‘Spider-Man’ director Marc Webb feels a ‘responsiblity to reinvent’ the hero

July 18, 2011 | 6:14 p.m.


marc webb Spider Man director Marc Webb feels a responsiblity to reinvent the hero

Marc Webb (Jaimie Trueblood )

The Columbia Pictures film “The Amazing Spider-Man” reaches theaters on July 3, 2012, with a lot of history to live up to — the trilogy of Spider-Man movies directed by Sam Raimi brought in close to $3.5 billion in worldwide box office and keyed billions more in home video, toys, licensing and video games. No one is more aware of that than Marc Webb, the 36-year-old music-video veteran who made his feature directorial debut with “(500) Days of Summer” in 2009 and was the surprise choice to direct this start-from-scratch version of the hero with new star Andrew Garfield. Webb and Garfield begin their conversation with fans on Friday at Comic-Con International, and the filmmaker spoke with our Geoff Boucher about the high stakes.

GB: There’s so much history for this character, on the page and on the screen. Where do you start?

 Spider Man director Marc Webb feels a responsiblity to reinvent the hero

"The Amazing Spider-Man" (Columbia Pictures)

MW: I feel we have certain obligations to the iconography of Spider-Man, which is based mostly in the comics. The other thing is Spider-Man has a lot of different incarnations in the comics. While there are certain mainstays — a kid who gets bitten by a spider, he’s an outsider, the death of his Uncle Ben helps endow [him] with the mentality of a hero — those things remain the same but there’s also room for interpretation. He’s been around since the 1960s. The wealth of material here — whether it’s story or character — is really profound but I also feel it’s my responsibility to reinvent it in some ways.

GB: How will we see that reinvention manifest?

MW: Peter Parker is a science whiz. If you look back to the early Stan Lee and Steve Ditko comics, he’s a nerd with big glasses. The idea of what a nerd is has changed in 40 or 50 years. Nerds are running the world. Andrew Garfield made a movie [called “The Social Network”] about it. Nerds are no longer pariahs and knowing how to write computer code is longer a [mocked] quality. What was important in those early comics was this notion that Peter Parker is an outsider and how we define that in a contemporary context.  That, I think, was one of the challenges for us — getting Peter Parker’s outsider status to be current. Peter Parker is a real kid. He’s not a billionaire. He’s not an alien. He’s a kid who gets picked on and gets shoved to the outside. The 90-pound weakling, that’s who Spider-Man is when he gets bit. So much of the DNA of the character is the fact that he was a kid when he got bit. He is imperfect, he is immature and has a bit of a punk rock instinct. In his soul he’s still a 90-pound weakling even after [the transformative bite].

GB: I noticed the commentary from some fans that, in the early photos released, Garfield is not “heroic” enough or perhaps bulky enough to be a hero. Those are clearly people who never saw Ditko’s version of the character… 

ultiamte spider man Spider Man director Marc Webb feels a responsiblity to reinvent the hero

MW: Andrew went through an incredibly intense training. When you see the before and then see the after — he is not a weakling. He is a lithe character. We wanted to make it more about agility than this sort of Atlas-like power figure. He’s not Superman. He was a unique figure in Marvel Comics and all of comics. He was this kid, too, and we want to keep that consistent even to some extent when the costume is on. I love a lot of the “Ultimate Spider-Man” artwork and story lines, there’s a lot more of an adolescent, playful quality.  And I think that’s a big part of Spider-Man universe and hasn’t really been explored cinematically before.

GB: What other differences will we see between your film and Raimi’s trilogy?

MW: One of the things we tried to do was keep the stunts more grounded physically and that was a huge challenge because you have a character whose abilities are superhuman. How do you do that in a way that’s convincing and real? We had a really great stunt team, the Armstrongs, who were vigilant in the creation — with Andrew — of a physical language that felt grounded but also extraordinary. We spent months and months and months developing rigs so he could swing in a way that wasn’t computer-generated. Obviously there’s going to be enhancements and CG [sequences], but it’s based in a physical reality and that’s a new technique [for this film brand]. When you walk out of the theater, I want the world you see to resemble what you saw on the screen. Part of the joy of cinema [is that] you make the impossible look real. I wanted it to be more grounded and more realistic and that went for the emotion of the scenes, the physical action and wardrobe. It’s less based in Steve Ditko world and probably closer visually and more influenced by “Ultimate Spider-Man” but it is also very much a world of our own devising.

andrew garfield spider man marvel sony1 Spider Man director Marc Webb feels a responsiblity to reinvent the hero

Andrew Garfield (Sony)

GB: Villains are just as important as the good guys in this contemporary superhero cinema and, arguably, more important. What can you say about your villain?

