If there is one man who knows Marvel inside and out, it's Avi Arad. Arad was the CEO of Toy Biz in the Nineties and soon took over Marvel Entertainment, becoming its chief creative officer, CEO, director and chairman. This was the man who pulled Marvel out of its slump and founded Marvel Studios; the man who made it so attractive for Disney to acquire. And he remains the biggest Marvel fan around.
He's still producing the Amazing Spider-Man movies and shepherding its various spin-offs and sequels, and during our interview was decked out in a T-shirt depicting Spider-Man and Venom facing off (he was also wearing an X-Men bracelet and a giant silver ring embossed with the Punisher logo). This is the man who holds all the secrets. So it was a thrill to get to talk to him and his producing partner Matt Tolmach about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and what lies beyond.
In our wonderfully frank conversation, which tended to constantly veer into outright wacky territory, we talked about the challenges of making the upcoming Sinister Six film, since it's comprised exclusively of villains, what they did better this time around, and what happened to Mary Jane in this movie.
Movies.com: Marc has talked about this movie getting things right that he didn't get right the first time. Do you guys feel that this Spider-Man movie has gotten some things right that the other ones haven't?
Matt Tolmach: Yes. Tone. And comedy.
Avi Arad: Well, the other movie did really well for a reboot. It was like a troubled child because we had to reestablish the story, everybody had to become comfortable in their skin. But I think the movie did a very good job starting the franchise over.
Tolmach: It would not have been appropriate to do some things in that movie that we did in this movie – to open it up with bravado, with Spider-Man having fun and quipping. And we missed that. So it wasn't that that was a mistake, it was one of those limitations of a reboot. With this time we got to enter into making a Spider-Man movie properly.
Arad: Take a deep breath and go big. It was wide open so we could create a tone for the future, with our announcements and people know that we opened the doors wide open. We have a fantastic Peter Parker and we have an opportunity for more newness, more development.
Movies.com: So a spin-off movie will happen before the next proper Spider-Man movie? What's the order of things?
Tolmach: We haven't announced the order of things, although we're aware of it. We just haven't done it yet. We know what we've said, which is that we're in the midst of Sinister Six, Venom and Amazing Spider-Man 3. The beauty of this little dream team that we've put together is that we have everybody working together and separately on their specific installment of the franchise. We just haven't said yet which is going to come first. I don't want to try to be more coy than that.
Movies.com: How are you approaching the Sinister Six? Who are we rooting for?
Arad: If everything goes according to plan, I think you'll find moments where, I don't know if you're rooting for the villain, but you're sympathetic to the villain. Very much like in this film, where you look at Electro in his pathetic state, and when he loses it, you still feel badly for him. If you look at the Sinister Six and all of the Marvel villains; they're all very interesting – they think they have a good reason to do what they're doing. Sometimes it's what happened to their bodies, which have made them hideous on one hand and given them powers on the other. They're not all happy about it. How to get a date like that? If it's our team, no one is going to be an ultimate villain because there's nothing interesting about that.
Tolmach: Look at the great movies about villains – The Dirty Dozen, The Godfather. Michael Corleone is, in a traditional definition, a villain. But he starts out as a guy who doesn't want to be. He has a more ideal vision of his future but circumstance turns him. So he does what he feels he must do. But at no point is he one-dimensional or mustache twirling. He's oddly sympathetic and complex. People always ask, "How do you make a movie with sympathetic villains?" But there's an enormous tradition of it. And they're really fun to watch, because in some ways they're even more relatable because they're vulnerable to making bad choices. Spider-Man makes the right choice. These are guys who go the other way.
Movies.com: The Black Cat character is in this movie. Is she someone you're looking to spin off into a solo movie? And have you been looking at the female characters?
Arad: The Spider-Man universe is incredibly rich in women. And some of them are villainous, and some of them are friends or lovers. I think Felicia Hardy is an interesting character. But there are others who can be a real problem for Spider-Man. They'll fight him and so on. It's wonderfully rich stories.
Movies.com: It would be nice to have a superhero movie for young girls.
Tolmach: We like that idea. We like that idea.
Arad: That's part of the plan of establishing more characters – to go out there and start. Because we know that there are villains out there who can be redeemed and who can be edgy characters like Venom. He doesn’t like Spider-Man but he's not a bad guy.
