After directing the Sundance favorite (500) Days of Summer, Marc Webb made the move to big budget studio franchises with 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man and less than two years later, its sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is ready to hit North American shores. Having spoken to Webb numerous times over the past few years, even before anyone would think of him as a "Spider-Man director," we've always found him to be quite astute in terms of knowing why he does what he does and that's similarly the case with the current movie version of the popular Marvel Comics character.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 finds our hero Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) dealing with two deaths from the first movie as he tries to protect the remaining people in his life including his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy. Meanwhile, new evils are coming out of Oscorp in the form of the CEO's prodigal son Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), Peter's childhood friend, and a nerdy engineer named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), who suddenly finds himself with immense power after a potentially deadly accident.
After speaking with Webb for the first movie and from Comic-Con last year, ComingSoon.net/SuperHeroHype had another chance to sit down with Webb, twice actually, during the New York City junket this past weekend.
We start off with a short video interview in which Webb talks about why he decided to return to direct two more movies, the decision to make Electro the main villain while keeping Green Goblin a secret for as long as they possibly can.
The following day, we sat down with Webb for a longer interview and got into a more detailed conversation about the movie. Frankly, it's hard to talk about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 without getting into spoilers since some pretty major events happen, but we're saving most of the talk about the biggest of them until next week after the movie opens everywhere. Towards the end of the interview, we also try to find out what they have planned in the franchise's threequel already scheduled for June 10, 2016, which is just two years away.
SuperHeroHype: This movie combines a lot of different elements from the comics, from Peter's parents to the Gwen Stacy story arc, as well as introducing new villains, really mixing and matching what's been in the comics. How much were you involved in guiding that? (Note: Marc's response has been edited to avoid a major spoiler, but we'll be posting those bits sometime next week.)
Marc Webb: I really wanted to do Electro, so he became the main adversary for Peter Parker and for Spider-Man. After a while, it's really about revealing different facets of Peter and Spider-Man's personality. For me, I want to push my characters to the extremes. I want to see them experiencing great joy, but also I like to see them crack open, because that's what it takes to move me. There's a purpose for each one of those characters, and they display something different. Like Rhino or Alexsei at the beginning of the movie, it's about embracing that humor, that funny bombastic character that you love from the comics. That Spider-Man that's like colorful and bright, and he's just great at fighting crime and he's having fun doing it, and he's so good at it. He's not just clubbing these guys, he's telling them jokes and he's asking them to stop, but he's being what Spider-Man was, which is a more clever superhero.
Then, Max Dillon actually, there's a different facet of Peter Parker that we learn about, which is he's an empath. The first time he meets Max Dillon, Max is like, "How do you know my name? I'm a nobody." Spider-Man stops for a second and says, "You're not nobody. You're a somebody. You're my eyes and ears." He recognizes a part of himself, and he's like, "You're an underdog like me. Like, I'm a nobody, you're a nobody…" That's the great power of Spider-Man is to enthuse and encourage and inspire people, and it's what in the first movie, when he talks to that kid: "Put on the mask. It's going to make you strong." He tries to make people the better versions of themselves and helps want them to find their own gifts and need to be a little bit broad about it. Even in Times Square, he does what nobody else is willing to do. Like he talks to him. He listens to him. There's that moment of him trying to empathize with that character. That's fundamentally Spider-Man, which is different than Iron Man, it's different than Thor. I think that humanity is a really misunderstood and overlooked part of that character. So that's Max Dillon and Electro, and then there's obviously physical challenges that character presents, which I think are fun to resolve.
Harry is his best friend, and Harry has access to Peter Parker in a way that none of the other guys do. He knows what makes him tick. The vulnerabilities of the heroes are what make them interesting. Superman has his Kryptonite and love is Spider-Man's Kryptonite. That's where he's most vulnerable. It's so relatable that that's I think one of the reasons why he's still lasted as long as he has. So each of those things have a different inflection. The wound that makes him aware and able to connect with people that is so important, that wound comes from his parents abandoning him, so we're dealing with that, too. So there's all these different inflections. For me, all those are such pivotal important parts of the movie that they require attention, and then there's the Aunt May part of it and the issues with Aunt May. If the family wasn't there, he probably could've ended up like Electro, you know?
