‘Spider-Man’ Director Marc Webb Plays With ‘Amazing’ Canon
‘We wanted to do our own thing,’ filmmaker tells MTV News about his approach to the upcoming Spider-Man reboot for Sony.
By Josh Wigler
Stop us if you’ve heard this one: Boy genius gets bit by a radioactive spider, gains superpowers, acts like a jerk for a while until his beloved uncle dies as a result, thereby inspiring him to start using his powers for good. A familiar tale, right? Those details — most of them at least — remain firmly in place for “The Amazing Spider-Man,” the upcoming cinematic reboot of the iconic Marvel superhero. But director Marc Webb wants you to know that there’s much more to this new tale than meets the eye.
Some of the differences between the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man” era and the upcoming new order are very clear right off the bat: new filmmaker, new leading man in Andrew Garfield. But there are other, more subtle differences too: a tone that’s a bit more grounded in reality, a new parent-centric backstory and a little filmmaking trick you might have heard of called 3-D. All of these things and more work together to bring moviegoers a Spider-Man they’re familiar with, but one who’s more than willing to spin a few curveballs along the way.
As Summer Movie Preview week continues, MTV News presents our conversation with Webb about all things “Amazing” — from his “Spider-Man” fandom and the cues he took from the Raimi/Maguire films to why Garfield was the perfect choice to play Peter Parker, and much more.
MTV: Aside from having a last name in common with his weapons of choice, can you give us a sense of your Spider-Man fandom? How long have you been a fan of this character?
Marc Webb: I knew it obviously from when I was a little kid. I was between comic book series, but there was the animated series that I saw, that sort of thing. But I don’t know what it is: Kids have an intuitive attraction to Spider-Man, something that exists beyond the comic books and all the different media that’s out there. There’s something so simple, symmetrical and iconic about that design that kids are just drawn to it. So I can’t say when I started becoming a fan, but I’ve always been curious.
It wasn’t until I got a call from Sony that I started thinking about the character in a more intellectual way. At first, I thought it was an absurd idea, but what stayed with me and haunted me was the idea that this character is so intensely relatable: He’s a superhero who’s just a kid. He’s not a billionaire, not an alien. His normal identity is so ordinary in so many ways, and so relatable, and that’s something about Marvel that I always liked. They made the teenagers the superheroes: the X-Men and Spider-Man, whereas [teens] were just the sidekicks in DC Comics. I think it was at a time in your life when you’re starting to access these stories and mythologies that make the wish-fulfillment component much more intense. I know I have a 17-year-old boy trapped inside of me forever, and that’s something with an instant appeal.
MTV: It wasn’t so long ago that there was a trilogy of popular “Spider-Man” films …
Webb: What? No! What the f—?
MTV: It’s true! [Laughs.] It’s certainly a tough act to follow. Was there anything from the Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire era that you looked to when approaching your version of “Spider-Man,” or did you want to stay away from those films and start completely fresh?
Webb: We wanted to do our own thing. We wanted a different villain and a different tone. There wasn’t anything I wanted to recapture from those movies, beyond their respect for the character. I thought that was a really wonderful thing. We’re doing something different and new and risky, and I understand that. But it’s something that I’ve found very appealing. I couldn’t let the opportunity go. I have deep and abiding respect for Sam and Tobey and all those movies that were made, but we are trying to achieve something different. It’s a unique set of circumstances when you talk about Spider-Man, because he’s been around for 50 years. People talk about rebooting characters. It’s different than, say, Harry Potter, who has just a handful of books for his entire canon. There’s so much material in Spider-Man that there are so many stories to tell and so many characters. It’s more like James Bond or something like that.
MTV: Judging from trailers and the few scenes that have been released online, the takeaway for me is that this is a grittier “Spider-Man” movie, a bit more dangerous than some of the more cartoony takes we’ve seen previously. But the prankster side is still in place too. There’s a clip online of Peter really toying with a guy as he’s webbing him up, so the comedy is definitely there. How did you find the right mix of comedy and darkness in this movie?
Webb: I wouldn’t say we were ever after pursuing darkness. We just wanted to keep things real. I think it comes down to everything having to emerge from a real place. The reason why Spider-Man is being so playful in that moment is that as a character, he’s feeling drunk on his power. He’s having a really good time. He’s becoming a bit of a bully there. He’s not being deeply altruistic, and that’s something you’ll learn more about when you see the movie. It’s a reflection of his attitude: He puts that mask on and the shy kid is gone. He’s now this really empowered superhero. That means having fun, sometimes at other people’s expense.
MTV: Andrew had that great quote the other week, of Spider-Man acting like an Internet troll in the movie.
Webb: It’s totally true. You get to see and do whatever you want without any personal consequences. There’s a danger to that … but there’s a thrill to it too.
MTV: I was very happy with the casting of Andrew pretty much immediately. Looking at his work in “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” he struck me as a guy who could nail the comedy and the drama of the role. When you saw Andrew audition, what was it about him that stuck out to you? What made you see Peter Parker in this guy?
Webb: He was both funny and earnest and he had a physical ability that I knew I could rely on. I wanted the movie to be funny, but I also wanted the movie to have real emotional depth and an emotional range. He can do that, and that’s incredibly rare: to find somebody who can be light and witty but can also communicate the real tragedy of the character vis-ávis his parents, Uncle Ben and the incredible sacrifices he ends up having to make. Finding someone who can be funny and deep all in one movie, it’s tricky.
Beyond that, he brought something to the table that I’d thought about in the abstract but never really figured out exactly how to achieve: How does Spider-Man move? How do you make that character and the identity flow throughout the movement of Spider-Man? He became obsessed with that, looking at how spiders move. He had an idea — which we didn’t end up doing — where we built up the knuckles in the suit, so that they would arch like they do in the comic books. He became really infatuated with those details from the comics and how spider DNA would actually take over the body of a human. His spider-sense gives him a sense of space that normal humans don’t have, an agility most people don’t have. It became a real method style of being Spider-Man, which is something you don’t see very often. And when you wanted that levity and you wanted that humor, he had that. It’s such a rare combination.
MTV: In addition to Andrew’s interest, you got the chance to play around with the physicality of the character through 3-D, I’m sure. Can you talk a little about the way 3-D is used in your film?
Webb: We started making the movie around the time “Avatar” came out. Every studio in the world wanted 3-D. I hadn’t worked with it before. I didn’t want it forced upon the movie because I’ve seen bad conversions and it scared me that people weren’t using it properly. It had been used so incredibly effectively in “Avatar,” and that was really appealing. I wanted to figure out how to give the audience an experience that’s worthy of a “Spider-Man” film, and it was one of those things that just felt completely organic after a while. What can 3-D do? When I looked at all the movies that were out there and the tests, I found what I call the three V’s of 3-D: volume, vertigo and velocity. These things create a specific sensation that made a lot of sense for a Spider-Man movie: flying through the air, a sense of vertigo. In the trailer, there’s a shot of a tower falling. When you see that in 3-D or in an IMAX environment, it’s spectacular. It’s a feeling you don’t get very often. I think that 3-D is an extra tool that can tickle parts of the brain that you can’t in any other way. With Spider-Man, particularly the second half of our movie, there are moments and feelings you just can’t get in any other way.
What do you think of Webb’s take on Spider-Man? Sound off in the comments section!
It’s Summer Movie Preview Week, and MTV News will be bringing you exclusive interviews, clips and photos for the most anticipated summer movies. Get ready to gorge on inside looks at “The Avengers,” Robert Pattinson’s “Bel Ami,” Kristen Stewart’s “Snow White,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and more!