With the summer movie season just a few short months away, studios are scrambling to generate interest in their upcoming blockbusters by releasing trailers, clips, images and other promotional materials to whet audience appetites. Sony Pictures has a unique challenge – and opportunity – in 2012 with The Amazing Spider-Man: Although director Marc Webb's film arrives on the heels of three hugely successful movies about the web-slinger, he and his distributor have the unenviable task of distinguishing his interpretation of the iconic superhero from its predecessors.
Following a presentation Saturday at WonderCon in Anaheim, Webb and his leading lady, Emma Stone, spoke with the press about the experience of reinventing Spider-Man for their upcoming film. In addition to talking about what source material they drew from, Stone offered some insights into her approach to love interest Gwen Stacy, while Webb explained how his film both builds upon and breaks away from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.
The Hollywood Reporter: How did it feel to take on an iconic superhero, especially since it hasn't been that long since audiences have seen a big-screen version of him?
Marc Webb: I think Spider-Man is a perennial character. He's something that has existed for 50 years and, he's very consistent. And to have the opportunity to render that cinematically is terrifying. But f—! It's so much fun. It was like, they called and said, "Hey, we want to talk to you about Spider-Man," and I [hung up]. I was like, are you kidding? What? What 17-year-old version of yourself, back in Madison, Wisconsin, expects to get that phone call?
Emma Stone: Not my 17-year-old version of myself in Madison, Wisconsin.
Webb: Well, it's really fun; it’s really exciting.
THR: When there are so many iterations of these characters, what do you draw upon – just the script, or do you familiarize yourself with the entire history of a character like Gwen Stacy?
Stone: There was a fair amount of research for me to do because I didn't read the comic books growing up, so of course I had a lot to brush up on. But for the most part, the definitive part of Gwen Stacy, more than anything, more than the different incarnations of her personality – because she was a hippie, she had twins with Norman Osborne, there were a lot of things we didn’t really touch on quite as much, and there were some updates to Gwen as well, because it’s present day – I think that Gwen's underlying factor remains incredibly sad, until what happens, which is incredibly tragic. Her father faces death every single day, her boyfriend faces death every single day, so she is constantly surrounded by an undercurrent of mortality. So she is in control and she is valedictorian and she is confident and smart because she has to be; she's constantly in the face of something, so that’s why her end is so much more tragic, because-
Webb: You’re making me really sad (laughs).
It seems like she’s much more of Peter's intellectual equal than maybe Mary Jane was.
Stone: Yes, because he's second in their class. I think that's a huge part of her attraction to Peter, that he's a stand-up guy in this version of the movie. I mean, from the very beginning, he displays some very heroic qualities, but he's mysterious to her; they haven't really ever connected even though they've been in school for a long time. So her attraction is very clear from the very beginning; it's not him coming after her, it's kind of more her interest is piqued by him.
Webb: In the comics, Gwen fell for Peter Parker, and Mary Jane was always more after Spider-Man.
Stone: Gwen is in love with Peter Parker in spite of him being Spider-Man. Because again, her father leaves every day and faces death, and what is Oedipal when it’s a female and her father?
Webb: Wow! High five! Good one.
Stone: I'm going to be saying that a lot over these coming months, and you're going to know it's because of you. But it is – I mean, the fact that her boyfriend is in the face of danger all of the time.
THR: How did you come up with the look of The Lizard, since there are different versions of him in the comics?
Webb: There's different iterations in the comics, but what was really important to me was that I wanted Rhys [Ifans]' character and humanity to show through The Lizard itself, and that meant having a visage that you could see the nuance of Rhys and that performance quality in there. We used a lot of performance-capture technology to let Rhys' performance come through; I mean, literally every moment is rendered from that input. It takes a massive quantity of work, and it's ongoing -- finding the nuances, the eyebrow moves, the lip curls. And when you’re trying to create a character that speaks, you have to create a mouth armature and a biologically working palate that can actually create words. I mean, in a comic book, you just put that thing up there, and you can say, oh, thought bubble, whatever. But when you try to do that and make it look real, it's a different challenge, and I'm creating a movie, I'm not creating a comic book. That was part of the design.
THR: How much work cinematically is done for you by the Raimi films?
Webb: It’s a totally independent universe, and we make different assumptions about certain parts of the character without subverting the iconography of Spider-Man. There are certain obligations we have -- like he wears a suit and he gets bitten by a spider -- but the context surrounding that is new and different and set off by an event that happens years before. And it's a new story in that sense.
THR: But you're in the unique position of taking over a franchise that was incredibly successful. Are you constantly saying "we want to distinguish ourselves" or playing off of those movies?
Webb: Well, there is a certain amount of things that we wanted to do in it, like the mechanical web-shooters, for example, which was partly a way to dramatize Peter Parker as a science whiz and his science abilities. But there’s things that we felt obligated to differentiate ourselves in a certain way. But really to me what was interesting is that it's a story about a kid who grows up looking for his father and finds himself. Right? And that’s something we haven't seen before, but everything emerges from that, and I wanted to define the movie according to those terms. And so it doesn't rely on that universe, it doesn't contradict it necessarily, but it's a different world.
THR: How much do you worry about the comparisons?
Webb: I'm aware, but I think we've done a really good job of redefining ourselves. And tone is something you can only understand when you see the movie itself, but I think when people start to see the materials, they really start to appreciate it in some way.
THR: What story arcs or eras from the comics influenced your interpretation of Spider-Man?
Webb: There's a few different things. [To Stone:] You kind of went over everything?
Stone: Over the comics? Yeah, it was also like so much material.
Webb: To me there's parts, like Gwen is a little bit more like The Amazing Spider-Man, early on, because in The Ultimates she was more of a punk rock girl, and we never went in that direction. I looked at the Mark Bagley art for the Spider-Man body – we were very specific about body type, and I really liked that work in The Ultimates. And there's something about the texture of the relationships, the romantic relationships in The Ultimates as well. But there’s also an attitude – in Spider-Man #8, in the Amazings, there is this confrontation between Flash and Peter, this boxing match, and Peter, in the Sam Raimi movies he's sort of unconsciously hitting this guy because he doesn't want to hurt him. But there's this attitude in #8 where he’s like: "F— Flash! He's crossed the line. I'm going to get in his face." And I really liked that attitude, and there was something that was very authentic to Spider-Man that manifests itself in a sort of trickster-y way. And I think Andrew is really funny and has this kind of lippy thing, but that comes from this sort of irreverent thing, which I think is also a symptom of the orphan story; there's a little bit of distrust towards the world and a little bit of "I don’t need you." He's an outsider by choice. And I feel like that's something that is new.
Stone: He wants you to hit him. He wants to get hit.
THR: How much of her knowledge that he's Spider-Man is central to the plot, and how much is that information she learns early on and the main story has other components to it?
Stone: I think she learns, and the story has other components to it.
Webb: I think it raises the stakes of their relationship. It doesn't happen immediately, but I think to me I liked the idea in terms of adolescent relationships, when you feel you can be open with somebody for the first time, it really connects people and makes that relationship more intimate. And people feel that, and I felt like it was something kids would do – it just made sense, like, of course you're going to want a confidant.
THR: So it’s not the "I'm going off to fight the final battle, but first I have to tell you something" moment?
Webb: Well, you'll just have to see.