MW: I have to dodge that question. I can tell you this much — it’s a new villain, something we haven’t seen before and villains help define the story in a very specific way. Marvel villains — and Spider-Man villains in particular– are rich and complicated and interesting and Rhys [Ifans] has done just a fantastic job in translating that and there will be a lot of new things to explore for the fans. They’re tragic in the Greek sense, meaning it’s a competing idea of what’s good. They’re not just guys, they’re people trying to do good or to do the right thing and on that journey that effort becomes subverted or manipulated or it sours. It makes for a much more compelling adversary. In the Marvel Universe, traditionally, the villains have more texture. This is open to interpretation because there are so many incarnations of the villains over the years and it varies, but the [tradition is there]. Tom Stoppard was on Charlie Rose’s show once and he said what makes great drama is competing ideas of what is good, and there’s no better mythological version of that than what you see in Marvel.

spider man andrew garfield1 Spider Man director Marc Webb feels a responsiblity to reinvent the hero

"The Amazing Spider-Man" (Columbia Pictures)

GB: The Raimi films were huge moneymakers and remain relatively fresh in the public’s mind. Is stepping out of that shadow your biggest challenge?

MW: We’ll have to see. The truth is I don’t know. For me, it’s enough of a reinvention that it is a different Peter Parker. In the comics there’s just ongoing sagas. Why can’t we do that cinematically? What the truth was: I like the other movies and I was a little bit skeptical but then I asked myself if I wanted to see [this new story and interpretation] and the answer was yes. I was interested in that universe and I believe I have something to say that’s different enough to be worth my time. I think there’s a lot to explore as far as the adolescent quality of this superhero and just seeing him in high school again gives you so much to mine in terms of behavior and story and the contemporary mythological context of high school and what it is.

GB: Is Comic-Con a make-or-break moment for you?

MW: Legends of Hall H — people should write songs about it. A lot of our credibility is based on fan perception in some way. I’m really excited to connect with the fans. I feel like we’ve been a little bit under the radar in terms of our communication. I think it’s a great way to announce the new qualities that we’re putting out there and just connect with the audience in a way that we haven’t before.

— Geoff Boucher


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30 Responses to ‘Spider-Man’ director Marc Webb feels a ‘responsiblity to reinvent’ the hero

  1. Irving Forbrush says:

    The usual dog and pony PR show trotted out before a comic-con appearance. I note that a huge difference in Webb and Raimi is that Raimi actually grew up reading the Spider-Man comic books and came to this movie after several feature films. Webb came to the material because of being hired to direct a movie about Spider-Man after only one feature film. Every shot and moment I've seen of this movie screams TWILIGHT. And almost every fan I've spoken to HATES what they've seen of the costume and Garfield in the role. Good luck in overcoming that. I'll only go see it if some kindred pals see it and say it is worth it.

    • sd;flkjsd says:

      Actually, Webb also grew up reading comics. Don't talk about what you don't know about.

    • Casey T says:

      And it's funny, in addition to sd;flkjsd's comment, most super fans (myself included) are really excited for the new direction of the series. I think Garfield is about as pitch perfect casting as you could ever hope for and pretty much every new detail fuels my intrigue for the film.

      Don't think that just because you're a more pretentious fan than most, you're a better one.

    • hsgahbahba says:

      Im a huge spider-man fan since I was eight, and Im truly excited about this film. Those Twilight comparisons you keep talking about are based in your own stubborness, cause there is NOTHING in those secenes that is remotely close to the Twilight crap.

    • Mr. Pilgrim says:

      Marc Webbs one feature film is infact one of the most unique and best films to have been made in a long time, so the fact the he is taking is tremendous directing ability to the world of Spiderman makes me more excited than you will ever know. And I'd rather see Andrew Garfield play Spiderman than Tobey Maguire any day.

    • Terrence says:

      Yeah thanks for your winey pessimistic dribble, the whole world feels a lot better now.

  2. Sophie says:

    I think I'm one of the few Spidey fans completely disgruntled by the Raimi flicks, which bore me to tears. This DOES look like pseudo-adolescent angst.

  3. Beck says:

    I'm dying to see it. Love every image that's been released and cannot wait to see what Marc Webb brings to it!

  4. reddog says:

    You can't show teenage angst with actors who are in their mid 20's. If Webb was going to do that, he should have stuck with younger actors, you don't go with actors who are as old as the first cast. It seems silly and his a little pompous from his part not growing up with the stories. Every director who has helmed the movies and has been successful did the movies with a respect toward the source material which included the look.

    • SuperSloth says:

      Have you never a seen a very popular uk show called the inbetweeners, about 4 kids just finishing 6th form at the age of 17 – 18, which is all about the problems teenagers go through. and all the actors are in there mid twenties and play teenagers perfectly.

