/Film Interview: 'The Amazing Spider-Man' Director Marc Webb Talks Sarcastic Spidey And The Joys Of Studio Filmmaking

When Sony first announced Marc Webb as the director of its Spider-Man reboot, it came as something of a surprise. Not only was Webb relatively inexperienced, his only previous feature film had been the bittersweet dramedy (500) Days of Summer — worlds away from the sci-fi web-slinging action one would expect of a comic book tentpole pic. But Webb's character-driven approach proved an inspired idea. The Amazing Spider-Man has more heart and soul than the average summer actioner, and features an arresting new Spider-Man that's more layered than some of the iterations we've seen in the past.

During the recent junket in New York City, I got the opportunity to sit down with a tired but very proud Webb. He talked about bringing back Spidey's sarcastic side, how he landed the gig, and why he picked the Lizard as his main villain.

Well, I wouldn't use that term, personally, but I think there's something in the comics that I really enjoyed was the sarcastic quality of Spider-Man, and I think that the pinnacle of that in the movie is the car thief scene where he's sort of playing with his food, as it were. I liked that because in terms of the character arc of the film, he's servicing vengeance. He's trying to feed this darker part of his personality. He feels like his Uncle Ben has been taken away from him and there's a little bit of a bite to his intentions there. I like that color of the character, because I think it's more complicated, I think it's real, and it gives him some place to go so when he saves the kid on the bridge, there's a moment of transformation, there's a moment of metamorphosis for that character where he realizes he has to put that seeking of vengeance aside and instead of satisfying his own needs he has to help other people. I thought that was a way to dramatize that dimension, was to take it down into that other level.

The scene with the kid worked really well. I thought it was one of the most powerful moments in the film.

Oh, good, good.

When Spider-Man was first introduced in the comics, and even as recently as ten years ago — he's always been this nerdy, geeky character, but nerds and geeks aren't really in the same place in society that they were ten years ago.

I think you're exactly right. If you look at Spider-Man when it was created in 1962, a "nerd" — you know, he has big Coke-bottle-bottom glasses — a "nerd" was, that's what you were if you were smart and an outsider. But I think what is deeper than that is both the orphan myth and the fact that he's an outsider. Somebody who's on the outside looking in. And that's something that we all identify with. I think that was the important component of that character that is consistent throughout all the different incarnations. I think it was [comic book artist John] Romita [Jr.] who started drawing him a little bit more handsome. There's just different incarnations of that, but again, the consistant part is that he is an outsider. That's something that I wanted to work on and instead of making a pastiche, I wanted to look at what an actual high school would be like, what do kids actually look like. I know Andrew [Garfield] went off to Queens to talk and listen to the way the kids from Queens, the inflections in their speech, the slang, how they behave, how they dress, and you don't get those obvious stereotypes. You get people on the in-between. In terms of trying to create a tone, it felt more naturalistic. That was the direction that we decided to go.

How did you land this job, coming off of (500) Days of Summer? Because that's obviously very different from this movie.

I... truthfully, you'd have to ask the studio. 'Cause I don't know. I made (500) Days of Summer, and I went around town meeting with studios, and I met with [producer] Matt Tolmach and [Sony co-chairman] Amy [Pascal]. I think we were talking about some other movies, and Spider-Man came up, and we just started rapping about it. We just started talking about the comics and the character, and one thing led to another. It was really never a moment like, hey, let's have you do this. It just sort of snowballed into a job. It was kind of an interesting process, and it was pretty exhilarating, and it was pretty fun, and it was pretty intimidating. But I think what people often wonder is, do you make this movie for $8 million and you make a movie that's significantly more expensive. But I don't think of it in those terms. I think about it in terms of character, and story, and how to crack the story, and then everything else, all the action, you just break down into small pieces and try to create something that feels interesting and new. That was the trick.

What did you find most rewarding or challenging about going from a relatively small film to a big action movie like this?

You know, over 2,000 people worked on the movie. There's a management part that's pretty expansive, and trying to make sure that all the moving pieces and all the balls in the air stay pointed in the right direction, that the ship stays pointed toward the shore. That was a tricky part of it. But I fortunately had a great group of collaborators and department heads who had done movies of this size before. It's really fun to work with people like [cinematographer] John Schwartzman and [production designer J.] Michael Riva and [costume designer] Kym Barrett, and [composer] James Horner, all these names that you know from watching movies for so long, and getting to pick their brains about their particular departments was really fantastic. That was fun. You know, the visual effects, interestingly, I thought were going to be the most difficult part. It was a challenge, but it was really the most fun. That, and working with Andrew and Emma [Stone] and getting to watch that collaboration unfold, was really fantastic. But I had a really good time doing the visual effects. It was like, kind of awesome.

So do you think that you're going to try to do more small movies after this, or more big movies?

We'll see, I don't know. I gotta finish this, and then I think I'll take a week off and think about it. I just don't know yet. I spent two years on this, and it consumes your life. I haven't even really been able to read a book and so I'm really looking forward to unwinding. I haven't really thought that much about the sequel.

Well, I was going to ask about the sequel...

Oh, yeah, well that's the same thing. I just don't know. I love this movie, and it's been real blast. I just don't know. I'll think about that down the road. It's like, you know, you give birth. Not you, but it's like asking a woman after she's given birth, do you want to get pregnant again? It's like, well, you know, let me nurse the baby. How's that for a metaphor?

What made you decide to pick the Lizard specifically out of all the various villains?

I think there was fan curiosity. I think that when we were talking about it in the early phases, I was going through the different possibilities. The beginning of the movie, I knew I wanted to explore a little bit about the parents and him being left behind. I kept thinking, what is the drive for Peter Parker in the movie? He has a missing piece, there's something that's been torn away from him, this relationship, this pivotal relationship as a young person. It's missing, so he has this void, and he's trying to fill that void. Curt Connors has this arm that's missing, the literal embodiment of that theme. This idea that we all have a missing piece. I thought that symmetery for some reason connected with me. I'm interested in Curt Connors as an adversary and as a friend, I think that's an interesting [fund?] for Peter Parker. The physical possibilities of a spider fighting a lizard was just really fun to mess around with. I like that wall of strength combined with a little bit of intellect at play. I thought it was fun to just imagine the different physical possibilities of that conflict.

Where do you see Peter going next, emotionally? In this one we see the arc of him starting out as a regular teenager and becoming a hero. Where do you see him evolving from there?

Mmm. Well, I think you have to wait to see the next movie. [Laughs] Sorry for my coy answer.