Marc Webb on directing The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn't out until next year, but we were still able to speak to director Marc Webb about his web-slinging sequel...

Although a veteran of music videos, director Marc Webb had just one feature film under his belt – the indie comedy drama (500) Days Of Summer – when he took the helm of Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man. Although some rightly questioned whether the world needed another Spidey origin story so soon after Sam Raimi’s trilogy, which ended just five years before, the 2012 reboot received solid, if not glowing reviews.

What most could agree on was that Andrew Garfield was perfectly cast as Peter Parker – clearly relishing the chance to play the role, the British actor acquited himself brilliantly, lending vulnerability and quick wit to a beloved comic book character. One thing we gleaned from our visit to the set of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was that, this time, that broad humourous streak in Parker’s character will play a central part in the story.

To explain what all this means, and to talk us through what else we can expect from the sequel’s heroes and villains, here’s director Marc Webb…

The last film was a very steep learning curve, compared to what you’d done before. What have you learned and brought to the sequel?

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I think there’s a confidence that’s developed among everybody, including the cast and the crew. That last movie was really forced into existence – it was tough in a lot of ways. But this one is just flowing. Everyone’s having a really good time, everyone’s much more comfortable with the world we’re operating in. The origin story is off in the distance, and we’re into the canon in the new universe, and it’s really fun.

Shooting in New York, what was the challenge of it?

I was a big advocate of it before. I think that Los Angeles was built for movies – there are great sound stages, great crews. New York is having  a resurgence of movie shoots, which is great, but Spider-Man is indigenous to New York. The two are inseperable. So the shoot’s been a really fantastic adventure. The city is tough, you know? And it’s not always cooperative – it’s hard to shut down streets. But it gives you such an energy and vibration, you can’t help but feel the reality of it in the characters and the story.

But here there’s almost a picnic in the park feeling. Everyone’s smiling and relaxed. How do you keep those tensions there?

Because we’ve done it before, and everyone went into it with the right attitude. Knowing that you have to think on your feet, and knowing what you’re going to encounter with the paparazzi in the locations you’re dealing with. It’s made everybody mentally more prepared and more able. We’ve enjoyed it. Making movies is fun, or it can be.

What made you shoot this film in 35mm instead of digitally?

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I think the quality is extraordinary. We shot the first movie in 3D. The cameras are really huge, and sometimes difficult. But there was also advantages to them. But I want this to have a classic, big movie look, and shooting on anamorphic film – this isn’t just 35mm, it’s anamorphic, widescreen format – provided a level of epic… an operatic quality, which is what we were looking for.

Compared to the first one, is this more of a love story, or more action? What can we expect?

Action, the first time around for me, was a new thing. I hadn’t done a whole lot of it. I’d done a little bit of it in music videos, but this… apart from the dinosaur chase in (500) Days Of Summer, I’d done very little. But this time around, we had a lot of time to set those action pieces up. There’s a lot more fun, a lot more humour, a lot more really volatile, intense action beats, so we spent a lot of time preparing, thinking about and orchestrating those.

There are all sorts of things. There’s a great love story, which separates Spider-Man from a lot of other comic book movies, that central relationship. There’s great action, and I think people will find, like always, I hope, a relatability to Peter Parker, and the dramas he has to go through. They feel fundamental to Spider-Man, those small little moments.

The last film was about Spider-Man discovering what he was about and what he could and couldn’t have. What is he facing in this one?

Well, there’s a lot of things going on. But a lot of it’s about the nature and time, and valuing the time you have with the ones you love. There was also the idea of Peter Parker being Spider-Man, but now there’s the idea of Spider-Man being Peter Parker.

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Before you started, did you lock yourself away and study all the comics?

Yeah. Well, the first round was very much that. We’ve done some stuff in Times Square where there was a few extraordinary moments where you’re sitting behind a monitor, feeling like you’re making this big movie, and suddenly the 12-year-old kidsort of wakes up and slaps you across the face and says, “You’d better enjoy this.”

