At SXSW Film Festival’s first-ever film keynote presentation, director Marc Webb revealed a vision for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (opening May 2) that is bigger, more spectacular, and less tethered to reality than its predecessor. Responding to fanboy fears that the second installment of the rebooted franchise will, like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, become bloated with two villains, he promised that the attention would be focused squarely on Jamie Foxx’s Electro. As for Dane Dehaan’s Green Goblin, he would be a secondary threat, while Paul Giamatti’s Rhino would only be on-screen for just “four minutes.” Webb also debuted exclusive clips from the Amazing Spider-Man 2 soundtrack, which will feature a collaboration between composer Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Smiths veteran Johnny Marr, and Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger.
Talking to Rolling Stone, Webb responded to criticism of the first film, explained why Spider-Man moves like Pharrell, and why he tried to “unleash my inner [Michael] Bay.”
The Amazing Spider-Man was so much bigger than anything you’d made before. What did you learn?
There was a lot of trial and error — I was learning a lot of things. The visual effects took a long time. I wasn’t efficient, and I made a lot of mistakes, honestly.
What kind of mistakes do you think you made?
Philosophically, the grounded quality of things was important for the performances, but I think it limited some of the visual effects. I wasn’t as confident in the process of animating Spider-Man. But there’s this idea about mastery: You just want to get better at all the things you do.
A lot of filmmakers don’t admit that they make mistakes.
I have enormous confidence in this film, so it’s easier to talk about the process. For example, in the first movie, when we designed the Spider-Man suit, I wanted a suit that a kid could make out of materials he finds himself. That’s why the goggles were made of sunglasses. But they were too small; I didn’t quite understand how important those big iconic eyes were to people. This time, I threw away the idea that it had to be super-real. I thought, “It’s got to invoke the iconography of Spider-Man that people love.” And that was liberating, in a way.
So the second film will be more about the spectacle?
It’s always cool at a press conference to say, “I’m going to be so grounded,” but really, when you walk into the Spider-Man universe, you’re walking into a dream world. There are monsters and creatures that come out from under the bed — and they are made of electricity and will kill you if they touch you. But it’s also important to start from a real place. In the first movie, we got a lot of flack for retelling the origin story, and nobody really wanted me to do it. But I felt it was crucial because I wanted the audience to experience everything that Peter Parker experienced, so that their connection was fluid and deep. I thought the texture of his character was different than the Parker of Sam Raimi’s movies, so I knew I had to redefine that.
When you made the first Amazing Spider-Man, you actually turned down a script that was not an origin story, right?
It was different. It still had the Lizard in it, but it was a script that jumped ahead in time and relied on knowledge of the comic books that I don’t think everyone had. Tonally, it was a little more tongue-in-cheek and glib, and I didn’t feel the emotional connection. I just didn’t know how else to develop that bond than with an origin story. I feel like it pays off in this movie, because now Andrew Garfield embodies Peter Parker.
Quite a few people were upset because Peter tells Gwen that he’s Spider-Man.
It was controversial — but I don’t feel like a made a mistake. If I’m a kid, and I had a crush on a girl and I wanted to impress her, of course I’d be like, “Check this out!” Now that’s a problem for Peter, and it’s going to pose incredible difficulties for him in the long run, where he’ll learn why it’s important to conceal your identity.
When you’re making a film like this, how early do you think about trailer moments?
Trailer movements correspond to spectacle, and the bigness of the story you’re trying to tell. I don’t think about it in terms of a trailer, but I want the audience to be fucking thrilled. I told my friends I want to “unleash my inner Bay.”
As in your inner Michael Bay?
He’s a brilliant visualist who does something very few people in the world can do. In this film, there is a spectacle to things I want to embrace. If that’s used in service of creating drama for that character, and exploring a physical or emotional dilemma, then it feels great.
At the keynote, you revealed some of the soundtrack: Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Mike Einziger, and Johnny Marr all worked together on the theme for Electro, played by Jamie Foxx.
I really wanted to embrace the electronic nature of Electro. I told everyone I wanted to make Skrillex throw up his arms and retire because it would be so awesome. Then Hans plays me a Henry Purcell opera from the 17th century, an aria called “The Cold Song,” about a spirit that’s been summoned from the cold against its will and is begging to return. There’s this stuttering kind of vibrato that the character is using, and Hans immediately gravitated towards the idea that he’s being electrocuted. That shiver was the electronic pulse being sent through his veins. It started off as a nod to an opera, sped it up, and it ended up as a dubstep rave track that rattles the soul with a big sub-woofer.
With Pharrell riffing on a vocal track….
Hans and Pharrell worked on the Oscars together. So Pharrell came in, watched the movie, and immediately had so many ideas. So one day, he leaves, walks around the block and he comes back with a sheet of lyrics, and on it were the words for the voices in Max’s head: just whispers, with a rhythm and cadence to it. It’s phenomenal. Actually, the other interesting thing about Pharrell is that, in the first movie, one of the people Andrew studied was Pharrell: He studied that swagger, that trickstery quality in the music videos. And watching Pharrell helped inform how Andrew moved as Spider-Man.