Tolmach: You asked about the things that we didn't get to do in the last movie – and it's just that. You say the Black Cat is in the movie… She's not… There's a girl named Felicia… And there's a guy named Smythe… There are things that you see towards the end of the movie. All of that we got to tease at where we could go. And now we get to do it. That was fun.
Movies.com: Did having to lay the ground work for so many future things limit this movie in any way?
Tolmach: It didn't feel like we tripped over that. The critical characters we introduced in the movie that required backstory were Harry and Max. If you look at the Rhino, he's fun in this movie. That's not a particularly emotional character.
Arad: We'll get to hear his story when it's appropriate. But you only see him at the end of the movie.
Tolmach: Right. Now he's just a problem.
Arad: It's going to be a lot of fun to pick and choose and how to they connect and what are their side stories.
Movies.com: The big character that was cut was Mary Jane. Can you talk about where that decision came from?
Tolmach: She's great. We bit off more than we could chew, to be honest. She was the wrong choice at the wrong time, to tell that story. As you know from seeing the movie, this is the ultimate story of Peter and Gwen. That's where Peter's brain, heart and every thought had to be focused on.
Arad: I don't think Peter is the guy who is madly in love with one girl and start a flirtatious relationship with someone else. It's inevitable.
Tolmach: It's a pretty girl next door. Why is that story in this movie? And Andrew was very clear about that because as an actor he has to portray that. And honestly it felt like it wasn't right for this story. He wouldn't be spending time in that place.
Movies.com: Are you going to explore her in that role?
Tolmach: We don't know. She's got a very full dance card.
Movies.com: She isn't contractually obligated to return?
Movies.com: Do you think there's another character in the Spider-Man universe that could rival him in terms of popularity?
Arad: I think Spider-Man will always be the centerpiece. He is the most known and is the least controversial, in a way. He is always trying, all the time, to do the right things. The other characters that are very popular, like Venom, will never replace Spider-Man because Eddie Brock comes from a different place and Venom comes from a different place. It's adversity versus being better or not. But listen, who knows? The Symbiotic can take over Spider-Man and can become him. That's one of the fun things.
Tolmach: No, I don't think there's a character who is as impactful, emotionally, as Peter Parker.
Movies.com: Can you talk about tone when it comes to the Venom movie? Is it going to be scary?
Arad: It will be very entertaining. His powers are quite interesting. And he has more Achilles heels than Spider-Man, which will come in unexpectedly. So I think, eventually, these two will have to come to terms with each other.
Tolmach: He has to be scary.
Arad: But he's scary like Electro. But what we perceive as scary isn't scary to the kids.
Tolmach: They are drawn to Venom. You know that. There's a mystical power that that character has because he flirts with danger and all of those things that kids are always toying with. We're always going to make these movies PG-13 but Venom plays in a slightly more dangerous sandbox but in the same universe.
Arad: Don't forget that Venom is a very emotional character. To know Eddie or whoever is going to be the human side of it, you're going to meet someone who is very vulnerable. He is looking for the same things we are all looking for. But reacts differently. Obviously the Symbiote is external to him so it doesn't represent who the guy is. But I shouldn't say any more about that… We think there is very strong for a potential stand alone.
Movies.com: What has been the biggest hiccup when establishing this kind of brain trust to oversee the films?
Tolmach: It is utterly without hiccup. They all have history together. They've all come out of the J.J. Abrams school of television and film writing, it seems like all of them have written for Alias at some point. And so they know each other, they're all friends, they're all geeks, and they all love the material. It all happened on its own. We were doing our own thing with Alex [Kurtzman] and Bob [Orci] and Jeff [Pinkner]. And we wanted to grow this universe and obviously not everybody can do everything because we want all of this stuff now. So who do we trust who is like us and who is crazy talented? So Drew Goddard is the guy you chase for everything and says no to everything, but he wanted to do it. And Ed Solomon wrote X-Men, who just created something with Alex. And it's an egoless thing. Something happens when you work on a television show, and it's a very different dynamic. They're not precious about ideas. You break a story in a room and they say, "F**k no!" or "Yes!" And it's easy that way.
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