Dubai likes superhero movies. April’s The Avengers, which brought together the heroes of four previous Marvel adaptations, was the UAE’s third highest-grossing movie ever, pulling in more than Dhs23.45 billion and counting. It falls just Dhs100,000 shy of the Dubai-shot Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Avatar tops the list with a cool Dhs27 billion). Another huge hit was 2007’s Spider-Man 3, which still holds a place in the UAE top 20 after a Dhs8.5 million haul – a figure we’re expecting to see smashed with the release of this week’s 3D The Amazing Spider-Man.
Yet the movie isn’t just about big business: it’s also about fulfilling childhood dreams. Well, lead actor and new Spider-Man Andrew Garfield’s dreams, to be specific. His boyhood plan was very simple: to one day become Spider-Man, the superhero with whom he had connected emotionally as a very young boy. ‘I was three when I had my first Halloween costume,’ smiles the 28-year-old, still seemingly fighting the urge to pinch himself.
But it didn’t happen without a Peter Parker-esque bout of soul-searching. Garfield is anything but an action star, having appeared in The Social Network, given a BAFTA-winning turn in TV film Boy A, appeared as an organ donor in the forgettable postmodern drama Never Let Me Go, and is likely to receive a Tony nomination for his performance as Biff Loman in a recent Broadway production of Death of a Salesman. He therefore had to think long and hard before taking on the role.
After all, he – perhaps more than any other actor who has donned Spider-Man’s red-and-blue tights – knows that, in the words of Peter Parker’s uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility.
‘There was plenty of doubt in my mind,’ says Garfield, who becomes the first Brit (albeit one with an American father) to play Spider-Man. ‘I’ve been thinking about the responsibility of it since I read the comics. To take on that mantle, I don’t take it lightly. I really don’t.’
Garfield won the role after one of the most hotly contested audition processes in Hollywood history, beating a cadre of some of the finest young actors in the business. ‘He was just the right guy,’ says director Marc Webb. ‘In his screen test, he killed it. That night, I was cutting it together and I couldn’t stop watching it.’
Garfield was introduced to the world as Spider-Man at a Sony event in Mexico in July 2010. He’d been told the good news by Webb and Sony studio chief Amy Pascal just 20 minutes earlier in Pascal’s hotel suite.
‘I was sure she was going to let me down easy,’ laughs Garfield. ‘But when I walked in, there was [bubbly] and a full camera crew.
It was a pretty insane moment, and one I won’t forget, no matter how hard I try. Then we were out in front of the press, and I got to feel like Elvis for a moment, which was fun.’
Garfield’s unveiling came six months after a more shocking announcement that a conventional Spider-Man 4, continuing on from 2007’s Spider-Man 3, had been axed. After three box-office smashes with Sam Raimi in the director’s chair and Tobey Maguire in the title role – and despite already-existing scripts for a fifth and sixth film in the franchise – the studio decided they’d reached a dead end and elected to ‘reboot’ with a new director and leading man.
Producers later stated they wanted to refocus the series on the key theme of a boy becoming a man, going back to the moment when Peter Parker discovers a mysterious suitcase that leads to his superpower.
The movie also introduces Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, Rhys Ifans as Dr Curt Connors/The Lizard, and Martin Sheen as Parker’s uncle Ben.
Despite his familiarity with the character, it took Garfield months of work to ready himself. But all the studying in the world couldn’t prepare for the day when he had to put on the Spider-suit for the first time. Nor could comic books prepare him for the rush that comes with swinging as Spider-Man.
‘I think we were in a parking lot in LA, doing a night shoot,’ he recalls. ‘There were paparazzi who were definitely taking unflattering shots of a skinny English kid in a red and blue Spandex suit. I was aware of that, but I had to say [forget] it, and I had to put the character’s needs first. I really felt the enjoyment of being anonymous and the fun of not being able to be seen in the stuff I was doing, even though I knew there were going to be some terrible shots of me online the next day!’
The Amazing Spider-Man is in UAE cinemas from Thursday July 5.