If there’s one common theme among tentpole films this summer, it’s the mentality that bigger is better. The sheer scope these blockbusters achieve is astonishing and, as some have speculated, has been hurting box-office numbers. When Steven Spielberg says there’s going to be an implosion in these type of $150M+ films, that’s something to take seriously. But if there’s one character that the “blow everything we see up” approach doesn’t suit, it’s Spider-Man.
Speaking with producer Matt Tolmach about the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man 2, it was clear they didn’t set out to make one of those disaster films. Seeing Peter Parker struggle is what makes Spider-Man engaging, not seeing a whole city block torn to pieces. The first Amazing Spider-Man wasn’t that, and Tolmach intends to keep it that way. That doesn’t mean this sequel won’t go bigger, though.
This is the second time I’ve talked Spidey with Tolmach, and, being from the same area and having attended rival high schools, it always helps getting the conversation get off to a good start. I’ll spare you our reminiscing over our high school rivalries, but in the meantime, here’s what Tolmach had to say about Amazing Spider-Man 2:
This is an interesting era of summer movies where so many films feel the need to go big, especially sequels. Is there that approach to Amazing Spider-Man 2?
You always have to tell Peter Parker’s story. You miss the boat if you don’t do that. Having said that, the last movie, in some ways, was about becoming Spider-Man, while this one is about being Spider-Man. While you say that, there is a tonal shift because the movie literally starts with a bang. There’s no deliberation or confusion about his conviction. We didn’t want to go “big” for big’s sake, but we wanted to have fun.
We wanted to blow shit up, make people laugh, and take people to another level, without losing Peter Parker’s story. There’s a powerful Peter Parker story in this movie. He’s experiencing being a big famous superhero, so that makes it a bigger movie; it’s bigger for storytelling reasons.
Spider-Man 2 highlights some of what you’re talking about. Making these films, do you have to be conscious of what Sam Raimi’s films already covered?
Spider-Man 2 was about a very specific idea: do I want to be Spidey anymore? That’s not what this movie is. We knew right away we weren’t doing that. The legacy of Sam and those movies is a gift. I don’t find it crippling, because I love them, they increased people’s love for the character, and it sets the bar. You know you don’t want to retell those stories, but you know you have to deliver. We’re doing something totally different, but we have to equal or top that.
An aspect that makes this Spider-Man stand apart is embracing the more comic-booky villains. With using Lizard, Electro, and Rhino, was there always the consensus of it being okay to use those villains’ sillier attributes?
Yes. One of the things we did on this movie that makes it bigger and more comic-book is using more than one villain. People ask, “Are there going to be too many villains in this movie?” Spider-Man 3 gets dinged for that all the time. We created a universe where there’s the possibility of there being more characters like this out there. It doesn’t mean they’re the focus of what Spider-Man is about, but why is there only one? Of course there’s more. This is the Electro story. I think we elevated Electro to another place in the lexicon; he’s a really powerful character in this movie.
And he’s, at least to my recollection, the only black villain in a tentpole superhero franchise. There’s always been a lack of prominent black characters in the genre. Obviously Luke Cage…
I love Luke Cage. I developed it when I was at Sony.
What was the issue with it?
Honestly, we never got the right script. Avi [Arad] and I worked on it and we both loved it. I hope that movie gets made. There was never a moment of hesitation over Jamie Foxx. If you look at the list of best actors today, he’s on there. It’s a change of what’s in the comics, but that’s okay. The integrity of the character is true. What he does with Max Dillion is unbelievably driven. As producers and filmmakers, you want to make a movie you believe is great. You want to capture the spirit of the source material, but also do something different. This isn’t the Electro you have in your head, but when I go to the movies, I don’t want to see what I already have in my head.
In terms of going bigger, I’m sure you saw Steven Spielberg say there’s going to be an implosion for those bigger summer movies. What are your thoughts on that?
I worry about it. I think there can be a numbing of an audience if they’re just big for big’s sake. You just have to give people the right thing. I mean, looking at how people responded to The Avengers was inspiring. Then other movies came out that audiences went, “Really?” There’s a fatigue that’s bad for all of us. I think it all comes down to the responsibility of making good movies. Otherwise, we’re all going to suffer.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens in theaters on April 17th, 2014.