The Amazing Spider-Man is practically a motion comic — there are so many striking hero poses and shots of Spidey posing on the sides of buildings. It's like a great Spidey comic brought to life. But what else should we be looking out for in this superhero reboot? Director Marc Webb gives us the complete run-down of Easter eggs, comics nods, and other stuff to watch out for.
Plus, Webb reveals how he manages to capture truly personal relationship moments in an action movie. Minor spoilers ahead...
Peter Parker is such a little shit in this movie. If you look at it from an adult point of view. He's the ultimate angsty teen who acts out.
Marc Webb: He has a little punk rock quality to him.
How do you balance him acting this way and but also finding a way to allow the audience to sympathize with him?
I wouldn't describe him in that way, personally. I think what's really important is, when I thought about Peter Parker, I started from the ground up. Who is this kid? He is somebody who has been pulled apart from his parents at an early age (5, 6, 7, years old). That will have a huge emotional impact on your life. And I think what that will do is, make you a little more distrustful of the universe around you. You got a little bit of a chip on your shoulder. He's got a little bit of an issue with authority. If you look at the comics he's got this sarcastic vibe, which I like to [capture]. But I wanted a basis in the character for it. So that's really where that came from. I believe that if you can experience the world through the character's eyes, you tend to empathize with them and understand their behavior. And that was the attempt.
I will admit he's also got a great earnestness to him..
He also has a generous impulse. He tries to do the right thing, which I think for the audience carries a huge amount of weight. In that first scene with Gordon [where a kid is being bullied at school] he tries to stop it and takes a punch. There's this attitude that's deep inside of his character. And again, if the audience thinks that there is some sort of generosity [inside the character] they'll give you much more licence.
Tobey's performance is way different than Andrews. As a fan of the books, when you watched Tobey Maguire's performance did you want him to be more sarcastic?
Yeah, nah, I accepted Tobey. He's great and fun and does emotion in a very evocative, interesting and subtle way. But there is something about the comics and the humor of it, the sarcasm and the bite that I really liked. But it's a different, getting those quips, it's a different aesthetic, to do it realistically when you're shooting a movie rather than in the comics. It's gotta be a little more grounded. That was a really fun part of that. Again, it's about finding that authentically within the character.
Was there any particular scene from the comics that you really wanted to shoot?
Not really. Because we invented a lot of the set pieces, there were moments from the comics that were poses [that we copied]. And a lot of esthetic things from Gwen Stacy's in The Amazing Spider-Man, to a lot of the postures and the body type from the Ultimates. Those were things that I remember being very specific about. Because we're trying to create a story that has a longer arc than an issue of a comic, you had to really reinvent those things. Although there are moments — there's a great panel in the comics where Spider-Man and the Lizard are engaged in this death embrace. I tried to use a little bit of that at a different angle, but that interaction was very much an inspiration for the scene in the sewer.
The work bench scene straight out of a panel from the comics.
You know, that's interesting like in the Ultimates where he's got the goggles on, you're 100% right. That was from the Ultimates. Him in his Aunt and Uncle's basement with the webshooters, and dancing in his briefs. I remember that. We didn't put him in his briefs.
While we're on the subject of fan nods, I noticed that you put the Lizard in his lab coat, albeit briefly because obviously in the real world that creature wouldn't fit in a lab coat.
That was a tricky thing, realistically how would that happen? And it gets torn off of him. But I had to, I wanted to at least acknowledge that, that piece of work from the comics. Which was so much fun and makes him, in a way, much more human.
Are there any other nods we should be looking for while we watch it?
Well, [Peter Parker] falls through the floor into the wrestling ring. Which is of course a nod [to Spidey's wrestling career in the comics], because we're re-navigating those waters I wanted to at least acknowledge that. There are little bits and pieces. When Spider-Man jumps off the bridge for the first time to go pursue the Lizard, there's this pose that came from the comics. There are a few other things here and there, that I don't want to ruin for the audience.
You mentioned in the press conference that you wanted to ground Spider-Man in "private personal moments" like the moments you created in 500 Days of Summer. Can you elaborate on exactly what you meant by that? And how that changed the interaction between Gwen and Peter?
One of the really important things about the Spider-Man comics are Peter Parker's domestic troubles, the obstacles and challenges he faces are really kind of mundane. Well, not mundane, but he has trouble asking girls out. He has to get eggs for Aunt May, he has really ordinary problems. We can all identify with that, and realize how they can actually complicate our lives in ways that are annoying but very, very real. You take that and you contrast that against these bigger moments. I just wanted those little moments to feel real. I wanted them to feel relatable. I think that comes from casting and allowing those actors to find little specific moments that feel real and not designed, not orchestrated. Andrew and Emma are both actors that have an enormous capacity for improvisation but also naturalism.
Is that improv? A lot of directors say they want their characters to "feel real." But you actually accomplished that here, and have done so in the past as well. You always manage to reveal real moments in relationships. I just don't think this naturally happens when you turn on the camera, what lengths do you go to, to accomplish that?
It's working with the actors, so that they feel safe. So they feel that they can perform in a way that doesn't violate their sense of reality. Being very attentive and listening to what they like, without losing sight of the story, and the greater obligations you have with moving the narrative forward and whatever else you're trying to protect. A lot of it is about spontaneity, and a lot of it is about chemistry. And a lot of is you just can't analyze too deeply. You get on set and you don't over rehearse things and you shoot, and shoot, and shoot and you try things. Some things don't work, and some things do. It's about cultivating those moments and protecting them in the edit. That's another thing. There's actors who do lines, but you can't edit around lines, you have to edit around behavior. An audience will absorb a character not through how they talk, but they're absorbing head turns, and blinks, shifts of the elbows and looks. All that is incredibly important and all that can really quickly be thrown to the wayside. That's the nuance, that's the detail that makes these performances real.
Why was it important for you to include the "city coming to Spider-Man's aid" moment?
I really loved that in the first movies. Those have always got me misty. I think there's something very profoundly passionate between Peter Parker and the city of New York. I love the idea of New York coming to his aid, and that was a way to demonstrate and dramatize that.