SHH: That's fascinating to hear, because you've pretty much confirmed what was so ingenious about how Stan Lee created and developed the character. Most people, when someone in our family dies, we mourn and shut ourselves away from the world, but he created a character who goes out and fights crime while making jokes, which is quite a dichotomy.
Webb: He can laugh his way through a lot of things.
SHH: But that must make it tough to make a movie about the character since you have to fit in all those different facets of the character in order for it to pay off. That must have been easier this time having gotten the origin out of the way in the first movie.
Webb: Yeah, the origin story felt a little bit… I mean, I felt like it was really important, because I wanted people to experience the character from the ground up, and it was a different character than we had seen before. There was a ton of inflections that were different, so I felt like it was important. But this time, we weren't saddled with that. We were liberated. We could all tell engaging characters in ways that we hadn't engaged with before, but we also had a very focused goal, which was about what was going to happen to Gwen. There was a theme about time and valuing the time you have with the ones you love and that was the spine of the film.
SHH: Oscorp has played a big part in the two movies—it's almost becoming the S.H.I.E.L.D. of the Spider-Man movie universe, the thing that ties everyone together, but at the end of this movie, you're left wondering who is running Oscorp…
Webb: Clark Gregg.
SHH: Yeah, exactly. So how far ahead had you been planning since when you finished the first movie, you weren't sure about directing the second movie?
Webb: Well, I think I had an idea of what the arc, the general broad strokes of the universe, were. Harry and that character, the man in the hat, I mean, we left ourselves a little bit open to interpret that later, but the reality is his identity is the same as it was in the first movie, and it was because he's related to the Sinister Six. The broad strokes of the stories have really stayed really pretty consistent in all of those.
SHH: Between the two movies and the videogame, I thought Oscorp was going to be the main impetus for Spider-Man's rogues gallery.
Webb: Well, the thing again is that all crazy sh*t in this universe comes from Oscorp, that obsidian blade on the New York skyline is a kind of Pandora's box. Even though that technology helped create Spider-Man, it's also unleashed a terrifying assortment of villains on New York City. It's true, there's a lot of baddies that come from that, but really, there's one super villain, and that's Oscorp.
SHH: I'm sure you've gotten a lot of compliments about the action in this movie, because in the past "Spider-Man" movies, even the last one, Spider-Man always looked very CG, but this one, there are points where it looks like you could have put Andrew in the costume and dropped him six stories down.
Webb: It may have been! Yeah the people at SPI (Sony Pictures Imageworks) are doing our visual effects, and I've worked with them obviously and we've gone through the ringer a few times and learned what it took to push it to as close to real as you could possibly make it. I think I learned in the first one that I got to turn those sequences over earlier and we had more time to work with. That Times Square scene, for example, we started that sequence before we started shooting. We were photographing Times Square and building that in 3D before we even started shooting. That was an effort to make them as authentic as possible.
SHH: Is it getting easier to shoot in New York with each movie?
Webb: Well, this is the first time we shot all in New York. The other movies, we shot just a couple of weeks here. Yeah, so the rest of them were shot in Los Angeles, but it was an adventure. You know, we shot a lot on location. Like that Chinatown scene…
SHH: I know. That's near my neighborhood, so I know that block well.
Webb: Oh yeah? So I mean, it's noisy and I like the actors to be in quiet, but it's hard because there's hordes. You can't silence the traffic quite the way you can in a back lot, you know? But it makes it feel real. It gives it a sense of authenticity that I really, really love. Just the little scenes, for example, when they're skipping stones in Brooklyn, looking over the city, I mean, that scene we were just like, "I think I'll shoot over there." It was a real casual thing where we would've had to invent some crappy other alternative in Echo Park if we were doing it in Los Angeles. But it really allowed us to get into the flow here in a way that was really fun and I hope to continue doing.
