Amazing Spider-Man 2 - Tolmach and Arad

Comic book movies are hotter than ever these days, and one of the people we have to thank for that fact is producer Avi Arad. As the founder of Marvel Studios, he got the ball rolling with films like X-Men and Sam Raimi‘s Spider-Man. And while he’s no longer at Marvel Studios, he’s still riding the trend he helped start with films like the new Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Of course, he’s not doing it alone. His partner on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is Matt Tolmach. Unlike Arad, Tolmach is relatively new to the comic book movie game; his only previous superhero movie is the last Amazing Spider-Man. But the results speak for themselves, in a financial means at least. That film was a hit, and the new one is poised to become one too.

At a recent press event, I got the opportunity to talk to the two producers about comic book movie diversity, whether non-Spidey heroes might show up in the Spidey universe, and why comic books still resonate. 

Obviously, there’s some things in Amazing Spider-Man 2 that are setting up future movies. How far in advance are the storylines mapped out?

MT: Pretty far. I mean, if you look at this movie, we always knew that taking on Gwen Stacy in the last movie would lead us here. And so you think about it in larger arcs. The day-to-day specifics, a lot of those get worked out when the guys are sitting and actually writing. But in terms of where a character’s going, who’s going to be in the movies, bigger decisions like that, there’s a lot of mapping out that goes on way ahead of time. You know, if you see the end of our movie, we’re sending you a pretty good signal about what you might expect.

Is there any flexibility with those plans?

MT: Everything.

AA: You’re a writer, you know. A writer has flexibility… ideas come up. You do an outline, and a draft, and you start looking at it, and then all of a sudden you say, ‘Wait a second, it would be cool if…’

MT: Right. ‘Cause you’re thinking, this is going to happen, and be so great, and what if we did that, and this didn’t work, and be better served with this character…

AA: It’s so rich, so many characters, so many villains, so many scenes we didn’t discuss here about Spider-Man. So it gives you tremendous freedom to say, ‘Wait a second, we’re going to talk about him, we should also use you.’ Then all of a sudden it becomes a more interesting community, if you will.

Was there anything specifically in Amazing Spider-Man 2 that you weren’t originally planning and then it got added later on?

AA: Not really.

MT: No. I mean, there are some things that aren’t in the movie anymore. There are also things that you envisioned…

AA: By the time the script is done, you already went through this process.

MT: Well, you edit the movie twice. You edit the script, and you shoot it, and then you edit the movie. So yeah, we always knew what was going in; you don’t always know what’s coming out. And sometimes you’re stunned at what the movie needs and what it doesn’t need at the end. Every director’s cut is long. So you’re always forced to compromise the things that you love. But it’s surprising what those things are sometimes. You don’t see it coming.

I know that you have big plans for the villains in the franchise because you have the Venom and Sinister Six movies coming up. But in terms of superheroes, so far there’s only Spider-Man. Do you have plans to introduce any other superheroes?

AA: The human heroes in the Spider-Man universe… the supervillains, some of them become on the cusp [between hero and villain]. They’re not really villains. Like Venom. Like him, there are others that, if you take the earlier reincarnation, they’re good guys. Something happened, and they consider it an injustice so it caused a mutation, they’re angry at Spider-Man. So it’s wide open. There are a lot of women in the universe, some of them very very interesting for how will they interact with Peter Parker and Spider-Man. We are just touching the tip of the iceberg.

MT: We get to — Avi was saying some of them are on the cusp, and the truth is we get to decide which side of the cusp we want them to end up on. And that’s some of the fun of playing in this universe is being able to interpret it. There are changes that we’ve made along the way to characters, and that’s part of the film adaptation of comic books. So, hard to say. There are definitely — Sinister Six is going to involve a bunch of badass villains, but they’re not all the same, and who knows what’s going to come after that, and how they’re going to feel?

AA: And they have issues.

MT: With one another.

AA: We may be sympathetic to some of the Sinister Six.

MT: Try putting five bad guys in a room. Six, I mean.

AA: Like Electro.

I mean, that was something that I thought was really great about Amazing Spider-Man 2, that the two big villains, you see this moment where they could go one way or the other. You see that they don’t start out horrible people.

MT: Exactly. That’s the Marvel way.

AA: Which tells you, that’s what it takes to go on the good side.

MT: Spider-Man’s side.

AA: The natural thing when one is disappointed, hurt, physically hurt, is to go to the dark side. Spider-Man had it harder than these people for his age, and chose the right path.

MT: He did the right thing.

AA: And that’s what makes Spider-Man, Peter Parker, such a huge, positive character.

Well, earlier you mentioned that there’s some interesting female characters in here that we’re probably going to see more of. I know that you have said you’re not sure if Shailene Woodley is going to be Mary Jane in the next movie, but is Mary Jane definitely going to show up?

