‘Amazing Spider-Man’ director Marc Webb on Spidey, villains, spinoffs

May 01, 2014 | 1:37 p.m.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ marks the second superhero outing from director Marc Webb, the  Wisconsin native who found his way to the world of superheroes and villains by a somewhat unlikely road — the respected indie director was previously best known for the Los Angeles-set “(500) Days of Summer,” starring Joseph-Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.

The new film swings into theaters Thursday night with a round of late showings for fans and sees Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) face off against several foes: Paul Giamatti as Aleksei Sytsevich, an Eastern Bloc criminal who becomes the Rhino, and Dane DeHaan as Oscorp heir Harry Osborn, who is poised to suit up as the Green Goblin, though it’s Jamie Foxx’s Electro, who begins the movie as the meek Oscorp employee Max Dillon, who has the most showstopping moments thanks to his masterful control of the power grid. (Fans also will interpret the appearance of B.J. Novak as Alistair Smythe as especially meaningful — in comic book lore, the character at one point referred to himself as the Ultimate Spider-Slayer.)

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" director Marc Webb. (Los Angeles Times)

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ director Marc Webb. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Webb’s original Marvel adaptation, 2012′s “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which rebooted the franchise that Sam Raimi successfully launched roughly a decade earlier, turned out to be a blockbuster hit that took in upward of $262 million at the domestic box office, and also earned critical praise, thanks in part to the winning chemistry between English actor Garfield and his costar Emma Stone, who plays Peter’s resourceful gal pal Gwen Stacy.

With the new film, written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner, critics are again praising the actors’ rapport, even if not every review is trumpeting the sequel as a rousing success.

Weeks ago, when Webb was still putting the finishing touches on the movie’s sound, Hero Complex sat down with him to discuss his goals for the film, the franchise and all that talk about too many villains.

Hero Complex: What did you set out to achieve with this second installment in the franchise? Where do you begin with a project of this scale and scope?

Marc Webb: The first thing we do is think about Peter Parker and how to challenge him. What does this mean to him? Where is he going to end up? Where does he start off? What’s at stake for him? And then you reverse-engineer what villains will contribute to that … there’s a lot of talking, a lot of conversation about what’s important to Peter, what’s he going to learn. What’s the value of the story?

Jamie Foxx as Electro in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." (Sony Pictures)

Jamie Foxx as Electro in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” (Sony Pictures)

HC: There are a number of villains challenging him this time out. What was the thinking behind including the characters you selected?

MW: Since “Spider-Man 3″ people like to wave that around, but I think it has more to do with execution than it does quantity. Primarily, it’s about how hard you can make life for your hero. Also, I think we’re very careful in how we’ve constructed it. I think when people see it, they’ll understand that the stories are interrelated, there’s a lot of effort we spent making everything cohesive and to have it unfold in a way that is engaging, honest and careful. Everything feels legitimate, it doesn’t feel like a potpourri of villains for the sake of having a lot of villains or selling toys or something like that. It’s really not that way.

HC: Sony has announced plans to spin off certain villains to star in their own films, and together as a group in “The Sinister Six.” Were you aware of that going into this project and did that influence any of your creative choices?

MW: We knew that we wanted to create something bigger, the details of that, at the beginning of this process, were still in play. We didn’t know exactly how it was going to work, we didn’t know if Venom, for example, was going to be an adversary in the next movie or have a movie wholly unto itself. Our primary objective in this was just to make a good movie, to make it cohesive and so on. There was a broad plan from before the first movie about what the three movies would be and about the universe, then as we got into it, we could see little offshoots and things that presented themselves along the way as we read the comics and Alex and Bob were really instrumental in that, and Jeff and [producers Matt] Tolmach and Avi [Arad]. We’re all had these conversations for a very long time. We’re still working out those details obviously, but we had some notion, really more about the trilogy than the entire spectrum of the universe. But as we were shooting, we just kept thinking, some of these characters need their own films, they’re so interesting and in-depth. There’s a limit to how deeply you can explore any number of these characters, they’re rich enough to sustain their own properties.

