No iconic hero can stay away from the big screen for long, but rebooting a popular franchise is a daunting task. Sam Raimi, whose earlier films already had a comic-book quality to them, had been an obvious choice for Spider-Man. The director of (500) Days of Summer? More of a question mark. We sought to turn that into an answer, and spoke to the new helmer of The Amazing Spider-Man, Marc Webb, about his new take on the tale.
Nerdist: Let’s get the obvious joke out of the way first: how many people have said this movie should be called Webb of Spider-Man?
Marc Webb: I don’t know if anybody suggested that title, but they’ve certainly made jokes about my name… which, you know, is great! And original! And fun!
N: Did you ever get Spider-Man jokes as a kid?
MW: Oh, sure, they called me Spider-Webb, or Webbisode – well, they didn’t start calling me Webbisode until the Internet, of course. I don’t know if I got Spider-Man jokes. I got a lot of spider jokes, but it was endearing. It was based in love. I hope. At least that’s what I convince myself.
N: Have you been a Spider-Man fan your whole life?
MW: I was, yeah. I grew up about three blocks away from Capital City Comics in Madison, Wisconsin, and I would go there every week to get the new spoils. But I know I knew Spider-Man before I knew the comics – there’s something about the image. Maybe I saw it on a pillowcase or something, or maybe the animated TV show, but there’s something very primal about the way kids react to Spider-Man, and I think I was affected by the same thing these kids are, that understand Spider-Man even before they can read.
N: When you were brought on board, was there still any talk of doing the scripts for part 4 and 5 that Raimi had, or was it going to be a reboot from day one?
MW: I wouldn’t have done a sequel, and I think Sam had finished… They were very careful to protect Sam, and I don’t think it would have happened had he decided to do another Spider-Man movie, but I came on after that, after they decided to abandon that, and I wanted to build the character the way I saw the character, which really emerged from a very specific event in Peter’s life. We had seen the origin of Spider-Man, but I didn’t think we had seen the origin of Peter Parker, and that was something that was really interesting to me; what happened to his parents, that episode in his life.
N: You probably know that when the first Raimi movie came out, the two biggest complaints from fans were the organic web-shooters and no Gwen Stacy. Both are remedied in this movie. How much of that was a reaction to the fan outcry?
MW: I wasn’t acutely aware of the fan interaction with the first movie; I didn’t participate in that. So I can’t say it was a reaction, but I know from my own point of view I was interested in Gwen Stacy not just because it was different but because I liked the quality of that relationship and I think there’s a lot to explore there. Gwen Stacy is really smart, she’s very active, and I wanted to have a proactive female. I didn’t want to have the girl just be a prize, and I liked a lot of things: some that I borrowed from the Ultimates, though her look is obviously leaning more towards Amazing Spider-Man, but I thought that there was something very profound about that character. It was sort of shocking that it hadn’t been explored before.
N: I’m sure you’ve heard the early buzz from the UK reviews that this is being called a superhero movie for women. What do you think of that characterization?
MW: Well, I think one person said that. But that’s fine: I think that this movie is for everybody, and I think guys have really embraced it. There is romance in it, and I take the relationship seriously, and if that means women enjoy it more, I’m certainly okay with that. But there’s a lot of testosterone in the film; there’s a lot of action and a lot of father-son issues, which I think are always appealing for us guys.
N: Obviously your track record is one of having done a really great relationship movie. Did they hire you because they wanted to beef up the relationship stuff more, or was that something you brought to the table when you came on board?
MW: I think that they liked the idea… You’d have to ask them, in all honesty. Very early on, I met with those guys and was on some different movies, and we were just talking about characters in movies, and I was a fan of Spider-Man, so we started talking about Spider-Man and how I viewed Peter Parker. I think it was probably because we had a similar version of what Peter Parker could be, like I was always interested in this part of the story: what happened to Peter Parker’s parents?
