When Sony Pictures decided to scrap a planned fourth entry in director Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man film series and start again from scratch, lots of big-name directors were considered for the job.
But the one who finally landed the gig surprised everyone: Marc Webb, a veteran maker of music videos with only one feature film to his credit (the indie romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer) was handed the keys to one of the biggest and most profitable franchises in the studio’s stable.
How did Webb, a guy with little to no experience doing large-scale action — along with the cumbersome and complicated technology of 3D cameras — get the job? He presented a perspective on the web-slinger different from everyone else’s: He concentrated on the man, not the suit.
“I had a different inflection on the character that I wanted to explore,” Webb says. “I didn’t want to do a sequel. I felt that just like with comics, where you have different writers and illustrators constantly coming in to do a run on the books, I could come in and do my own thing while still honoring the iconic elements of the character.”
With The Amazing Spider-Man, which opens Tuesday, Webb takes the story of Peter Parker back to its starting point, presenting a version of Peter Parker that differs greatly from the endearingly nerdy wallflower Tobey Maguire had portrayed in the previous trilogy.
“My goal was simply to make it as much about Peter Parker as Spider-Man,” Webb says. “To me, the most important event in his life is not the spider bite: It was being abandoned by his parents when he was 6 years old. Everything else in the movie comes from that, because that is the kind of traumatic event that you would spend your entire life dealing with. As Peter grows up, he’s got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. He’s distrustful of the universe. He’s an outsider, but an outsider by choice.”
Avi Arad, who produced the Raimi trilogy and has overseen several other Marvel Comics movie adaptations, says the hiring of Webb was essential in order to provide a fresh take on a character — and a story — already embedded in popular culture.
“Peter Parker is my favorite of all the Marvel superheroes: If Stan Lee is his father, then I feel like I’m Spider-Man’s grandfather,” he says. “I felt very protective of him, and that’s why I trusted Marc. We wanted to focus on the intimacy of the story, explain who this boy is and why he is the way he is. (500) Days of Summer was not your typical soap-opera love story. It was a really unusual look at relationships, and it had an incredibly brave ending. The love story we are beginning in this film is one of the most important in comic-book history, and we needed a director who could tell it in a pragmatic and realistic direction.”
Instead of Mary Jane Watson, the character played by Kirsten Dunst in the previous trilogy, the romantic interest in The Amazing Spider-Man is Gwen Stacy, a blond, razor-sharp and vivacious girl who was Peter’s true first love in the comics. Emma Stone ( The Help, Easy A) admits she had never heard of the character until she went in to audition for the role.
“I had to go back and read her story, and I realized this is one of the most epic, tragic, incredible, beautiful stories I can ever imagine,” she says, specifying she’s referring to the seminal issues 121 and 122 of The Amazing Spider-Man comics published in 1973. “The upheaval it caused with the Spider-Man audience at the time was so great, they were canceling their subscriptions and burning the comic books! I fell in love with that element of the story, because it was so tragic. I told them ‘If you guys are going to be true to this, then you’re making something really special and bold and daring, and I want in.’ ”