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‘Spider-Man’ filmmakers head to WonderCon to address fans’ fears

By Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — This summer, the wall-crawling hero Spider-Man celebrates his 50th anniversary, so in more ways than one, the Marvel Comics creation is a pop-culture icon that sticks. That should be nothing but good news for the filmmaking team behind this summer’s “The Amazing Spider-Man,” but instead they view that history as part of their challenge — just like the towering shadow cast by the previous Spider-Man films and their $3.5 billion box office success.

“Our movie — with this hero, at this time — has to be great, and we know we have to show people that we know what we’re doing,” said producer Matt Tolmach, who — like director Marc Webb and stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone — is making his first Spider-Man film. “But we’re excited about that because we know what we’ve got.”

Webb, Stone and Tolmach will join veteran producer Avi Arad (his name has appeared in the credits of two dozen films based on Marvel characters) this Saturday at the pop culture expo WonderCon in Anaheim, Calif., where they will greet thousands of fans and unveil new footage from the July 3 release. Their hope is that they can overcome the skepticism that has greeted this fourth Spider-Man movie since the January 2010 announcement that it would start the mythology over from scratch and bring in new faces.

It wasn’t that long ago that director Sam Raimi and stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst were spinning the tales of the hero on the silver screen — the May 2007 opening weekend of “Spider-Man 3” set box office records with a massive $381.7 million worldwide — and Dunst herself is among those who wonder if it’s too soon to hit the restart button.

“They have a lot to live up to,” Dunst told the Los Angeles Times in late 2010. “They’re going to tell the story, I guess, from the beginning again but in a different way. But it wasn’t that long ago that we told that story.”

The appearance at WonderCon is a key moment in Sony’s orchestrated plan to have Webb and his young stars connect with fans. The director’s only feature-film credit is “(500) Days of Summer,” so the studio wanted to be sure his deep affection for vintage Marvel Comics came across last year at a pivotal visit to Comic-Con International in San Diego.

The new film retells the tale of Peter Parker (Garfield), who, bitten by fate (and a lab-altered spider), gets superpowers. But this version adds a back story about his dead parents, turns the romantic emphasis to Gwen Stacy (Stone) and introduces the Lizard (Rhys Ifans) as the bad guy. The film also goes for a darker palette, fewer CG effects and more street-level grit — all which served to keep the budget lower than the $258 million Sony spent on “Spider-Man 3.”

Last month, Sony linked up theaters in 13 key cities (Los Angeles, Berlin, Rome, Madrid, Paris, Seoul and Moscow among them) to show new footage and, through the event’s ambition, signal that “Amazing Spider-Man” shouldn’t be viewed as the summer’s superhero afterthought to Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight Rises” or Disney’s “The Avengers.” Tolmach and Arad also visited with exhibitors and partners, who echoed fan doubts.

“There was what I will call a healthy skepticism, and because it was such a beloved franchise — people did look at us sideways,” Tolmach said at his Los Angeles office. Arad, sitting next to him, added: “Every meeting started with the same question from people: ‘Why so soon?’ But as soon as they saw the footage and the trailer, then they understood.”

Sony’s Spider-Man isn’t the only one swinging into Anaheim with high hopes.

Fox will unveil a new trailer for the June sci-fi thriller “Prometheus,” and director Ridley Scott, co-writer Damon Lindelof and co-star Michael Fassbender will be onstage to discuss the movie that has been described as the prequel to Scott’s “Alien.”

“Snow White and the Huntsman,” “Battleship,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and “21 Jump Street” are among the other films that will be promoted with Hollywood names, but the star quotient is still less than at WonderCon’s big-sister event, Comic-Con, which won’t arrive until July but is already sold out.

Tickets are on sale for WonderCon, and the entire event is a bit of a question mark. The brand is a San Francisco Bay Area tradition — the annual convention began in Oakland in 1987 and then in 2003 jumped to San Francisco — but it’s making this detour to Anaheim because of major renovations at the Moscone Center in the Golden Gate city.

Tourists are always welcome in Anaheim, of course, but any regional convention that moves 410 miles during tough economic times is going to get a lot of rain-check responses from its longtime attendees.

Spider-Man will be everywhere at WonderCon, just as he’s been highly visible in pop culture of late. The character broke box-office records on Broadway — after the troubled musical finally opened — and the show yielded a Spidey tie-in album by U2’s Bono and the Edge. In April the hero starts another chapter in his long television animation history with the premiere of the “Ultimate Spider-Man” series on Disney XD.

In June, the hero is back on video-game shelves with the Amazing Spider-Man, a free-roaming video game from Activision and studio Beenox. There’s also the comics, of course, from Marvel (both print and digital versions) that likely will get a boost from the Sony film — if the team behind “The Amazing Spider-Man” succeeds in winning over moviegoers to a new version of an old hero.

“He’s the most relatable character in comics history because everyone’s been a 17-year-old,” Stone said. “Even before you’re 17, you’re reading ‘Spider-Man’ so you know what it will be like when you get there — what it’s like to be the underdog, to be bullied or pushed around and in a situation that’s beyond your control — but then also have the kind of heroism that will push those barriers. Spider-Man is inspiring, and I think that’s why he’s probably the most talked-about character in comics too.”

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