How do you get from "(500) Days of Summer" to the summer of superhero blockbusters? Apparently, a little spider venom will do the trick. Marc Webb turned Joseph Gordon-Levitt into a heartthrob in 2009; now he's turning British actor Andrew Garfield into an American teenager in this summer's superhero reboot "The Amazing Spider-Man."
A fan of the franchise and the original Sam Raimi trilogy, Webb is ready to take on reboot naysayers - those who doubt the merits of restarting a series only five years after the last movie's release. When we talked to the director about Garfield, co-star Emma Stone and what might be the greatest Stan Lee cameo of all time, we made sure Webb had a moment to explain why we need to see Peter Parker get that spider bite all over again.
Obviously, in a reboot, there are certain story elements - points on Peter Parker's timeline - that can't change, if you're staying true to the source material. But there are choices you made, like focusing on Gwen Stacy as Peter's love interest, that will come as a shock to fans who only know Spider-Man from the Raimi franchise. How did you choose which pieces to keep and which to change?
There are certain iconic elements of the canon that I thought were obligatory. There were things that were actually legally binding. You know, Peter Parker has to get bitten by a radioactive spider ... and then Uncle Ben's death transforms him. There's certain parts of the suit, like the mechanic web shooters.
I wanted to be very careful about protecting those things because they're the most important parts. That's kind of what makes Spider-Man Spider-Man, to me. I also thought it was important to discover and connect different moments from different parts of the canon, and some things that we invented.
For example, with this character, irrespective of the first movies, what's the protagonist in my movie? Who is this kid? The thing that I kept returning to, I mean, he grew up with Uncle Ben, but what about his parents? What is this defining moment in his life? He's left behind at a very tender age. That's got to tear you apart. I wanted that to be the narrative domino that gave way to the rest of the story.
In the first part of the movie, he discovers this briefcase, and that leads him on this journey to realize his destiny. It's all about him going out, looking for his father, in a way, finding himself. So the narrative drive was about his dad, or his parents, and about trying to discover that part of that identity. But it was very important to include those iconic elements of Spider-Man — the bite and Uncle Ben's death — put him on that pathway. So it was about orchestrating that and finding something new while honoring the iconic elements of the origin.
Why Gwen Stacy and not Mary Jane?
I think Mary Jane was very familiar to people. First of all, you wanted to tell a different story. Secondly, it was his first love in the comics, whether or not people know that. I find myself explaining that a lot.
I think Gwen Stacy, as a character, brings out a different part of Peter Parker. She's incredibly intelligent. She's very activated. She's, in a way, a rival to him. She also pursues him a little bit, which I like. It's not like, "Hey, I'm gonna, like, bat my eyes at you." And Emma is ... a very powerful woman, and Gwen Stacy was a really fun character to play. I'm just interested in the over-arching story of Gwen Stacy.
What's great about Spider-Man is that a lot of his adversaries are just logical extensions of the typical adolescent universe. So you go to his girlfriend's house, and you feel like her dad wants to arrest you, but now he actually has a badge and a gun and literally can. And 500 officers and a helicopter, and he can hunt you down. That's a really fun thing to play and a good source of drama, not only for Peter but for Gwen, who's divided between her father and this guy who's trying to do good.
There's always been a debate, amongst fans, over which one of these girls is Peter Parker's true love. Have you always been a Gwen Stacy guy?
I think you can have more than one true love, don't you think?
One hopes! How did you choose a villian from the wide array of available bad guys in the "Spider-Man" universe?
There were a few different parts of that recipe. I think the fans were interested in The Lizard. There's interest in a lot of the carnage and all that kind of stuff. The thing that most intrigued me about this was, before the villain, Peter Parker gets torn away from his parents and he has this missing piece, he feels a void. He feels like he's got to fill that void. I was going through the different villains, and The Lizard has a missing arm, he has a missing piece, and it felt like a good foil for Peter Parker, just metaphorically.
To me, the theme of the movie is we all have a missing piece, and how we choose to fill that void is how we define ourselves. We actually had a scene that I cut out that said that explicitly, but sometimes it's best to let the themes exist subtextually. That's what solidified it for me, that there was something about the villain that had a similar struggle to Peter. Then ... it's really fun to think about the physical violence that can emerge from a spider and a lizard fighting, you know, there's the tail and claws. It was a fun adventure to think about.
There's a scene in "The Amazing Spider-Man" involving a bunch of cranes and some helpful Spidey-supporting New Yorkers that felt reminiscent of Raimi's "You want to get to him, you gotta go through me" moment. Were you paying homage to the earlier series?
To be honest with you, you're exactly right: I get misty at the train sequence. I get misty thinking about it right now, and I love this idea of the universe or the city coming to help this guy who's risking his life to help them, and they weren't always interested in helping him.
The crane sequence is one of my favorite parts of the movie, and one of the earlier things I developed. And it's a confluence of a lot of things. One, the city coming to help. Very early on, I was thinking about ... "How would Spider-Man swing through the streets? If I were Spider-Man, I would try..." because I was thinking about how to shoot it. I wanted to be more realistic and more grounded in the physical rather than the universe and world. Realistically, I would have the pendulum swing. I would go around here, and I could jump over here. It would take a long time to do this. You can't really swing like he swings unless you're taking a lot of license.
And there was an image that just stick with me. I had been listening to U2's "[Where the] Streets Have No Name," and I was just listening, and I was like, "Oh, this could be cool." Fortunately, we had James Horner to score that. That's where the genesis of that sequence came from.
A lot of Spidey fans have complained about having a reboot so soon after the last franchise wrapped. But you yourself are a fan, and you seem cool with it.
Yeah, listen, in terms of the reboot, Spider-Man's an iconic character. I remember a couple of years ago, when I was thinking of taking this on, it really came down to the question, "Do I want to see this movie?" And I was like, "Hell yeah." So it was as simple as that. And I think there's so many things, so many parts of the canon that haven't been explored cinematically, and I was curious about the parents. I was curious about Gwen Stacy. I was curious about The Lizard. So I thought there was enough there that I felt legitimately worthwhile. I understand skepticism. Skepticism is a virtue, and that's OK. But I think when people see the movie, they understand, and my faith is always in that.
The other oft-repeated concern was in casting a British guy in the role of all-American Peter Parker.
I don't think those questions will remain once they see it, because I don't think that matters.
Was there pressure to have the best Stan Lee cameo of all time?
I don't know if it was a competition, but it was just ... it was fun. I think it worked out really well. The first time I met Stan, he brought that up. If I have a regret, I wish I had extended that sequence a little longer, because I think he gives a pretty good reaction, but, you know, I wanted to keep things moving. We'll see. I feel pretty good about that cameo. I think it's a good one.