The recently released, first official photo of Andrew Garfield as a battered and bruised web-slinger has sent net buzz into overdrive well over a year before the film’s tentative release date.
As it’s been a while since I’ve geeked out in public and written something entirely speculative and unfounded I thought I’d indulge myself by attempting to answer the question; can the new Spider-man be better than the last?
For want of a better place to start let’s begin by looking at the man behind the curtain, the director.
Marc Webb vs Sam Raimi
Regardless of how you feel about the existing Spider-man trilogy you would have been hard pressed to find a director better suited than Sam Raimi to finally bring the web slinger to the big screen. A lifelong ‘Spidey’ fan, Raimi succeeded where many, including Jim Cameron had failed. Though Sony were tentative about the appointment, Raimi’s back catalogue of pop-schlock pictures like Evil Dead and Darkman, coupled with his handling of the star laden ensemble pick The Gift proved enough to win him the gig. Sony’s faith was repaid by a billion dollar trilogy but unfortunately the mutually beneficial relationship didn’t last as Raimi came to blows with the studio in the early stages of Spider-man 4. Word on the (inter)web was that Raimi’s own fandom, a trait which initially earned him the gig, may have become a thorn in Sony’s side. Rumour has it that the biggest sticking point in the development of the fourth instalment was that of which character would throw down against the wall crawler. Raimi had been lobbying for ‘The Vulture’ since the second film however, Sony were unmoved by the thought of a bald old man with big green wings.
Instead the studio were more interested in pitting Peter Parker against the more extravagant (read more CGI) foe ‘The Lizard’. Whilst it’s understandable that Raimi would want to steer clear of another potential computer generated travesty, Dr Curt Connors had featured in the previous two films so his evolution into full blown nemesis would probably have felt more organic. With time passing and Tobey Maguire not getting any younger Sony’s eventual solution was to cut Raimi loose and order a complete reboot of the franchise.
In Marc Webb, Sony has appointed a director who has openly admitted that he is relatively new to the world of Spider-man.
It’s hard to say whether this is a deliberate reaction by the studio to Raimi’s more personal involvement with the source material. Either way it would appear that the execs have finally got their way with ‘The Lizard’ being all but confirmed as the villain of the piece. Whilst Webb’s connection to the source material may well be in its infancy he will be ably assisted by franchise vet, producer Laura Ziskin. And, let us not forget, Bryan Singer had never even picked up a comic when he signed on to bring X-men to the big screen. All this leads me to the conclusion that despite Raimi’s fan-boy knowledge, Webb’s objectivity may allow him to create a movie which appeals to an even broader audience.
Andrew Garfield vs Tobey Maguire
Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of radioactive super-nerd Peter Parker was, in my opinion, the franchises greatest strength. Maguire had been making a name for himself in acclaimed dramas like The Ice Storm, Wonderboys and The Cider House Rules so to be cast in an adaptation of a comic book seemed, at the time to be an unusual career move. Of course, these days, ‘serious’ actors are falling over themselves to don the spandex. Despite being twenty seven years old when the first movie was released Maguire had no trouble convincing audiences of he was a socially inept teen. Although some found the quaint ‘comic book’ humour of the films jarring in comparison to the more serious, cerebral adaptations (Hulk, Batman Begins), Maguire showed a comedic flair which he pitched perfectly for the role.
Despite his youthful complexion, and Sony’s suggestion that the new franchise would focus on a younger Parker, Andrew Garfield will in fact be a year older than Maguire when the film is released in 2012. Like his predecessor Garfield has also been on the receiving end of rave reviews for his dramatic roles in the likes of Boy A, The Social Network and the forth coming Never Let Me Go. However, the lack of any real comedic roles, coupled with the sombre looking photo seen above may be a clue into the tone of Webb’s vision. Garfield’s gift for the gritty will stand him in good stead should this new trilogy take a turn for the dark but there is no question he has big red and blue shoes to fill. Maguire may prove to have a more astute sense of comic timing but until there’s every possibility Garfield won’t need it.
Emma Stone vs Kirsten Dunst
This category is slightly skewed in the sense that the respective love interests are actually filled by two different characters. Dunst appeared opposite Maguire as quintessential girl next door Mary Jane Watson where as flavour of the month, Emma Stone is cast in the role of Gwen Stacey, a character who cropped up in the third film looking a lot like Bryce Dallas Howard. For me, Kirsten Dunst was the original trilogies weak link; hampered by Raimi’s inability to effectively execute female characters. Stone on the other hand has proven herself to be a popular combination of hubris and humour. Ever expanding roles in the likes of Superbad, Zombieland and Easy A may mean that Gwen Stacey may prove to be a change of tack and hair colour for Stone;
Webb’s work on (500) Days of Summer proves that he may have more insight than Raimi into the female of the species and those of you familiar with Stacey’s comic book arc will no doubt acknowledge that she is a far more interesting prospect than the rather two dimensional girl next door. So whilst it could be said that Emma Stone is in a much more promising position than Dunst ever was her recent performances would suggest that she certainly has the wit and panache to go toe to toe with Garfield’s Parker given the chance. Unlike Dunst, Stone appears perfectly cast for what seems, on paper at least, to be a much better role.
Rhys Ifans vs Willem Defoe
Another advantage that Webb has over Sam Raimi is that the honchos at Sony are almost certainly plotting this as a trilogy. Raimi on the other hand was forced to show his hand early, pitting Spidey against his arch nemesis, The Green Goblin in the first movie. With no casting announcements regarding either a ‘Norman’ or a ‘Harry Osborne’ Potentially, Webb can work towards an epic showdown and avoid peaking too soon. With Rhys Ifans cast as Dr Curt Connors the strong rumour is that Spidey will throw down with one of his more bestial foes ‘The Lizard’.
I know what you’re thinking; doesn’t this mean that Webb has simply bowed to studio pressure, relinquishing the creative control that Sam Raimi fought so hard to keep? Maybe, but then again maybe not. The Lizard would appear to be a logical first villain. As well as their alliterative names, Peter Parker and Curt Connors have lots in common, something which will allow Webb to play with the emotions and from the looks of the first official photo it’s not just Parker’s heart strings, The Lizard will be tugging on. The sheer animal brutality of The Lizard would be ideally suited to a darker, more violent outing and the Jekyll/Hyde nature of Curt Connor’s affliction means there’ll be no need for the troublesome costuming which hindered the first movie and Willem Dafoe’s otherwise decent performance.
All this leads me to the unavoidable conclusion that there’s a strong possibility the new, as yet untitled, Spider-man reboot has the potential to be even better than the first run of movies. Garfield has his work cut out erasing the memory of Tobey Maguire’s Parker but I can think of no one better suited to the challenge. All these things, coupled with ten years of CGI development stand Marc Webb on the brink of a monster hit providing he can pitch the movie’s tone just right.