By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood July 19, 2013 at 6:00AM
I grabbed "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" director Marc Webb for a Comic-Con chat --he'll meet the fans at Friday's panel in Hall H at 5:30 pm. For him, the follow-up was not only about continuing the rite of passage of Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker, but also learning more about the vernacular of tentpole movies. After all, Webb's only prior feature experience was helming "(500) Days of Summer," so he's still facing a steep learning curve in handling the demands of the superhero genre.
"There's a real playfulness to the cinematic quality of the battles and the scope of it is massive," Webb admits. "That said, on the first movie I didn't know the language of big movies because I was tentative about it. And on this one I was much more aggressive about the big cinematic qualities. I remember I saw the first movie on an IMAX screen really late in the editing game and I'd already made some important choices about the point of view shots and I cut that down significantly. But when I saw it on the big screen, I thought I really should've let that play out.
"The first movie was about whether Peter Parker could be Spider-Man; this movie is about whether Spider-Man can be Peter Parker. He starts out the film with a level of virtuosity and confidence because being Spider-Man is so much fun. But his life as Peter Parker is also about suffering and there are so many dilemmas. The promise to stay away from Gwen [Emma Stone] after the death of her father is played out very early on. It puts them both in a difficult but infinitely relatable position. He has to confront this idea that loving someone sometimes means letting go." In other words, permanence is not a part of Parker's life.
In the sequel, Parker/Spidey is pitted against a new villain, Max Dillon/Electro (played by Jamie Foxx), who's been neglected and unloved and craves the recognition. In fact, he admires Spidey, which he takes to extremes. There's a new teaser introducing the baddie's electrifying powers that you can view below, and Webb found the possibilities very intriguing.
There's a feeling of unworthiness that leads to one of two things in these movies: an act of heroism or an act of destruction. The pure physicality of the villain is something extraordinary and very visual. "Spider-Man's most powerful weapon is his web-slinging, but as soon as his web comes in contact with someone pulsating electricity -- the power of a thousand third rails moving through the web -- how do you fight that? You have to rely on something deeper, some cleverness that is uniquely Spider-Man. Electro becomes an elemental, god-like creature like Poseidon and Zeus. And to unleash that monstrosity on New York was [thrilling]."
To represent that visually, Webb went for a less CG intensive approach with Sony Imageworks visual effects supervisor Jerome Chen. He wanted a more practical way of conveying Foxx's performance through a design that was still mystical and terrifying. "We looked at clouds with electrical storms inside them that created that flash of obscure, pulsating light that comes from an oncoming storm. We went for a memonic that was provocative and iconic."
And in Foxx the director found the right combination of charisma and unpredictability. "Jamie has a lot of layers. He can do comedy without undermining the reality of the character. He walks a fine line without being absurd. And there's a pathos and you buy that. I wanted somebody big and bold to embrace the more theatrical parts of that character."
But it's still about Peter Parker's evolving arc, which Garfield provides through a combination of strength and vulnerability. This is about first love and there are sacrifices to be made in being a superhero. "Relationships that are formed onscreen between Peter and Gwen interest me the most."
Webb doesn't like making distinctions between indie and tentpole movies. To him, it's merely a difference in scope and playing in a larger sandbox. It's his hope to at least finish the trilogy before returning to a smaller scale movie full of intimate possibilities.