Summer movies are always terribly complex and daunting, with a number of interested parties needing to be satiated and complicated visual effects being worked out throughout production (usually right up until the time of release). Things seem to be infinitely more daunting when it’s a reboot of a popular franchise, and one directed by a director making his first blockbuster outing. Such is the case with this week’s “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which was directed by “(500) Days of Summer” helmer Marc Webb. Webb said that before he got started, he secured the blessing of original trilogy director Sam Raimi. “Sam goes, ‘You have my blessing. Go forward. I’ll only give you notes once a week,'” Webb laughed. That must have taken off some of the edge. We got a chance to talk to Webb about what it was like taking over the franchise, changing essential things, shooting in 3D, music, and what he’s up to next.
The story goes that “The Amazing Spider-Man” started when Sony had commissioned a fourth (and fifth) script in the Sam Raimi series, to be written by “Zodiac” screenwriter Jamie Vanderbilt. Obviously that deal fell through, with a new creative team being put in place but Vanderbilt staying put as screenwriter. We wondered if the script that Webb initially started with was from the initial rounds for the fourth and fifth movies. Webb says that he didn’t see those scripts and broke down the process in pretty banal terms. “Jamie had written a script and I worked with him on that for a little while and then Laura Ziskin, who has since passed, was married to Alvin Sargent, who is one of the greatest writers of all time – he came in and did some work,” Webb said. He added: “Steve Kloves came in and did some character work and that’s how it came to be.”
One of the things that people will be talking about are the ways in which “Amazing Spider-Man” alters certain aspects of the Spider-Man mythos, at least as we know them cinematically (and, yes, stuff beyond “they changed the suit”). We wondered what Webb’s approach was, in terms of changing things. “It’s a good question, it’s an important question,” Webb admitted. “I think that the Peter Parker I had in mind is in a different universe and a different world. I think that I needed to build the character from the ground up because there’s different nuances to that character.” But what was he interested in, specifically? “I was interested in that this guy gets left behind when he’s 7 years-old – that’s going to have a huge impact. If you’re trying to build empathy for a character, and there’s a wish fulfillment component to a movie like this, the more connected you feel with the protagonist, the more you’ll empathize and understand him and experience the world as he experiences it. So we did have to reengage with some of those elements.”
Webb said that it was an uneasy balancing act sometimes, trying to keep things fresh while honoring some fundamentals. “The trick was that I wanted to honor the iconography – you have to recognize Uncle Ben’s death and the spider-bite and so on – but how do those things interact and connect with elements of the story.” We suggested that maybe he could have gone fucking wild with it, the way that the new “Star Trek” drastically changed elements of mythology while staying true to the spirit of the original. “It would have been convenient,” Webb said, like the guardian of an essential text. “And it would have been easy. But then you violate canon. In a situation like this you have to protect some of the iconic elements, otherwise people go crazy because you take away the identity of the character, the thing that they love.”
However, Webb incorporated elements of the “Ultimate Spider-Man” universe (a comic book continuity set outside the main thrust of the story), saying that he loved the way the character was represented. “There’s things like Spider-Man’s physicality [that was taken for the movie],” Webb explained. “And the relationship with Oscorp and some of the parents’ story was pulled from that universe.” He rattled off more things he pulled from the series: “The relationship with women in his life. His attitude.” But even though that was a huge influence (and he said he had multiple conversations with “Ultimate Spider-Man” writer Brian Michael Bendis), the film is a synthesis of many strains of spider-DNA. “All that said, Gwen Stacey looked more towards the ‘Amazing Spider-Man.'”
At one point “Amazing Spider-Man” was said to have been a more low-cost approach to the web-slinger. That, clearly, did not come to pass. “It was about twice the budget of ‘(500) Days of Summer,'” Webb joked. (“(500) Days of Summer’s” production budget: $7.5 million. “Amazing Spider-Man?” An estimated $220 million.) Webb continued: “I don’t know what the budget was but it was smaller than… some other movies… But it wasn’t part of the equation. It was more the story and what you needed to do. Somebody else worries about the money.”
Even though the movie was considerably huger, there were still things that he tried to retain – a playfulness with the actors, a sense of experimentation, gobs of improvisation – that are more closely linked to indie filmmaking than big budget franchise-starting. “That’s something that very early on I was clear about – I feel like if we could carve out any identity for the film, it’s about finding small, tiny details in relationships between people,” Webb explained. “They can still pop but they have to be accessible. We actually did less improvisation in ‘(500) Days of Summer’ than we did in this.” The only way Webb accomplished this was by trusting the actors he hired. “When you’re working with people like Andrew and Emma [Stone], I cast them knowing they could do that. Their behavior was more important than lines and they can add a whole new layer and dimension to it in a very real way. That’s one of my favorite parts of the movie.”
When we brought up the possibility that the film’s use of 3D was a studio mandate because, quite frankly, we figured it was, Webb bristled. “Are you kidding me? Think about Spider-Man! If there’s ever a movie that deserves to be shot in 3D, this is it!” Webb said that it was all his idea. “There’s a perception of the way Hollywood works and it’s very different than you imagine. There was never, ever a mandate that ‘You have to make the movie in 3D,'” he explained. Webb then went on to give us his “pitch” for 3D. “It’s the three V’s of 3D – vertigo, velocity and volume. Those were the things that gave 3D a very specific identity,” Webb said. He then elaborated. “When you’re looking at ash floating through the air I found that stimulated a part of my brain, which is volume. There’s velocity and creating a sense of speed, which I think you can heighten through 3D. And with vertigo, it’s the basic trickery of 3D. Those were things that it was all built into it.”
We had heard that previous test screening versions of “Amazing Spider-Man” were much more pop music-filled and wondered if the plan was to ever push that stuff further. In fact, at one point, the movie ended not with a stirring swell of the film’s score but with a Rolling Stones song. (There is a notable use of a Coldplay song in the final version.) “Those initial screenings the score’s not done,” Webb said, before correcting us on which Rolling Stones song it was. “It was ‘Street Fighting Man’ initially. But then James Horner wrote this theme that I thought was really fun and extraordinary.” His first film, “(500) Days of Summer,” was almost wall-to-wall pop music. But Webb said he had to be very careful. “You know, ‘(500) Days of Summer’ was about a kid who was obsessed with pop culture and he views the world through this eye of music and it was really important to the language of the film because these songs told components of his emotional journey.” Not the case with the young web-slinger, though. “Peter Parker was a different thing. And when I got James Horner onboard, I thought I’m going to lean into that as much as humanly possible. I wanted to have a theme that you could play on one hand on a piano that’s recognizable and repeatable.” Then he hummed the theme. Yes, it was incredible.
Of course, with a big franchise like this, the question is always – is he already working on the sequel? (Writers have been set and a release date tentatively punched into the calendar.) He told us that he’s still working on his post-apocalyptic adventure “Age of Rage” (“We’re working on that right now… I really like that idea”) but all eyes are pointed towards “Amazing Spider-Man 2” (or whatever it ends up being called). “I’ve had conversations,” Webb said coyly. “I’m so focused on finishing the process. I love this process and I think Andrew and Emma are some of the most talented actors and it’s a joy to work and watch them and it’s been fantastic. But it’s like asking a woman who’s just given birth if they want to get pregnant again. I’m still nursing the baby!” And has he cast Norman Osborn, the Spider-Man villain who hovers over all of “The Amazing Spider-Man” without ever showing up? “Not yet, no,” Webb admitted, before he exclaimed: “That’s a very good way of asking that question. I’m impressed!”
“The Amazing Spider-Man” opens on July 3rd.