SHH: Especially the quiet moments between Peter and Gwen. I think if it were two people actually talking here in New York, it would be like, "Honk, honk, honk," a fire engine would drive by with its sirens at full volume… but still, as a New Yorker, it's always nice seeing New York portrayed well in movies.
Webb: Yeah, it's so cinematic. It's so cinematic.
SHH: There's a French movie coming out soon called "Chinese Puzzle" which they shot in my neighborhood as well. I'm sure they had a budget of $2 or $3 million dollars. I couldn't even imagine how they were able to shoot in my neighborhood, get people to close off streets and stuff like that.
Webb: Well, you know, you can't always have all the control, that's one of the things about New York. The Times Square scene, we shot two nights there very quickly, and it was guerilla style filmmaking. We got out with the steadicam and Jamie got on his suit and we ran out and just stole it, basically. We had permits and everything, but it was like doing a music video. Then, we literally built the entirety of Times Square on Long Island.
SHH: Yeah, I heard about that and wished you had people out there. I would've loved to have seen that Times Square set.
Webb: Oh yeah. It was incredible and a real testament to the talents of Mark Friedberg, our production designer. But it was funny, because that sequence is the high-low of filmmaking. It was really guerilla on one hand and a totally sophisticated visual effects odyssey on the other.
From here on out, we talked about plans for The Amazing Spider-Man 3 which may include some hint about what happens in the current movie, so SPOILER WARNING if you haven't seen it yet.
SHH: So where are you guys at as far as the next movie, because obviously it already has a release date on the schedule and you're directing it.
Webb: Yeah, we're still thinking about it. We're still building the foundation for it a little bit and developing it, but we have some pretty good ideas of where the character is going. I mean, Spider-Man is going to have a lot of recovery. He's got a lot to deal with now.
SHH: And of course, you have to figure out who to kill in the next movie because you have to figure out who's next.
Webb: I think we can make a movie without killing anybody.
SHH: Okay, that's good, yeah. Don't kill Aunt May, please. I like Sally Field.
Webb: Yeah, she's immortal.
SHH: Yeah, exactly, she's gotta stick around. Is Aunt May even alive in the comics these days? I can't even keep track.
Webb: Oh, I'm sure, yeah.
SHH: It's probably safe to assume that Mary Jane will have to show up eventually and I know you were going to try to introduce her in this movie.
Webb: Yeah, we were going to tease it in just a couple of scenes, but it just seemed to diminish the Gwen Stacy story, which is so important. To tease that out, it didn't feel right, you know?
SHH: But you did a couple Easter egg teases in the movie with the introduction of Felicia Hardy and Smythe, so are those possible teases of what's to come or just teases?
Webb: Well, we do a deep dive when we're going through the comics and it's fun to give names to people, and sometimes they can catch on. Sometimes they can come back in a fun and interesting way. We do like to leave ourselves open. Some of those storylines we'll pick up, and some of them, we won't, but it's fun to see what clicks with people.
SHH: When you bring in "The Daily Bugle," there's always characters like Robbie Robertson and Betty Brant and they'd eventually have storylines in the comics where they played a larger part of they'd just make appearances.
Webb: Yeah, and then you'd sort of pluck them out.
SHH: Basically when you're done with all this press you'll be able to go back into that and just focus on figuring the next movie out?
Webb: Yeah, I hope so. We'll see, yeah.
SHH: Then you'll be back in New York City sometime shooting the next movie so that it will be done by, when is it, 2016?
Webb: I don't even know. I don't even know, yeah.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens across North America on Thursday. Check back for more from Marc Webb next week where we talk about one of the movie's bigger SPOILER moments.
(Marc Webb photo credit: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)