Right from the start of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” — in which our hero Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is trying to protect New York from a rampaging thug while racing to make his high school graduation ceremony on time — there’s a noticeable difference to the webslinger. In the previous film, the teenaged Parker was struggling with his newfound powers, social awkwardness and guilt over the death of his Uncle Ben.
But in the new film, which opens with advance showings tonight, Spider-Man is confident and sure from the outset, making wisecracks and jokes even as he’s narrowly dodging death. He’s not quite as cocky as Tony Stark in the “Iron Man” pictures, but he has definitely grown into his suit and all the responsibilities that come with it. He’s no longer a tentative hero.
That confidence, though, is about to be sorely tested. Although it’s based on an original screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner (who all collaborated on “Lost” and “Alias,” among others), “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” incorporates one of the comic book’s most famous storylines — one that forever changed the character and forced him to mature even faster.
“When you want to be true to classic source material, you have to face it head-on,” says producer Avi Arad, the former head of Marvel Studios. “We did the same thing in the first film. It was difficult for Peter to deal with the death of Uncle Ben, which until now has had the biggest impact on his life. The hesitation to tell this particular story was not whether to do it. The challenge was to do it in a way that dignifies the decision.”
Garfield, in his second outing as Spider-Man (he has signed on to star in one more), agrees the character has come to own his powers in much the same way the actor has come to own the role.
“The first movie reflected Peter’s experiences as he tried to find his footing with all these new abilities,” he says. “My experience as an actor was the same. I was struggling to figure out a way to do the character justice and give him my own spin. By the time we started shooting this one, I already felt like I understood him pretty well.”
Also returning is Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, Peter’s impossibly beautiful girlfriend, who graduates as valedictorian in her class and is considering moving to Oxford to study. Garfield and Stone have been dating since they made the first film, and their scenes together — the best stuff in the film — reflect an intimacy and familiarity that only comes from real life.
“It’s interesting, because their relationship matches the characters in the movie,” says Marc Webb, who directed both films. “In the first one, they were getting to know each other. Now they’re part of each other’s personal lives. But everybody knows each other better now off the set, too. There is something that is very intuitive and natural about them. Audiences connect to their chemistry very easily.
“There were scenes where we just sat back and let them play for six or seven takes, and every time they would do and say something different. They’re generous with each other and they draw confidence from each other. They’re also very funny together. There’s a certain kind of buoyancy to them.”
Stone, who is known primarily for funny movies (“Zombieland,” “Easy A,” “Crazy Stupid Love”), says that background is helpful in grounding Gwen in reality — in turning her into more than just Peter’s girlfriend.
“A comedic background helps with everything,” she says. “I’ve been doing improv since I was 11, where if something doesn’t land, you just have to push forward and keep going. That was a great life lesson for me. Also, comedy is actually rooted in drama. You just have to play the truth of the scene, not try to be funny.”
A common concern among online fans regarding “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is the multitude of villains — Jamie Foxx as Electro, Dane DeHaan as the Green Goblin and Paul Giamatti as the Rhino — something that many believe ruined Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 3,” because it robbed the movie of focus.
But this time around, the interactions between Electro and the Goblin are integral to the plot (Giamatti appears only for a few minutes). As written, the story wouldn’t work without both baddies.
DeHaan (“Kill Your Darlings”), a rising actor whose performance as the Goblin (aka Harry Osborn) is one of the highlights of the film, says he had to lobby for the critical role, because he was practically unknown when casting was underway.
“Marc has a way of making you fall in love with these characters as people,” he says. “I wanted to be a part of this movie no matter what, but I had to fight really hard to get it. They had someone else in mind, but then Andrew and I did a play reading together and the producers saw me in that and sent me a giant script.
“I heard nothing for two or three months and I was convinced I hadn’t gotten it. I had resigned myself to the fact that my chances were dead. Then after two or three months, I got a call to come in for a screen test. I had already made ‘Chronicle,’ which was also about people with superpowers, so I had experience with special effects and wire work. I’m pretty sure that helped me land the part. And I wanted to play Harry as a real person, not a cartoon.”
“Dane is going to be in movies for a long, long time,” says Arad, who had a hand in the casting process. He’s a unique actor with a quality unlike anyone else’s. Harry is so different from Peter, even though they’re old friends, which was important to the story. Plus Dane was in that recent Metallica movie, and that’s my favorite band!”
Although “The Amazing Spider-Man” grossed $752 million worldwide in 2012, a lot of fans complained the movie was redundant and unnecessary, forcing them to sit through Spider-Man’s origin tale too soon after Raimi and Tobey Maguire’s take on the story in 2002’s “Spider-Man.” The new film already has opened well in some overseas markets, a sign that the sequel is on track to repeat the success of the original.
“We are used to all the online grumblings,” Arad says. “Most of it comes from core fans, and some of them are quite fanatical. They complain about too many villains or not enough villains, things like that. Anything that carries the name Marvel will always generate that kind of discussion.”
But Webb (who had previously directed only one movie, the romantic comedy “(500) Days of Summer”) says he had to think hard about signing on to direct the sequel.
“It was a little bit up in the air for a while,” he says. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it, and I also had some previous obligations to deal with. Plus it’s two years of your life that you have to dedicate to one movie, and it deserves that. The quantity of work is massive. But it turned out to be really fun.
“The last one, to be totally blunt, wasn’t as fun. There was a huge learning curve. I hadn’t done special effects before or worked in that kind of environment. I was exhausted, really. But then we started talking about the second movie and what the storyline would be, that brought me back.”
Although the film has received primarily positive reviews from critics thus far, Webb admits the studio is taking a gamble with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which will be scrutinized even more closely than the previous picture precisely because of its storyline.
“We’re taking a big risk,” he says. “But that’s what we built the movie on. There’s something very real about the idea of how we’re all fighting time and we have to value the time with the ones we love. One of the great things about storytelling is that it helps us heal through other people’s narratives. And in order for that narrative to have impact, the wound has to be deep.
“A movie is more inspirational if you feel the price. It’s something we might pay the price for, though.”