Every time Hollywood brings a superhero to life, you hope that they refine it and come close to perfecting it each time around. Look at the evolution of Batman for example, especially when the image that had been established for so long was Adam West, then Tim Burton and after taking a dip before Christopher Nolan came around. Spider-Man on the other hand was established through cartoons for so long, and a brief TV movie was all that we had before visual effects and Sam Raimi came along. Then those films took a dip too, and after speaking with director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) and Golden Globe-nominated actress, Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy) at Wondercon in Anaheim Saturday, as well as watching a six minute clip of footage, you get the sense that this just might be that big step towards perfection.
Some of the highlights, which showed a surprisingly large amount of footage finished and unfinished (in post production) included geek out moments (Beware of some spoilers):
1. Peter making web fluid and testing mechanical web-shooters.
2. There’s a scene where the Lizard (Rhys Ifans) is looking in the mirror, hiding his stumped arm and standing in a way so that he could remember what it felt like having two arms. Then seeing a cut scene later where you get to see Lizard’s arm grow back.
3. Peter stands up to Flash Thompson while bullying another kid in school.
4. There’s a fun scene between Peter and Gwen talking in school while Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) tries to nudge his nephew along.
5. There was a lot more actions scenes shown with Spider-Man and Lizard.
But before the day started, in the press room, the thought on everyone’s mind was, why this story again (the origin) and why so soon?
“We’re telling the story in a different way,” said Webb. “I think it’s important when you’re redefining a character to let the audience to experience things they haven’t experienced from the ground up. I wanted to build a character and I feel point of view is really crucial to the story. You have to build up all the emotional building blocks so that you can experience all the other (later) emotions in a very specific way rather than experience it in just an intellectual way. That’s why we start the story with his parents and that being pulled from him you want to feel what that sense of abandonment feels like as an audience member so you can readily and appropriately identify.And then we’re creating a different universe with a different tone and different villains. We are very careful to respect the iconography of Spider-Man but we wanted to tell it in a different way.
As for what Webb found an interesting angle in seeing where to redefining Peter Parker and Spider-Man, he remembered back to when he read that comics and felt that Parker always had a chip on his shoulder, and that there was this rock star humor and attitude.
“I like this Peter Parker with a little chip on his shoulder,” said Webb. “In Amazing Spider-Man #8, there’s this moment where Flash and Peter are sort of going at each other in this boxing match and you can hear what Peter is saying. Peter gets a little surly and I like that. There’s this attitude, this punk rock humor and trickster quality that probably comes from being distrustful”
“There is a story about Peter’s parents and where he came from. I thought it was really interesting to explore the emotional consequence of someone who left them at a very young age.For someone like that to become a hero is I think a really interesting story. What we tried to do is find something emotionally grounded and felt very real.”
Casting Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker
Webb briefly recapped a story of Garfield’s screen test that he couldn’t’ stop watching because of the layered performance. But beyond all of that, the ability to emotional depth, heartbreaking tragedy, and both spoken and physical comedy, why Garfield was the one out of an endless search was that he had a very unique gift as an actor.
“He is EMPHATIC about finding authenticity in emotional reality in a scene. He will not reach for jokes, or any other emotion that does not feel real or authentic. That is an enormous gift and a very difficult thing for an actor because they’re often asked to do things that are really crazy. When you have to react to a lizard that looks like a tennis ball it’s a tricky, very difficult piece of craft. He could do that and feel real and it was exceptional. That is a very very rare combination to find in an actor and it you become increasingly aware how rare it as you try to find it.He’s an exceptional craftsman in that regard and the ability to do humor is so crucial because it’s in the DNA of this character.”
Being a fan of Webb’s previous film, 500 Days of Summer which starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, I wanted to ask both Webb and Stone about exploring Gwen Stacy, because she has such a limited exposure to the mainstream (seen briefly portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard in Spider-Man 3) as well a very brief but powerful moment in the decades worth of comics. The combination of Webb’s skill in writing modern relationships, I had a feeling that we would see a big concentration on the Parker-Stacy romance and it would serve the story well
“Peter Parker eventually learns about sacrifice through Gwen. In order to adequately learn that lesson you have to feel that really strong bond. I remember the first time you meet a girl in high school and that you get to share something with that girl that you wouldn’t otherwise with any other people that creates a bond and intensity that has a lot of currency. When you get that opportunity to be honest and open with somebody for the first time and share things about yourself you haven’t been able to share, they might be ashamed of or scared about, that’s smart. She’s got this scientific quality, she’s in sort of a weird position–stuck between the men in her life.
“Yeah,” Stone chimed in. “Her duty to her father and her duty for her boyfriend.She’s a real confidant to Peter. Their intimacy is such an incredible element and I think Gwen has been in control her whole life. She’s the oldest daughter of a police chief and is constantly terrified he is going to die everyday. She’s smart because she has to be, a valedictorian because she has to be, she has to take care of things and be responsible for her family. Being able to let go and trust somebody who puts himself in the face of death everyday too? [laughs] Great now she’s drawn to another person who could die at any moment and she has to keep it secret. Pick and choose between her first love her father of course like every girl, the first man in her life or her first boyfriend? It’s a pretty complex situation for Gwen and there’s a lot of sadness and fear in her life combined that she’s outwardly confident and strong and smart and takes no bullshit. She’s soft and 17 underneath it all.”
Webb added, “There’s a great source of drama and Gwen is at the center of it all in these competing ideas of what’s good. Everyone’s heart is in the right place but they execute their plans in different ways. That goes for the Lizard/Curt Connors as well. Gwen in particular is stuck between the captain, and Peter Parker/Spider-Man, who have different ways of finding justice in their lives. I think that’s a really fun thing to explore.”
“Emma brought us a level of humor and levity that Andrew really responded to [so much so that they're dating in real life]. There was this immediate sense of lightness in the interaction and that tracks really beautifully on screen. When you have that you just want to spend time with them. There’s a spontaneity on the set and a real, and I don’t know how much Andrew did improvisation training but you could tell that Emma did because they were just [snaps fingers quickly] firing it off and that was REALLY cool to have in the heart of a very big, huge movie with a lot of visual effects, and a lot of pressure on a lot of days. Then you have this wistful spirits who are just snapping. That was a real joy to watch.”
No Emma Stone never read comics as a kid and her first exposure to the character was like many young adults, the Sam Raimi trilogy. But after reading the infamous Gwen Stacy arc in Amazing Spider-Man, Stone felt like she had some back story to the Peter Parker-Mary Jane relationship because “He’s gone through something so horrible traumatic in his life, and he has such a sense of guilt that it added so much to the story. I was excited to get to be a part of bringing that story to life.”
At the end of the day, Stone realized that despite the big movie sets, and the historic characters, the movie is grounded in reality and that it’s just acting between two people. It’s universal and very human.
“There’s so much material when it comes to Spider-Man,” Stone said. “I did the Help right before it but that was one book, but this is 50 years of material. So there’s different incarnations of Gwen. I realized you can’t please everybody. You were cast because there were hoping you could bring this character to life the best way you know how. In the end of the day I hope people are satisfied and I know that not everybody will be. That’s one of those trials of being human [laughs] I guess when you learn that not everyone will like you.
So is learning that with great power comes great responsibility. Look for Amazing Spider-Man in theaters July 3.
Panel photos were taken by Lucky Bronson.