  5. Drew says:

    I find it kind of pathetic how people are still hating on this movie. The trailer, you have to admit, looks a LOT better than the slop we were fed with Raimi's Spider-Man. Garfield is a promising actor who can bring a lot to the table with his portrayal of Peter Parker. I read somewhere in an interview with Steve Kloves that said that this movie would be focusing * a lot* on the characters and the characters' relationships with one another. I was worried at first and thought that the web-slinging would take a backseat in comparison to the dialogue, but by the looks of the first-person scene with Spidey jumping, crawling and swinging his way through New York, I have a feeling that the action sequences will be incredible.

    The only miff I have with this trailer is the physical quality of it. Use a better camera next time, folks! Lol.

    • Tucker says:

      I’m going to have the unpopular opinion of the trailer here: I didn’t care for it.

      I like nearly everything I’ve seen about the movie so far, but that trailer was too dreadfully serious. I didn’t get a sense at all of this playful quality Webb is talking about, something that for as somewhat “cartoony” the Raimaguire films were they often lacked as well. And one can only hope that the first person POV stuff is only restricted to the trailer. I felt like I was watching that awful ‘Doom’ movie again.

      This article keeps me interested in what Webb brings to the table. That trailer underwhelmed, though.

      • hasbdhjabsdb says:

        well, you make a good point there. When I saw the trailer, I thought "this is moving closer to a 'Batman Begins'-esque dark tone"; now I read this interview abiout the film being playful and stuff, and I dont see that in the trailer (which I loved, anyway). It's more teenage angst driven than playful, IMO

  6. George McQuade says:

    I agree, there are not enough of these hero movies that inspire kids to do good things as much as there was when we were kids growing up. That's my two cents. Maybe we'll see #GreenLantern II or better, yet, a new Green Lantern TV series like they did in the 60's in the UK.

  7. Jae West says:

    I can not believe no one has picked up on what Webb has said about this film. I think he ripped a page out of the Nolan School of How to Direct a Comic Book movie. He took a perfectly good cast and is combining it with a good story. That is what made Superman good. That is what made the Batman series so good and I believe that is what will make this film exceptional. In my opinion I think this movie will beat out The Avengers next year. Why? Because the quality of the movies were average and now they want to do a tie in with all the characters. If this movies doesn't beat The Avengers as far as profit go, I think that it will beat it in quality. I'm just sayin'!

  8. Guest says:

    I'm hoping that this series is to the current Spiderman as "The Dark Night" series was to original Batman movies. If these pull in a sense of reality and characters that aren't one dimensional, like Dark Night did, then this reboot will be awesome. It may even eclipse the original Spidermans in quality and likability even if they end up not being as "can-I-put-it-on-a-Slurpee-cup" commercial.

  9. Bader says:

    I see his vision and i wanna be able to see it in the movie so i will definetly be on board… But that suit is just terrible!

    Still gunna do my best to be positive

  10. Mr.Spiderman says:

    I know right! I hate that suit to!:)

  11. Irving Forbrush says:

    Boy, Sony's PR blitz didn't stop with the Comic-Con staged crap ("nervous" Garfield in Spidey PJs going all out to pull at the heartstrings) but all their assistants are still beating the drum over here with the comments on this interview. Webb's only connection to a Spidey comic is his last name. The studios and the producers obviously didn't want a strong-willed filmmaker like Raimi (who has more experience making ENTERTAINING movies than Webb EVER will), they wanted someone they could dictate to and cram their toy dreams down his throat and being a second-time director he would do whatever they demanded. Let's look at the record (check his imdb). How many films has Webb directed? How many GENRE films has Webb filmed before? What has he the most experience at directing? Music videos. Emo-music videos.

    Go over to AICN. Check every Talkback on every article showcasing pics of Garfield in the Spider-Man costume. What do the fans say? They HATE the costume. Why? Because of the design change? No, because it is just plain ugly and looks like it was designed by…,sigh, someone who doesn't give a damn about the original source material and just creating something so different that the producers can make more money off of NOT looking like the original costume design.

    I'm not a hater. I had hoped we'd get a decent film. The more and more I see and coupled with the desperation on Sony's part to get the fans to embrace the costume and film it only seems the worse this film will turn out to be. No one is excited to see it. The dread it!

