves something with Peter and Gwen. Well, it’s a very short list of characters who can be involved in that story, and that’s not an Electro moment. Having said that, though, we very much wanted to tell the Electro story. With Electro, the story is unique because he is Spider-Man’s biggest fan. That idea of someone who is so enamored with Spider-Man and then becomes his enemy, is an interesting journey. And also, Electro is better suited than almost anybody to mess with the city. We wanted to really up the stakes for Spider-Man in terms of having to save the city. We were talking about Electro 14 years ago with Jim Cameron. He had talked about having Electro in the Spider-Man movie that he wanted to make.

Arad: Electro also necessitated Peter using science to defeat a villain. That was a wonderful thing — not just for him, but for us to remind people how smart Peter is and how important that is to his character.

Over the years, it feels like Peter Parker’s life is always getting rebooted. Between the comics and animated series and movies, every time he reaches a certain level of stability or happiness, the story gets turned back to high school, or before he got married, or some other point in his past. How far do you envision taking this franchise in Peter Parker’s timeline?

Arad: Have you seen the movie Up?

I have.

Arad: We’ll make Spider-Man like the old man in that movie. Would you like to see that? [Laughs] The beauty is that you know what Peter Parker’s problems are, no matter how old he is. It doesn’t matter if he’s in high school. I think people are looking at the visual element, though, when they make those decisions. What does he look like when he’s moving this way or that way and doing what he does? This reboot made it very clear that we don’t have to go all the way back to Uncle Ben, though.

Tolmach: [Yawns] Sorry, I’m just bored at the prospect of doing all of that again.

Arad: [Laughs]

Tolmach: We’re so in it now. We’re having fun. Spider-Man is having fun. Forget about us — Spider-Man is actually having fun. So it feels like we’re just scratching the surface. Think about what we’ve done to Peter Parker [in The Amazing Spider-Man 2] and what we put him through in this film. [Think about] how much greatness we can get out of that now. We changed him more in this Spider-Man movie than in any other Spider-Man movie that’s ever been made. The ripples of that are going to be felt for quite a long time. I don’t want to go through all of that again.

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Along with everything you’ve done to Peter Parker, you’ve also done quite a bit with Spider-Man’s villains. Between the two films in The Amazing Spider-Man series and the upcoming films based on The Sinister Six and Venom, you’re focusing a lot on bad guys. Why are the villains suddenly so important?

Arad:  I think Spider-Man villains have something unique over most other villains: They’re victims of circumstance. They didn’t just wake up pissed off. Something happened and it changed their lives.

Tolmach: Why villains? They’re exciting — especially these villains. They’re complicated, layered, interesting, tragic figures who are also really badass.

Arad: And they have a common denominator: Peter.

More so than the previous film, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems to rely heavily on digital effects for some of its largest set pieces. Some of the major battles feel like cinematic sequences from video games …

Arad: … which I look at as a good thing.

Tolmach: Yeah, that’s a positive.

Do you see the line between movies and video games blurring as time goes on?

Arad: I think there is a growing convergence of video game technology and movie technology, and now with VR it will go even further.

“I cannot wait to play the video game based on this movie on a big screen.”

Tolmach: As long as you hold on to the character and don’t lose belief that it’s Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker inside Spider-Man’s suit, that’s what matters. Beyond that, visually, why not blur that line? Video games are awesome!

Arad: I cannot wait to play the video game based on this movie on a big screen.

On that note, what about some of the projects you’re working on that are more directly linked to video games? Is there anything new to report on the Uncharted movie or Mass Effect movies you’re producing?

Arad: We’re getting very close on Uncharted. We’re working now on Metal Gear Solid, which is a huge, biblical story. Hopefully, I’m coming home to a Mass Effect script, too. I’m a believer in the business plan when I left Marvel: that what we did with comics to films can be done with video games to film. It just takes one, you know?

Which movie based on a video game do you think will make it to theaters first?

Arad: I think the first one out will be Uncharted. It was always a father-and-son story in the game, so I think it’s going to be – commercially – very exciting.

Do you feel like there’s a timetable to get these movies out before the franchise stalls or they stop making the games for one reason or another?

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Matthew Tolmach and Avi Arad

Tolmach: You have to start by making good movies.

On the subject of good movies, what’s been the best part of sticking around this long with Spider-Man? What’s the best part about making a fifth movie with this character?

Arad: I think you see a lot more comedy this time. And that can be difficult. It’s really a testament to Andrew — and he is a really funny guy — that he adapted so well to the character.

Tolmach: We didn’t do some things in the last movie because we had to take on a lot of sacred cows in order to set up this new franchise. But we felt liberated this time to just go and make a big Spider-Man movie, and I think going forward we feel like we’ve taken care of business in a way that allows us to explore and have fun.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 swings into theaters May 2 and stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, and Sally Field. The movie is directed by Marc Webb.

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