Although Marvel Studios is at this point an unstoppable juggernaut, there was a time when it seemed like only one man was confident about the future of the company’s super heroes on film: Avi Arad. After successfully launching several television series featuring Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Hulk, he helped the Children of the Atom transition to the silver screen with director Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” and subsequently shepherded Spider-Man through five big screen installments (and counting), to the tune of more than three billion dollars at the box office. That said, when Sony Pictures undertook a reboot of the character in 2012 with “The Amazing Spider-Man,” director Marc Webb touted his rebooted interpretation as the story fans had never seen, yet the final film didn’t quite reveal everything about Peter Parker’s origins he initially promised.
Nevertheless, Arad and his collaborators are emboldened by the film’s success — $750 million and counting — and hope to push forward with three more films, the first of which, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” is due May 2, 2014. Following a hugely successful presentation for the film at the famed Hall H during Comic-Con International in San Diego, Arad sat down for a brief but detailed conversation with Comic Book Resources about the perception of that first film and what its success means for the future of the franchise.
CBR News: Not to be too challenging, but the first “Amazing Spider-Man” film was marketed with the idea of telling an untold origin for Peter Parker. In reality, the movie ended up being as mysterious as the circumstances of the original. How much of that was about starting with one idea and ending up with something different, and how much of that was perhaps about having to position it as something different to market it?
Avi Arad: You know what? Personally for me, I’ve been doing this kind of movie 21 times, and you want to satisfy my world, and my world is just as fanatic as anybody’s world about comics. But then you have to start looking at the X-Men and Spider-Man animated shows, and you realize that there are things when you do live-action where you almost have the opportunity to embellish, to make it bigger, wider, to get deeper into the character because it’s dimensional. So I loved the whole idea of what [“The Amazing Spider-Man”] did that never happened before was that, for the first time, Peter parker asked himself ‘where are my parents? What really happened?’
This has never been answered, and he never shared it with anybody, and we felt like there were a couple of issues that Spider-Man had to deal with — do the right thing, stop bullying, and bullying is always a risky thing today if you want to stop the bullies. Anybody who has kids knows there’s nothing worse than a kid coming back from school and you don’t know what’s wrong, but he’s been bullied. And [Peter’s] need to share with all of us that he’s an orphan, from a foster home, and it’s okay. It was at the top of my mind and I didn’t know how to do it, because there are millions of people, or parents for that matter — how many parents don’t tell their kids that they were adopted? Because in the old world, my generation, they don’t speak [about] it, so that was personally, for me, revolutionary to go into the corners that only Peter Parker can go into to explore his mythology.
The quest to make things different, it almost became a public quest that was driven by the noble online, I call it ‘chatter of passion,’ which sometimes rolls over into pure anger, but I think it’s not anger. So that’s the struggle we have, to make the best movie possible, marrying the origin but bringing in new ideas. And then you can depart from it. Tobey [Maguire] was amazing, but it was time to move on for him, so I don’t look at it as a structuring, like you sit in a room and you say, ‘okay, what do we do to make sure it’s not the same?’ On the contrary, we sit in a room and go, how do you bend rules not to be broken? We looked at it like, if I’m Peter Parker, you’d say, “tell me about your life — like why do you live with your aunt and uncle?” Well, my parents disappeared. “Where to?” I don’t know. “You don’t know?” Of course he wants to know. So that’s how you have to look at the storytelling — what kind of questions do I have? And we’re very comfortable with where we came from. This one is a rock concert — you have a lot more humor, action is at a whole new level, you have a villain who is just brilliant. You have Dane [DeHaan, who plays Harry Osborn in the sequel] who is very strong as a friend, really upperclass, and he shows very quickly why they like each other. So that relationship is strong, and Emma [Stone], who I call sunshine, I can never have enough of her.
“Amazing Spider-Man” was a hugely successful reimagining of the character. How much did that embolden you with the sequels, and how much pressure did it put on you to continue in a way that distinguished it from Sam Raimi’s original trilogy?
On “Amazing 1,” there was no way to do it without going back and doing an origin story, which is always difficult for a character who is as known as Spider-Man. You know Uncle Ben, you know this stuff, but you have to start with Peter Parker — Andrew Garfield. So you always set up, what do you do differently here? And we did so many things differently, and Spider-Man is Spider-Man, and the place you can really change him is Peter Parker and go in a [different] direction. And then you add in this amazing something, and you put in Gwen, but when you do something like that — and in all fairness I feel we started with some negative energy, because “ah, it’s a reboot, reboot” — yeah, it was a reboot! Everybody was trying to fight this word, and I was like, give me a break — it’s a reboot! So it became the wrong discussion.
So in this country, you’re right, we did well, but we could have done so much better without all of this pushback. “What’s different? What’s this?” The debate went the wrong way. And overseas it was not a problem, so terrific. But every movie I’ve made in the Marvel Universe had to start with an origin story. So we had, call it a creative liability, because you know what, if we didn’t go back, people would have said, “Come on — Uncle Ben was a defining force in his life.” So now we are liberated. Andrew owns Spider-Man — he is Spider-Man.
I think one of the great things that came out of the first one is they love him — they said, wait a second, we like this Spider-Man! We like this Peter Parker. Emma, forget it — she’s one of the most beloved actresses already of our time, and she’s a kid. So when you do that, the most important things to establish, we did. So we can go in and go into the life of Peter Parker who says, “I love being Spider-Man! This is pretty cool.” And it is cool, with all of the issues and the drama and so on — and the wish-fulfillment. That’s what made so many kids want to be Spider-Man, Iron Man — you go up there, you fly! So the second movie gives us tremendous freedom — artistic and dramatic.
Andrew is a very funny guy, contrary to popular opinion that he’s this incredible method actor, he is just naturally funny. Then again you throw in Jamie Foxx, who is arguably one of the most talented people in the world — singer, piano player, dancer, athlete, he can do it all. And playing Electro who has the power of God, if you will, it’s big — and he’s the guy to do it. So we have these two formidable creatures, but even more important, in the tradition of Marvel, you will find out not just how he became [Electro], but who he was just before he became Electro, and what’s the problem, because he was a huge Spider-Man fan in his real life, because he’s an outsider too, and it makes for some amazing stuff.
Visually, it’s hard to do anything better than Electro, especially with today’s technology. So if you take that — and he made a promise, you know, you make a promise, who do you hurt more if you keep your promise, the living or the dead or the self, and that’s an issue for him. But as you see in the movie, there’s a lot more charm in spite of the elephant in the room. Because they really love each other, and it’s like when he looks at her and he thinks about his commitment, and then you have the usual problems of being a superhero. This is where the supervillain comes in, and then we introduce Oscorp, because Harry is integral to our story. As you can see now from the first one and this one, Oscorp becomes our center of power, and in many ways, center of evil. So we’re starting to build a world with these two friends, with Peter reconnecting with his friend, and his friend is obviously upstairs-downstairs. [Peter’s] friend has everything, but he has nothing, and [Harry], he has nothing but has everything. But these two are friends, and that makes the movie very different.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” opens May 2, 2014.