HC: After the experience of making the previous film, were there specific things that you knew you wanted to change or present differently with the sequel?

Andrew Garfield stars as Spider-Man in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." (Sony Pictures)

Andrew Garfield stars as Spider-Man in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” (Sony Pictures)

MW: The first thing that comes to mind is the suit. Plot  and character notwithstanding, I wanted to dig in the iconography of Spider-Man. I think the first time around, I was thinking about the suit, I wanted it to be like something a kid could create — that’s why the lenses were made out of sunglasses – and I think people resisted that a little bit honestly, the hard-core fans. So, I was like, let’s embrace the iconography of the suit and make the suit the way that people remember the suit and think of the suit. Those big illustrated-like eyes were really important, particularly to kids, to maintain that sort of friendly attitude that Spider-Man’s known for, and it just looks cool.

I also wanted to have a stronger sense of theme. When I think about this movie — or any movie — there’s always some idea that’s at work, there’s something in the water. All the producers and Andrew, they all have different opinions, but for me, my way into it was time and the nature of time. You have to value the time you have with the ones you love. The very first shot of the movie is a watch, and that clock, that motif presents itself over and over. It comes up in dialog, and it comes up in ideas and in the story in really important ways. It’s something that we all have to deal with that is inherently cinematic, the notion of time. That was the fountain from which everything flowed in the movie. I wanted to be careful with the development of the villains. I also wanted to do something … we throw around this term “opera” and I wanted all the characters to have a certain kind of richness and the audience to have a better understanding of everybody, which broadens the scope of the movie in terms of character and how much you invest and understand each of these characters. You have to balance that with keeping the pace [up] and [keeping] people’s feelings about what a summer movie should be in mind, but there is a depth to the characters here that I really wanted to be protective of. Fortunately people kind of know Peter Parker now so, though clearly it’s his story, I get to spend a little more time thinking about Electro and Max Dillon and Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy.

HC: Was it freeing to be done with the origin story and to be able to move on to tell a different kind of story?

MW: Yes, totally liberating. The origin story was another controversial thing at the beginning of the process, but I did it because I think people understand the character in a different way than they did in Sam Raimi’s movies. I felt like it was an obligation, it was something I thought was really important. Now that we’ve built up Andrew and you’ve experienced that transformation through Andrew’s eyes, you’re invested in his point of view. You can explore all the unique, unexplored parts of the universe, so just as a filmmaker I think it’s fun. The other thing is I feel more confident. I know all the visual effects stuff, I know what it can look like, what I can exploit and where I have to dial back. There’s still a lot of things to master, and there’s always new lessons to learn but it’s been a lot more fun. There’s still a lot of pressure on everybody, there’s a sort of competitive quality with the first movie in a very real way, but everybody wants to show up. So we’ve all pushed each other to excel. We had new writers this time around and they’ve been such a great asset and the machine of this, the massive sort of ship going across the horizon, everybody knows their jobs and it’s made everything a lot more efficient and it allows us to achieve, I think, a better movie, frankly.

HC: What’s your relationship like with Andrew Garfield at this point?

Spiderman star Andrew Garfield is photographed at the Hotel Bel-Air.  (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Spider-Man star Andrew Garfield is photographed at the Hotel Bel-Air. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

MW: We just know each other better now. He’s so smart. He’s so good at inhabiting that character. The last time he just got thrown into something that was already driving forward, and it was hard. He had to work out all the time, it was overwhelming for all of us and this time we got to sort of build it together. I feel very protective of actors in general, but I feel really lucky to have him as an ally in this. He’s so inside of it and so present and always thinking about things from Peter’s point of view. I really have grown to value his input in a way that maybe I didn’t on the first one.

HC: How would you characterize where Peter’s story begins and ends in this movie?

MW: At the beginning of the movie he thinks he can have it all. He thinks he can be Peter Parker and Spider-Man. At the end of the movie, he realizes that’s impossible. He’s transformed.

– Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

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