Marc Webb is giving The Amazing Spider-Man legend an earthy, grounded aesthetic that starts with Peter Parker
GIVEN his surname, you might think that it’s inevitable that Marc Webb would end up directing a Spider-Man movie. But the 37-year-old would be the first to admit that he’s something of a leftfield choice to oversee this latest film of the friendly neighbourhood webslinger. The Amazing Spider-Man is only his second film, following 2009’s hit romantic comedy, (500) Days Of Summer.
That movie’s wry humour, flashy set pieces and focus on characters though persuaded The Amazing Spider-Man producers Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach and the late Laura Ziskin that Webb was their Spider-director. And Webb has risen to the challenge, with an earthy, grounded aesthetic that sees the webslinger’s legendary story take place in a very recognisable universe: Ours.
Webb talks about his decision to get involved with the project, the challenges of making Spider-Man swing, and finding Andrew Garfield...
How did you get involved?
I met these guys (Arad and Tolmach) and they brought up the idea. I said “I don’t make movies like that”. They said “that’s why you should do it”.
What persuaded you to commit?
I started thinking about Peter Parker, about a kid who’d been left behind by his parents. Now that’s a story we have not explored cinematically. It came down to a story about a kid who went out looking for his father and found himself. I had been working on another movie at Searchlight about a kid who has abandonment issues. This had a lot of the same issues, in terms of the characters, and I found it equally, if not more, fascinating. And my curiosity took hold. I had a few ideas and it snowballed. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I couldn’t sleep at night. It called to me, as weird as that sounds. I had to do it.
How different is this new version of Spider-Man?
There’s so much to tell in terms of who this kid is. My favourite thing about Spider-Man, is Peter Parker, the fact that he’s a kid from Queens who’s not a billionaire and he’s not an alien. He’s a kid who has the same problems we all do and that makes him intensely relatable. I wanted to start from a place where it felt like, if you walked into the theatre, that it was the same universe you lived in, and ground that both aesthetically and emotionally, which is difficult when you have a giant lizard running down the street.
How do you do that?
We spent days and hours and weeks and months talking about the jaw of The Lizard. How would that affect his voice? I wanted something that had a biological reality to it. He’s the most outlandish component of the movie.
There will be a lot of CG, but there also seems to be an emphasis on practical effects in this movie. The movie starts off very, very small and gradually the scope gets bigger. It’s about seducing people into a world and a universe that feels very relatable and realistic and gradually merge into something that’s more fantastic and vibrant and filled with scope.
How did you approach the scenes where Spidey is swinging through the city?
It was important to not just see Spider-Man swinging away from afar, but to be with him and feel that. We went to New York, near Columbia and Harlem and built a travelling rig system. We have motion capture elements that are there to create a sense of realism, weight and physical realism that we’re still working on and will be working on until the day before the movie comes out. It’s about expanding the universe, where you earn the spectacle of Spider-Man’s abilities.
There’s a great shot in the first teaser, Spider-Man’s point of view as he flies through the city.
That emerged from a philosophy about point of view and feeling as connected to Peter as you can feel. I want people to feel what he feels, physically or emotionally. How deep can we go into Peter’s point of view? I want to see what he sees. On 3-D in Imax, it’s awesome. It is a different kind of experience and you feel the ground drop out on you. I wish I had a fan and could control the temperature, but it is as close as you can get to flying.
You shot the movie in 3-D. It seems that, if any character is suited for 3-D, it’s Spider-Man.
I agree completely. 3-D, after Avatar was, for the studios, the thing to do because it was the salvation of the theatrical experience. But it was misused and maligned. But the truth is, it’s an incredible tool for specific things and particularly to create that sense of flying. There are movies for which it is made and there is no character better suited for 3-D than Spider-Man.
What made you cast Andrew Garfield as Peter?
He was just the right guy. In his screen-test, he killed it. It was one of those things — we did the screen-test and that night I couldn’t stop watching it. He moved like a kid, his elbows were flying all over the place and, even though he’s a little bit older, he had the humour, the awkwardness but also an ability to go deep in a way that very few actors can do. He’s a highly trained actor, he’s very thoughtful about that and that grabbed me. The editors we’re working with, they didn’t know he was British! (laughs)
What can we expect from his Spider-Man?
We start off with a different kind of Peter Parker, without subverting the iconography of what Peter Parker and Spider-Man is. There are certain mythological obligations people have in any story, but it’s so radically different in terms of tone and what he experiences and back-story and the mystery about his father that I’m very comfortable with the movie occupying a different space. What we took for the beginning of the story is Peter being left by his father and mother, and what that does for him, and the emotion ripples through the movie, and subsequent movies as well.
So he suffers?
I want him to feel pain. We fall in love with heroes not because of the way they can punch someone, but for how they can take a punch.
And then there’s Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, a hugely important character for Peter. Listen, I’m a romantic. I love relationships, guy-girl stuff that’s interesting and relatable. She’s so charismatic and funny and decent and a wonderful actor.
What about choosing The Lizard as the villain?
I’m interested in the idea that Curt Connors was his mentor and then became his adversary and he cares about this guy who he has to fight. He’s the literal embodiment of the theme of the movie, which is we all have a missing piece. He has no arm. Peter has no parents. He has to fill that void, and he fills it with Spider-Man. Curt is not as strong as Spider-Man on the inside, but he’s much stronger on the outside, and essentially he becomes a big bully. But I like that The Lizard thinks that what he’s doing is right... in his weird, haywired brain, he’s right. He’s not the bad guy. I love that.
Were you a Spider-Man fan prior to this movie?
I was a comic book fan. Spider-Man, I knew from animation stuff. I was a fan. Who’s not a fan of Peter Parker? I was not as obsessed with Spider-Man as I was with G.I. Joe or Groo The Wanderer, but then you discover elements of those things in Spider-Man.
Will we hear the phrase, “with great power comes great responsibility”?
That’s ingrained in the very DNA of Spider-Man. There are different incarnations of that idea that are learned in different parts of this movie, and it’s part of his arc, but it doesn’t completely define his character. It’s about him growing up. Every movie is, who am I? We say that in the movie, explicitly. Being responsible for things bigger than himself is what he’s about, it’s what superheroes are all about. It’s why we love them.
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