It’s really magical. The calibre of actors is such a gift. Sally Field, Chris Cooper, Emma Stone, Andrew Garfield, Jamie Foxx, Felicity Jones – the list just goes on and on. It’s always a privelage to work with those people and see them come alive on screen – it’s always astounding.

How do you handle all these new characters?

Well, we’ve conceived this as a universe – something that extends beyond one movie, and so we think about plot lines and how they last over a couple of movies, so it will work as a whole. Obviously, they’ll work as individual movies, but also as part of something bigger. I think people are eager to see that, to chew into something deeper and find the nuances.

In the first film, your villain, The Lizard, was all CG. I get the impression that you’re using less CG for your villains this time.

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We’re trying to do a lot more practical. Finding a balance between realism and getting that thrilling, wish-fulfilment ride that only CG can provide – finding that balance is always really tricky. We’ve leaned a lot harder on practical effects in terms of the villain characterisation than we did in the last movie. It’s simply too hard to build a lizard by hand, so we had to build it digitally. In this one, there’ll be a little enhancement with Jamie’s rendition of Electro, and he’s going to be pretty fantastic.

What does Paul Giamatti bring to the role of Rhino?

Paul Giamatti is a lovely man. We wanted something big. Electro’s a visual villain – and he has such potential on screen. Paul, to be totally honest, was talking about it on Conan O’Brian, one time, how much he loved Rhino. And I was such a huge fan of what he’d done, I had to figure out a way to tease that character. He’s not in the movie a whole lot, but there is a few bits of him that are just extraordinary. It’s so fun. One of the things I’m doing in this movie is embracing the lunacy. In Spider-Man , there’s always that fun, playful wit at work, and I wanted to give him as many opportunities as possible to express that.

Can you tell us how Harry [Osborne] figures in this?

Harry? Harry’s an old friend of Peter Parker, and he comes back into his life. And, you know, they have a tricky relationship. I’ll leave that for the movie!

This is your second time shooting with Andrew [Garfield]. Can you tell where Andrew ends and Peter Parker starts?

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Sure. One of the things in the first movie was that he was still finding his way. There’s a level of virtuosity that comes with the physicality of Spider-Man, which he’s so comfortable with. From the get-go, he knows what it means to be Spider-Man. He’s good at it. He’s having fun. He breathes it. You see a level of confidence there, too, which is pretty extraordinary.

There’s always a little bit of Peter Parker in Spider-Man, and a bit of Spider-Man in Peter Parker. And in Andrew, definitely.

Is he still searching for himself?

There’s always that internal quest. It’s harder to think about, as an actor and director on a big tentpole movie. There’s always the external conflict with the villain – stop the bad guy. But what people relate to the most are the more difficult nuances, and with Spider-Man, that’s the nature of sacrifice. And that’s very much the case here; the writing and performances are very sophisticated.

The first film was well-received. But when you look at it again, can you pick out the weaker areas, and if so, how have you improved them in this movie?

Oh, totally. But I’ll not talk about them. [Laughs] Yeah. Of course. There are so many things. But I really think there’s a level of physical humour that we’ve really embraced. In the first movie, we did a sequence with Andrew in the subway car. It was fun, playful, physical stuff. We took that to the extreme [this time.] I’m a big fan of old Buster Keaton movies, and what Chaplin used to do. It’s very difficult to achieve, and to ground it in reality requires the physical acumen that you just don’t find in a lot of actors. We’ve been working with the great Samuel XX who’s been doing some great physical comedy, and Andy Armstrong, the stunt coordinator – we’re all huge fans of that school. So that’s been a real load of fun. I think people will really appreciate it.

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The word ‘humour’ has come up a lot in interviews today. Is that something you felt had to be more central in this film? Because it’s almost Spider-Man’s unique selling point.

Exactly. It’s Spider-Man’s identity, that wit, which comes from part of his character, his flexibility – that’s something we all really embraced. We did a comedy table, where we got a load of really brilliant, talented comedians to come in and help with lines and ideas. To fill it with jokes and play. This guy’s a little kid, you know? He’s got that punk rock attitude – I think you see it here today. I think that’s a very important part of Spider-Man.

Marc Webb, thank you very much.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens on the 14th April in the UK.

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