In the multitude of Marvel cinematic universes (there are three out there as we speak), producers Matt Tolmach and Avi Arad are the guardians of Spider-Man’s particular corner of the cosmos. With The Amazing Spider-Man and now The Amazing Spider-Man 2, they have launched an ambitious reboot of the world inhabited by Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) and others, with plans to expand Spidey’s saga into multiple movie spin-offs.
Arad is no stranger to Marvel, of course: he and partner Isaac Perlmutter took over the company in the mid-‘90s, guiding it out of bankruptcy and re-establishing the brand while ambitiously launching Marvel Studios in 2006. Arad left shortly thereafter, but continues to oversee Spider-Man movies with producing partner Tolmach.
The duo, along with director Marc Webb, have set a formidable task for themselves with The Amazing Spider-Man 2: they’re telling one of Peter Parker’s most emotionally powerful stories (indeed, one of the most important tales in comic book history), while introducing villains like Electro (Jamie Foxx), Rhino (Paul Giamatti) and Green Goblin (DeHaan) plus laying the groundwork for the eventual appearance of the Sinister Six. Den of Geek got them on the phone to talk it all over.
Den Of Geek: What did you want to see and what story did you want to tell in this film?
Matt Tolmach: Two things: one is we knew when we introduced Gwen Stacy in the last movie and made her the focus of the love story, we knew where we were headed with that story. So that was always sitting out there as a challenge and something we were excited about. So there’s that. The second thing I would say sort of more broadly is the last movie we felt the need, the obligation to tell the origin story. With that comes certain sacred ideas and tropes or whatever, things you have to do. We were liberated in this movie to just go and invent a big Spider-Man movie. With it, we really wanted to have fun. We wanted to go back to Peter Parker in the comics who was funny and loving his job. So we felt we were free to play and to go bigger and make people laugh in a way that we just hadn’t been able to before.
Did you know what villains you wanted? Did you pre-select them?
Avi Arad: As we were developing the story, we knew that we wanted to get into Electro. We thought there was an interesting story about how the biggest fan of Spider-Man becomes his biggest foe. He also served another purpose for us, which is that this is one villain that could clearly damage the population as a whole, which sometimes is hard to find. Here, all he has to do is shut the power and then all those people will get hurt. The way to fight him — Peter has to rely, both Peter and Gwen have to rely on their science education. They have to be really smart to know how to stop something like that. The second villain, obviously, we wanted to get to Harry, and it’s all part of this decision to have Oscorp as the tower of evil, if you will. Everybody’s life was touched by Oscorp one way or another, from Peter and his father to Harry and his father, Electro…when Harry says, “This is the future,” we know a lot of bad things are going to emanate out of Oscorp. Bad things already happened to both boys because of Oscorp.
So it was really about the structure of who were the villains and the fact that they needed each other in order to accomplish what they had in mind. Then obviously you have Paul Giamatti (as Rhino), who is actually showing the results of the new mechanized world built around the human being. So each one had a purpose and I know that there is always speculation about too many villains. But the movie didn’t feel like it had too many villains.
There are a lot of seeds planted in this movie. We see some characters like Alistair Smythe and we met a woman named Felicia, whose last name we never hear but fans can certainly guess who she is. Are they there just as Easter eggs or cameos, or are they there because you want to slot them into later stories?
Tolmach: They’re there because it’s fun. When you see these movies and you know — for people that don’t know, they’re obviously not going to know. We just hire great actors who would be good in the part. But for people who do know, it gives it a whole other layer that’s fun to watch. The truth is, we’re creating options for ourselves. When something pops and it works, and people respond to it, we’re inclined to kind of chase that down. You know who Felicia is and what we’re incubating there. That’s a character we love. So what we’re doing is expanding this universe. We’re creating opportunities for ourselves to tell a bunch of different stories. There’s so many great characters in the universe that we’re kind of bringing them all to play and some of them are going to get put in the game next time and some are going to wait a couple movies, but they’re all there in potential to be used.
The strongest seed you planted is for the Sinister Six and we’ve also got the announcement of a Sinister Six movie down the line. Is The Amazing Spider-Man 3 going to be developing them to the point where they can be spun off to their own movie?
Arad: Could be.
Tolmach: Yeah, we’re making a Sinister Six movie and we’re going to make a Venom movie and we’re going to make a Spider-Man movie. The big idea is that all of them will — there will be overlap inthe universe because they all —
Arad: They all have the common element which is Spider-Man.
Tolmach: They all come out of Spider-Man. Whether one literally leads to the next, we just haven’t said it out loud yet, but they’re all very much in play right now.
Was looking at the Marvel Studios template and the way they created the shared universe — not that you wanted to copy them, but was that something to show the studio and say, look, this can be done and here’s how we can do it with this portion of the Marvel Universe that we’ve got?
Arad: Well, I’ve been involved in both universes for a long time and actually we discussed Sinister Six years ago because I think moviegoers will be fascinated with the study of what makes a villain, especially a villain in the Spider-Man universe. When we started making our own movies at Marvel, The Avengers was an obvious choice and the building blocks were already in place. You already had Hulk and Iron Man and Thor and so on. We had to get to the new Spider-Man and we had to get him to a point that, as Matt was saying, we had more freedom to let Andrew own the character and delve into things that are important to us, like humor and introducing Oscorp and technology. That lends itself so beautifully to the Sinister Six, and just the whole idea is to make Peter’s life miserable. If he can take it, tough guy.
Andrew has put such a stamp on the role already. When he eventually runs his course or his contract, can the role be “James Bonded” and can you keep going without necessarily telling the origin story again somewhere down the line?
Tolmach: Of course. I mean, we’re far from that. We have so much more to do with this Spider-Man and with Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker. But that is kind of the beauty of this character is that he is never going to be owned by one actor or one generation just as he never was in the comics. So, Andrew inhabits it now and down the road it will be somebody else, for sure. It’s just not something we’re even close to talking about or envisioning.