There’s a chase sequence early in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” in which our hero, again played by Andrew Garfield, swings into action to stop Paul Giamatti’s tracksuited Russian gangster from brazenly hijacking a truckload of plutonium. “You can call me Webhead — just don’t call me late for dinner,” Spidey quips, toying with his opponent in a style that comics fans know well.
“The cracking wise was a cool thing to be able to explore,” Garfield says by phone from Paris, where he’s attending one in a series of international premieres leading up to Friday’s US opening. “The physical comedy as well. I’d keep thinking of things like Bugs Bunny and Charlie Chaplin. Or Muhammad Ali just tying opponents up in knots, using their weaknesses against them.”
Soon, the Webslinger (he’s OK with that handle, too) finds himself in the back of a wildly rocking armored car, scrambling to catch multiple tumbling vials of the deadly radioactive stuff. It’s some juggling act. Pull back a little, though, and it’s clear that Spider-Man is juggling plenty more than this. Giamatti’s thug, who later dons a tank-like exosuit as reconceived Spider-nemesis the Rhino, is actually just an undercard. The movie’s main-event villains are Electro (Jamie Foxx), a misunderstood, energy-channeling baddie capable of blowing Times Square’s collective circuits, and Peter Parker’s pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, “Chronicle”), who morphs into the Green Goblin. (See below for more examples of the pile-on instinct endemic to superhero sequels.) They’re all being introduced as part of setting up “The Sinister Six,” a sort of anti-“Avengers” interconnecting franchise that the producers and studio marketers at Sony have been surprisingly open about discussing.
While all of that’s going on, Spidey also gets a slight personality tweak in “Amazing 2,” giving that bantering heroic breeziness more play than last time. He again charmingly romances Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), as director Marc Webb (the rom-com “(500) Days of Summer”) continues to put his stamp on the franchise. And the publicity machine has teased that something major could be in store for Gwen — anything from moving to Oxford for a science-scholar opportunity to a far darker development. (Fans who know their Marvel Comics history know all about the encounter that Gwen, her true love, and the Goblin have high atop the Brooklyn Bridge in a 1973 issue of “The Amazing Spider-Man” — a seminal moment loosely adapted in Tobey Maguire’s first outing in the role. It doesn’t end well in the comic.) It’s a lot to cover, and the filmmakers are doing their damnedest to cover it in a single, two-hour-plus installment. To paraphrase the code that Spider-Man has always lived by: With great box-office power comes great responsibility.
Quick-witted and sincere, Garfield admits up front that he’s not big on plugging — he’d much rather talk about grass-roots charity work the Spider-Team is doing at each promotional stop. So his take on the movie’s ambitions feels genuine. He says he doesn’t regard all those moving parts as limiting the actors’ ability to get what they need from the story dramatically. Instead, it was more a case of, Hey, I get to work with Foxx and DeHaan and Giamatti. “I believe that what the writers wrote is a big movie, but a cohesive one,” Garfield says in his native British accent. “Both Electro and Goblin each add something very interesting to Peter’s struggle and Spider-Man’s struggle. And Rhino is designed for pure entertainment. So they each serve a particular purpose.
“The main focus is still going to be this boy stumbling through his life while saving New York City,” he continues. “We really do have a team of softies who wanted to make sure that the emotional heart of the movie is retained, and the explosions and fights are icing and cherries.”
Speaking of emotion, you wonder: If something momentous is, in fact, looming for Gwen, how did Garfield and Stone deal with it? When so much has been made about how their chemistry has helped to drive these movies — they’re a couple offscreen as well — how did they bring themselves to go for it, and take such a creative risk? “Yeahhh,” Garfield says with a mix of coyness and unease, “it’s a real, legitimate question, and a legitimate concern.” Then, a mischievous flash of that wit: “We’d be stupid to do anything, wouldn’t we?”
For all the junior-DiCaprio brooding that DeHaan, 28, projects onscreen — see his attention-grabbing turns in “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Kill Your Darlings” — you’d swear you can almost hear him smiling as he discusses his “Amazing” opportunity by phone. (Maybe you caught the stoked tweet he sent when photos first broke of him in his gnarly, festering Goblin makeup: #wokeuplikethis.) Echoing Garfield’s assertion that there’s enough drama to go around, he traces Harry Osborn’s twisty journey from trust-fund brat to diseased headcase bent on destroying Spider-Man, and enlisting Electro to help. “Who Harry is at the beginning of the movie and who he becomes by the end is probably the biggest character arc I’ve ever gotten to do,” DeHaan says. “So it was incredibly fulfilling.”
Still, the prosthetics must have been a drag, right? Did he and Foxx play any games of my-makeover-is-rougher? “When you’re in the makeup, you can’t think about how you’re suffering — what you’ve gotta think about is, ‘Holy [expletive], I’m the Green Goblin!’” DeHaan says with a laugh. “‘So what if it took four hours to get here? Look at me now!’ All that stuff is where the boy in me comes out.”
What’s not child’s play is the high-stakes bid the movie is making, creatively and commercially, to chart the future with its Sinister Six intro. The print version of the group, which debuted half a century ago, featured a fed-up Doctor Octopus (recall Alfred Molina in 2004’s “Spider-Man 2”) recruiting Electro and others to gang up on Spider-Man. It was another fun way for Marvel Comics to remind readers that its characters — heroes and villains alike — were sharing one big sandbox.
In the movie’s mythology, biotech giant Oscorp, the company that employed Peter’s father and that’s owned by Harry’s, is assembling players — a team of six, presumably — for dark purposes still to be revealed. “We establish Oscorp as the source of evil,” explains producer Avi Arad, a franchise vet and former Marvel Studios head who’s helped steer both of Spider-Man’s screen incarnations. “Everything that Peter has to deal with emanates from that.” The sequel offers glimpses of Doc Ock’s tentacles housed in the Oscorp labs, as well as a winged rig for another villain, the Vulture. Meanwhile, B. J. Novak of “The Office” has a small role as Alistair Smythe, a character behind the comics’ robotic Spider-Slayers.
For Sony, which licenses Spider-Man from Marvel, Oscorp and a “Sinister Six” spinoff are keys to replicating the lucrative, cross-pollinating success that Marvel and corporate parent Disney have enjoyed with the various Avengers franchises. (It’s a model that Warner is likewise emulating with its 2016 “Man of Steel” sequel, a mash-up with Ben Affleck’s Batman that’s rumored to be setting up a Justice League feature.) “The Amazing Spider-Man 3,” already slated for 2016 with Webb directing, would feed “Sinister Six,” from director Drew Goddard (“The Cabin in the Woods”). This, in turn, could feed back to a 2018 “Spider-Man” installment and another supervillain showcase, “Venom,” with “Amazing 2” writer Alex Kurtzman directing. And on and on, to the tune of billions in box-office revenue. It’s about more than quaint sandbox analogies now, or even the old genre ploy of upping the number of sequel antagonists to try to up the ante. It’s about building mega-franchises.
Arad doesn’t sweat the thought of attempting this daunting trick with bad guys. “Villains who are victims of circumstance, like Spider-Man’s, are always interesting,” he says. “And there are some great movies about outlaws realizing that doing a little good is not bad. Look at [the 1960 western] ‘The Magnificent Seven.’” He also doesn’t worry about potentially overstuffing Spider-Man movies, even if his professional enthusiast’s insistence on including Venom in 2007’s “Spider-Man 3” was one bit of nefarious-