When I think about Peter Parker in the movie, as the protagonist of the film, I want to think of the character from the ground up. Where was he born, what happened to him in his youth, what are the major events in his life, and I kept on returning to this thing that nobody had cracked yet, which is that he gets left behind by his parents when he’s 6, 7 years old; that’s a HUGE event. That’s a more significant event than getting bit by the spider. Anybody who that happens to, they’re going to have authority issues – they’re not going to trust authority, because authority has let them down. That’s where that sarcastic wit comes from, where you’re going to keep people at a distance. I think Peter Parker, when you read the comics – sure, he’s a science whiz, and there’s a nerdy, geek quality to him but I also think there’s an outsider quality to him. He’s an outsider by choice in this movie. I like that texture of the Ultimates school more; that kind of character is an old, iconic motif, you know, Dickens used it in Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. It’s this kid who has a heroic impulse, but is abandoned and orphaned, and he has great empathy for the underdog that pays great dividends in his life.
N: When you have a character who’s had so many bad things happen to him, where do you think this great sense of humor when he puts on the mask comes from?
MW: Well, he gets to live out the life that he’s always wanted to live. He feels empowered, and that confidence overwhelms him. Comedy, if you know any comedians, is a defense mechanism. It’s a highly developed way to navigate situations where you’re uncomfortable. It’s designed to put people at ease; it’s designed to gain acceptance. It made sense that Peter would have developed that as a coping mechanism.
N: Was it a steep learning curve going from (500) Days of Summer to 3-D action sequences?
MW: It really felt weirdly natural. I mean, before I did (500) Days of Summer I did music videos and commercials, so I’d done a lot of visual effects. People probably don’t know that, and there’s no reason that they should. What was fun about this is that I had enough time in the preproduction process to do pre-viz and work with pre-visualization artists. That was a blast, and I was really energized by the opportunity to do that, because I like to learn, and try and do new things and take risks, and that was part of it. The other thing was that I wanted to do the effects in a more practical way, so we spent a lot of time early on developing the physical language of the early part of the action sequences with a guy named Andy Armstrong, who’s a stunt coordinator. Fortunately, he’s a really intense, physical actor who used to be a gymnast, and that physical acumen that he had was put to great use.
N: One of the risks you took that really pays off is having the Lizard be intelligent and talk. That seems like something that could have gone really wrong, doing a talking animal, but it works well the way you did it. How nervous were you about that one?
MW: I know there are these iconic images of the Lizard with a snout, and I love those as much as anyone else, but part of that was that I wanted to maintain Rhys’ [Ifans] performance in that character, so I created a more humanoid face with a mouth that was capable of speaking, and when you’re doing that in the computer, it’s really quite difficult. It took a lot of animators a lot of time to build that up.
N: Was it purely animated, or motion-captured off his face?
MW: There was some motion-capture. I shot a large actor on set, and then I shot Rhys on set. I used Rhys’ performance to inform the animation, but really, I had the animators defer to his performance rather than do performance capture all the time.
N: How did you come about casting Rhys?
MW: There was something about the way he embraced the character that made it feel right, like it fit in with what I was trying to do. I’m a big fan of all the Universal monster movies, and he kind of went underneath that and really ate it up. He also has a sophistication that I like. When you think of Rhys, often people think of him in Notting Hill, but there are so many things that he’s done that are very interesting, like Enduring Love or Anonymous. This guy is a fantastic actor, and I think he’s underutilized, to the universe; someday people are going to realize how brilliant he is.
N: So we have to ask you – how do you pronounce his last name?
MW: “ee-FONZ” is how I say it. Sometimes it’s “ee-Vonz”; I was with him and his brother a couple weeks ago near Windsor, and they’re all Welsh, so when they sit around having lunch, they actually speak in a different language.
N: You’ve seeded a lot of things in this movie that could play out in future films. Have you mapped out those future films?
MW: Yeah, I wanted to build a universe, a foundation that could withstand and play out over more films Whether or not that will happen is really up to the audience. Movies like this usually have sequels, and I thought it would be interesting to at least plan out the outlines of that and give the audience something to look forward to; some specifics they could scrutinize, wonder about and participate in outside of the movie itself.
N: Are you thinking you’ll direct another one if this does well?
MW: Who knows. I had a lot of fun doing this; it was a dream come true in a lot of ways, but it’s also like asking a woman who’s just given birth if she wants to get pregnant again. I wanna nurse the baby; I’m having fun putting the movie out into the world. Certainly there have been conversations, but I just don’t know yet.