MT: Eventually. For sure.

Is it safe to assume the Felicity Jones character is Felicia Hardy?

MT: She could be. It’s safe to assume she could be. I mean, there’s no question that we’re having fun with that. And that’s sort of what goes on in these movies, and that’s a great character. When we decide to go there, not for public consumption yet, but I mean, we love that character.

AA: Felicia Hardy. She’s in a way like him, but again, chose the wrong path. And like her, there are others that are very exciting.

MT: She was just trying to take care of her father.

AA: It’s all about fathers.

MT: It’s all about fathers.

Yeah, I noticed that. You were saying that Spider-Man and Harry Osborn and Max Dillon all get to a point where they have to choose, but it seems like the one thing Spider-Man had that they didn’t was a good role model in May and Ben.

MT: You know, that’s a really good point. The guidance that he had along the way. You know, there’s a scene in the movie between Sally and Andrew and she sort of lays it out and says to him in a very powerful way… I’ll tell you something, during the premiere, I was watching my mom during this scene. And she was like, ‘Who was there for you? Who brushed your teeth, and did the dishes, and cleaned up after you?’ And it is true, what you’re saying, that the thing that separates Peter is not only his judgment, and his morality, but that he comes from people who are truly good and taught him that from the very beginning. He learned it from Uncle Ben and Aunt May, not his parents, as she points out. And I think that’s really an important legacy.

I wanted to ask you about diversity in comic book movies, namely the fact that there isn’t very much right now. It’s mostly white men. But I know that you cast black men as Electro, and as Human Torch in the Fantastic Four sequel you’re exec producer on. Do you consider the lack of diversity in comic book movies an issue? Is that something you think about when you’re casting?

AA: I think, one, we do have diversity, finally. Because when comics were written, late ’50s, early ’60s, the comic book universe, or for that matter the country, they didn’t know there were anybody but white people here. [Laughs] And they’re all white. We had a couple of black characters, which was in the Daily Bugle. The editor-in-chief is a black man. And we have some great stories between him and his son because the son is dealing with not knowing where he belongs, really. But I think we are finally becoming more of one world, and you’re going to see more and more diversity in the selection of characters. That will be — it’s about the actor, it’s about the audition. It’s not about saying, ‘Well, in the comic he was white, so he cannot be…’ You know, Nick Fury was white… It’s all going to change. I think sometimes we consciously look at it. We would love to have a superhero, we would love Marvel to create a superhero — We can create villains, but we’d love to have a Chinese superhero with something that is really interesting and how they got here, and what is their issue, and so on. But it’s coming. And it’s inevitable. It’s really inevitable. But it didn’t come naturally to comics in the days that no one was aware that there were actually other countries and other people. It’s ridiculous. And women were basically — it was about bodies.

MT: They were relegated to damsels in distress.

AA: Exactly.

MT: Which Emma Stone flies in the face of.

AA: So for us, we love the idea that we are moving the whole universe forward and creating these wonderful characters… men and women, by the way.

MT: That’s one of the great things about her performance in this movie, that if you really watch carefully… She’s the one making the choices in the movie. She’s the one who’s proactive and convicted. And it’s empowering. That was really important to Emma, and that was really important to us in creating that character. That it not just be a man’s world, where men are making it. What is that?

AA: It’s a comic book based movie. Obviously it’s a lot of fun to see the sci-fi. Lot of the sci-fi became just sci now, because these things actually are happening. All the way from Da Vinci to Jules Verne, to now. But the most important thing we had to — If we want to be realistic, we want to look at the world as a real place. I think we’ve managed to do it really well. This movie is this world. Oh, it flies in the air, which is not everybody can do it, but it’s irrelevant because it’s a metaphor for his freedom, his ability to help.

MT: The rest of it has its feet in the world that we live in, and that was a big part of that. That was a big part of what Marc [Webb] had wanted to accomplish, going back to the last movie, is that you feel like you live in this world with him.

AA: We don’t have Gotham.

MT: We have New York City.

AA: It’s very different.

Is it hard to find the balance, then, between having it be comic book-y or realistic?

MT: Well, we have the benefit of characters who do things that are not things you see every day. So there aren’t too many people flying through the city shooting webs, or on gliders, or shooting electricity. So you have that built in, and we think it’s a more powerful story if you do that in a real world. It allows the audience to actually feel like they’re part of it. If science fiction, at least for me, departs too much from either aesthetic credibility or emotional credibility, then you’re just watching it. Then you’re sort of not participating in it. So a big thing for us is to feel like you’re Peter Parker, in his world.

AA: I think the thing that worked with comics forever was humanity, is the caveman had the same issues without the hardware. You know, he wanted the girl, and the girl didn’t want him, she wanted the other cave guy. I mean, humanity didn’t change that much.

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