When you get right down to it, “The Amazing Spider-Man” wasn’t such a monumental leap after all for Marc Webb (“(500) Days Of Summer”). He’s essentially imbued his Spidey with more of a post-modern vibe than Sam Raimi’s celebrated trilogy, stripping the Marvel comic down to its iconic essentials while reveling more intimately in Peter Parker’s heroic liberation. In fact, Andrew Garfield’s Parker is like Anthony Perkins on steroids: inarticulate but simmering with rage. Only Webb takes his cue from the more recent “Ultimate Spider-Man” comic series and everything from the poses to the suit to the balletic web-slinging to the depiction of Manhattan under construction has a naturalistic core and a sense of the organic. Why, the mythical underpinnings are downright biblical: “The sins of the father…”
It’s all about regeneration. “I kept on going back to the single moment where Peter Parker was left by his parents,” Webb suggests. “Realistically, anybody’s whose parents disappeared in a very urgent or chaotic manner when he was six or seven-years-old, that’s going to have a huge emotional impact. And that moment is more definitive than even the spider bite. It defined the character and the movie in a very specific way for me.”
As far as the orphan story, Webb refers back to Dickens. He finds the whole notion of these kids having a generosity of spirit yet distrust for the world around them very provocative. “It brings up questions of identity and in the last part of the film I inserted a lecture that my high school teacher had given me about there being [only one story] in fiction: ‘Who am I?’ I find myself when I watch movies or read books that thinking that it’s the soul of so many stories that I really enjoy. This idea of a kid who puts on a mask and becomes somebody else and has to lose part of his identity and sacrifice other parts of his life: it’s the right question to ask.”
Webb also changes the dynamic of Parker’s relationships. He introduces tension with the aunt and uncle (played by Sally Field and Martin Sheen, two very iconic casting choices), as well as a new twist in his romantic involvement with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). “One of my favorite scenes is when he comes home and he’s covered in bruises and [his aunt] doesn’t know what’s going on with him. And he has to protect his identity and she is trying to care for him and in a roundabout way he’s trying to care for her, but there’s this collision. There’s a lot of competing truths and what Peter discovers is compassion. He’s unpolished, there’s a darker, trickster quality and he makes mistakes because he’s a kid, not a superhero.”
Unlike Raimi’s “Spider-Man,” Webb’s reboot is also more of a post-9/11 story. That’s because Raimi’s first movie was shot before 9/11 and released after 9/11 and it tapped a sense of nostalgia of a different time. “I guess it may have impacted me in a subconscious way, but, for me, the story was about that we all have a missing piece and how you fill that void is how you define yourself,” Webb reflects.
And this Spidey defines himself with more emphasis on his physicality, some of which is done practically. But when he swings high above Manhattan, his motion is both fluid and staccato — it’s very musical, like dancing. That’s because he has to change pick points with split-second timing. This free-style swinging through a digital New York was one of the biggest VFX challenges by Sony Pictures Imageworks (under the supervision of Jerome Chen) because of the need to achieve naturalism. Lighting was therefore crucial and attained with the help of the in-house global illumination renderer, Arnold.
Meanwhile, the impact of the 3-D (shot natively with the 3eality rig and Red Epic camera) pulls us closer to the action. Despite the backlash against 3-D, Webb decided that Spider-Man was tailor made for stereo rendering. He defines his use of 3-D in terms of the three Vs: Volume, Velocity, and Vertigo: ” Volume is about creating a sense of depth or rain or ash floating in the air; and with Velocity you can heighten a sense of speed if there is a reference point (like the sewer) that is moving past you; and then there’s the Vertigo when the tower’s falling down. You feel that most acutely in IMAX.”
Webb won’t divulge what happens next to Spidey in a potential sequel, but there’s still “the sins of the father” to deal with…