  12. Alex says:

    Im not liking the images …
    Bet he will mess it up like they always do in the spider films
    Why cant they just keep it simple? …
    Any spider story is aswome … so why try to " reinvent " what has always been great ?
    Thats the big problem
    i wll see the movie anyways but it gets me down knowing it's gonna suck
    Trying to make movies up to date makes it like the 3rd one ( all emo )
    well i guess i dont have to complain cuz i cant do anything about it

  13. Karen says:

    I just recently researched Marc Webb after hearing the hype about the new Spiderman movie. I was amazed to see that he has a twin out there, a man by the name of Randy Frey, he is associated with Glass Cage Productions. In some photos I cannot tell the two apart. Check it out!

  14. oscar de jesus says:

    if the other spider man movies where good why fix it, why now adays evey trilogy has to have a prequel ii dont get it you know spider man had other opponents, you dont really have to go back to the story and tell it again

  15. Webhead says:

    I'm a long time Webhead fan, I enjoyed the Ramini Films, BUT i do belive based on the images we've seen and Garfeild's commitment to Peter Parker will make for a far superior franchise. The introduction of the webshooters and beginning with Gwen Stacy will provide a better story. :)

  16. Russell says:

    My beef with the trailer is this film is going to devote a lot of time to origin. Fans already know he got bit by a spider and even non fans know this. Do we really need to spend a quarter of the movie explaining who spidey is?

    Too many great web slinger stories out there to reintroduce the character every ten years.

  17. Marvin says:

    Im a HUGE fan of spidey comics. Especially ultimate spiderman. I honestly liked Raimi’s trilogy. But they did mess up some of the villans eg. Venom and green goblin. The villan’s characters were great but some costumes were bad. Plus, why did Raimi’s peter become spiderman after High school. I LOVE this new spiderman. Why? Because it reflects and reminds me of the comics more. Its great that they changed the suit because if they kept the first one it would look like an imposter in a spidey suit due to the gafield’s different build. However, I wish spiderman would have cracked a joke in the trailer. I loved the trailer and want to see another one. I cant wait!

  18. roundglasskeys says:

    As a fan of the comics who:

    1. Has grown up reading the comics, even the first few (reprints, anyway)
    2. Watched all three previous Raimi movies
    3. Has watched the trailer
    4. Can't be arsed to read the entire shitload of comments, no matter worthy they may be

    The trailer looks Ultimate Spidey fine. The movie IS based more on Ultimate Spidey. It's less campy, sure. And it's obviously a darker version which retains much less of the simpler, though no less angsty image that Stan and Steve originally drew out (which was from a previous era, and thus less "complex" than that of today's). So quit whining about how it's not gonna measure up to the previous movies (for those people out there who liked them). I for one am stoked to see it.

    And for those detractors of the previous movies, it doesn't matter much to you, but I liked them. They were fun. There was cheese and whine, but the movies weren't terrible. Maguire played the old-school stay-at-home nerd quite well, I felt. Kirsten Dunst…well, sadly miscast, altho she gave a fair performance. But they weren't utter failures.

    And will people quit whining about the webshooters? The organic web was fine! And so will the proper webshooters be! Marvel itself has rendered so many versions and reinterpretations of Spidey that honestly, the films can't compete in terms of sheer diversity.

    So, despite my overly long post here (which probably speaks more of my time usage than it should), my opinion is basically this:

    Quit whining and enjoy the damn movie.

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  20. Andy says:

    I get the impression from this interview that Webb’s movie may have all the emotion and humor that Sam’s regrettably lacked, and that’s a good thing. That said, there are at least as many red flags in what he said as there are positive signs.

    He keeps coming back to the idea of reinvention, that he felt the project was only worthwhile if he could make it about his vision. That kind of ego-driven approach can work out sometimes, but generally speaks of a lack of passion for the material.

    That he repeatedly cautioned readers to expect the comic influence to come from Ultimate Spidey concerns me, as in many ways the Ultimate comics stand for precisely the opposite of what Marvel comics traditionally do. What defines Spider-Man has always been its positivity and optimism no matter how dire the circumstances, and the Ultimate insistence on “darker” stories runs counter to that. An Ulimate Spider-Man adaptation is very different from a Spider-Man adaptation.

    Webb’s description of what constitutes an outsider today is especially disturbing, as it clearly comes from a person who’s never been in Peter Parker’s shoes. “Nerds are running the world” and “nerds are no longer pariahs” are glib statements that could only be made by someone who doesn’t really understand what a nerd is or how they’re treated. A “punk” kid has a different set of experiences, and if Webb’s understanding of the character is that fundamentally flawed, then how can he hope to capture the emotional life that he says will drive the film?

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed, as relatable emotion and humor are central to Spidey, and it sounds like those are primary to his focus. At the same time, Webb’s interview created a lot of doubt for me that he’s capable of doing the material justice.

  21. Tom says:

    I have almost no hope that this movie will be anything but awful. So far, almost everything I've seen has made me pine for Spiderman 1 and 2.

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