Summer 2012 likely will be remembered as “The Summer of the Superhero Blockbusters.” The Avengers keeps setting new box-office records. The industry’s bracing for the seismic shock Christopher Nolan’s about to administer with this third and final Batman movie. Only in a summer such as this could a brand-new Spider-Man movie (with a coveted July 4 release date) fly relatively under the radar.
Well, that’s about to change. The Amazing Spider-Man swings into theaters on a wave of positive reviews (75% on Rotten Tomatoes as we speak), opening in 2D, 3D and IMAX screens on July 3. Yet with a Spider-Man gig comes great power, great responsibility, and a whole lot of griping from a dedicated fanbase who don’t understand why they need to see the origin story again.
Marc Webb understands. And the 500 Days (of Summer) director hopes his new movie answers the detractors hesitant about a reboot. The filmmaker sat down with us in New York City, where we dug deep into the updates made to Spider-Man’s mythology, why he didn’t want the Green Goblin as his villain, the reason it isn’t “too soon” for a franchise reboot, and much more. Here’s Marc Webb:
Movies.com: In theory, I should be your worst nightmare for a movie like this. When it comes to Spider-Man, I’m “Comic Book Guy” from The Simpsons, nitpicking every little detail and poking holes through every effort. “Worst. Spider-Man. Movie. Ever.”
Marc Webb: Oh, really?
Movies.com: Yeah. But only with Spider-Man. Because I care. Deeply. He’s mine.
Webb: You’re a Spider-Man fan from the early comics? You started there?
Movies.com: Absolutely. I collected four Spider-Man books as a kid. Bagged and boxed each issue. It was bad. So I cherish this material. With all of that said, I love your movie. I love your take on my beloved character …
Webb: Wow, thank you!
Movies.com: But what puzzles me is that you do make changes to the mythology. The origin is different. Yet because I think you got the tone of the characters right, the little changes to mythology details didn’t bother me nearly as much as they did in the Sam Raimi trilogy.
Webb: That’s interesting. And here’s the thing. What I think Sam and Tobey [Maguire] did, and brilliantly, is that they were pretty loyal to the aesthetic of the early [Steve] Ditko / [Stan] Lee comics. I wasn’t trying to recreate a comic book or a panel, though there are certainly references to that throughout the movie. There are certain poses in the movie of Spider-Man that I was really interested in paying homage to.
I just wanted to create a world that felt natural. And tone is a very tricky thing to talk about because it can mean so many different things to so many different people. But I wanted, when the audience walked out of the theater, for them to recognize the world. I didn’t want it to be stylized. I wanted it to be naturalistic and real. And that comes in through the environments, and it comes in through the performances. I think a lot of it is about the actors that you choose. A lot of it has to do with the environments that you shoot in. And a lot of it is about the emotional consequences of the story you are telling. Of course, you try to do something grounded, and then you have a 9-foot lizard running around New York. [Laughs] That’s a tricky thing.
For me, I’m a big Spider-Man fan, but I’m a bigger fan of Peter Parker. That was the entrance-point for me, finding this kid who we could all relate to. He has trouble talking to girls. He has chores to do. When I think of Spider-Man, that’s what I’m most loyal to.
Movies.com: Did you frame Andrew any differently to make him appear smaller in the film? Because he looks skinny, vulnerable and even frail. He’s “puny” Peter Parker.
Webb: Right, right. You are picking up on something that was very important. It’s a subtle detail. It wasn’t about framing him in a small way. Part of it is just Andrew’s physique. But I wanted a more live, agile body. He’s not Atlas. He’s incredibly strong, of course, but I always imagine agility when I think about Spider-Man. Of course, there are those panels from the comics where he’s holding a beam up for four pages. He has extraordinary strength. But I thought the agility was something that would be fun to play with.
Movies.com: And you do! The subway sequence is very accurate and really funny.
Webb: Yet, Spider-Man … he’s a kid, and he’s vulnerable, and he gets wounded and it hurts. But his greatest asset is his heart. That’s what I wanted to explore.
Movies.com: By rebooting the origin, you do get to touch on some of the turning points in Spider-Man’s origin, but view them from a new perspective. Tell me about how you wanted to approach Uncle Ben’s death in this film.
Webb: Well, with the wrestling match, it had been done in such a specific way earlier that was very loyal to the Amazing Spider-Man comics that we had to … it started off with, for us, the first domino in the movie was Peter’s parents leaving. That had to be the catalyst for the rest of the film. His choice to go to Oscorp – that new thing that he’s interested in that causes him to disregard Uncle Ben and his responsibilities at home – that was the thing that had to have the sever impact, rather than it being about Mary Jane.
Movies.com: You mention Oscorp. It’s pivotal to this new mythology.
Webb: Yes. You are exactly right.
Movies.com: It seems it’s a bigger umbrella hanging over this story.
Webb: Right. I wanted … again, in this universe, one of the first conversations that we had – and they refer to it in the Ultimates – but I liked the idea that all the crazy things happening in this particular world emerge from Oscorp. In some way, they are connected to it. And I liked the idea of Peter’s father somehow being connected to Oscorp in this mysterious way. And I just liked the idea of Oscorp Tower being like a Tower of Babel in the middle of Manhattan that has something dark and seedy going on in there. What is this mysterious monolith, and the power contained inside those walls? I think that building has great power.
Movies.com: And you make very distinct references to Norman Osborn.
Movies.com: Was it ever discussed to potentially show him in this one, or was it always going to be an off-camera mention.
Webb: I knew, very clearly, that I didn’t want to introduce him as the villain in the first movie. That had been done before, and one of the really important things – because we were rebooting it with the Raimi films being fairly recent – I wanted, at the very least, to create a villain that we hadn’t seen before. Or activated before, because we’d seen Connors in the first three movies, but not activated.
And so, I just didn’t think there was room for another villain. But I do like the idea of creating a universe that felt more complex. We do define some of the edges of it so that if there are future movies, people could refer to those things. There’s a little bit more of a set up. Usually these movies have a sequel, an so I wanted to at least put some effort into developing a world that felt nuanced and developed enough to at least support that.
Movies.com: You bring up how this movie arrives so soon after the Raimi trilogy concludes. And that’s a common complaint among fans, that it’s too soon for a reboot. What are your thoughts on that issue?
Webb: The way I think about it, Spider-Man isn’t a character like Harry Potter, who has a closed canon of seven books. Spider-Man has been going on for 50 years. He’s constantly written and re-written, invented and re-invented. There are different illustrators and artists … there is something iconic about that character, but there is something also incredibly flexible that can withstand and benefit from different interpretations.
Oddly, rather than feeling constricted by the presence of other movies, I went back to the source material and realized we had 50 years worth of stories and characters, rich descriptions and nuances to draw from. Sometimes they’d conflict, and sometimes we could draw connections between unexpected items. It’s such a complicated and rich mythology that if anything, it was overwhelming.