While director Marc Webb clearly makes the story of Marvel Comics' iconic webslinger his own in "The Amazing Spider-Man," the filmmaker knew very well going into the project that like the previous movie installments featuring the character, connectivity with audience would be the key to the film's success.
"Right from the very beginning when I talked with the studio, I stressed that it was really important to establish a real, genuine connection between the audience and the characters," Webb told me in a recent interview. "That can only happen though finding the humanity in those characters and finding them relatable."
The relatable factor, in fact, is why Webb, 37, believes the character has resonated with people for so long. After all, most people have been in Peter Parker's shoes at one time or another, and for younger audience members, they'll get there soon enough.
"If you look at all the comic book characters out there, Peter Parker in 'Spider-Man' is really the most relatable superhero there is, or at least alter-ego of a superhero," Webb observed. "He's not an alien and he's not a billionaire -- he's a kid. And it's the nature of him in comics that makes him relatable to so many people."
"So what was exciting for me at the very beginning of the project was finding that dimension, and the chemistry between Peter and Gwen, and Peter and Aunt May -- that domestic quality, that takes up the lion's share of the beginning of the movie. It was really a big priority for me to establish that," Webb added. "The action is meaningless unless you care about the person in the suit."
"The Amazing Spider-Man" stars Andrew Garfield as Peter, a science whiz outcast who grows up with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) after his parents mysteriously abandoned him when he was a 7-year-old boy.
Discovering a clue to the disappearance that involves his scientist father (Campbell Scott) and former research partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), Peter finds access to Connors' lab at OsCorp, where he is fatefully bitten by a genetically-altered spider. Assuming the characteristics of the creature and eventually dubbing himself "Spider-Man," Peter finds himself on a collision course with Connors, whose experiments will turn him into the powerful foe the Lizard.
Opening in theaters in 2D, 3D and on IMAX screens Tuesday, the film also stars Emma Stone as Peter's girlfriend and confidant Gwen Stacy, and Denis Leary as her police captain father George Stacy.
Although he's blessed with the last name of Webb, taking the helm of a billion-dollar franchise like "Spider-Man" could land any filmmaker in a tangled mess, considering the mark original trilogy director Sam Raimi made with star Tobey Maguire.
To succeed, Webb felt that his approach had to come from an area of respect. Instead of ignoring the history of Raimi's films, Webb embraced them.
"I think what Sam and Tobey did was really extraordinary and was really loyal to the early comics in an aesthetic way. So it was very important for me early on to get Sam's and Tobey's blessing," said Webb, who previously directed the acclaimed romantic dramedy "(500) Days of Summer." "I've seen Tobey fairly regularly and he's been nothing but supportive, and Sam's been supportive, too."
Webb said the freeing aspect of taking the director's reigns after Raimi is that there's a wealth of "Spider-Man" stories to tell -- some of which that have been told from different points of view.
"Sam was just finished telling his root of the story, and this was my chance to give a different interpretation of the character," Webb said. "There are 50 years worth of Spider-Man comics, and it's not a closed canon like the seven Harry Potter books. With all the material, there are different illustrators, writers and artists that invented and reinvented the story. I started from a different root than Sam did, but I have a great respect and admiration for his films."
Without question, Webb's darker tone separates "The Amazing Spider-Man" from Raimi's "Spider-Man" trilogy, but the film still has its share of funny moments. In fact, Webb's creative use of Peter's web shooting -- which are created through a wrist-device this time instead of organically, like the original 'Spider-Man' movie trilogy -- supplies some of the most humorous moments.
"Peter Parker's a trickster, funny and whimsical, especially during a car thief scene in the movie where he's using the webs in new, interesting ways. It all has to do with the way he messes around with his prey, like a cat playing with its food," Webb enthused. "I was always looking for ways to reinvent little nuances with Spider-Man's abilities. There are things in the comics that are really great fun, and again, was just an example of how much material there was to choose from."
Definitely new for moviegoers material-wise in "The Amazing Spider-Man" was the full realization of the alter-ego of Connors, an incidental, supporting character in "Spider-Man 2" and "Spider-Man 3" played by Dylan Baker.
Ifans' version of the one-armed geneticist, we come to discover, isn't entirely an evil character: it's his amphibious, mutated alter-ego who wreaks all the havoc.
"I think that it's really important all characters, whether they're a villain or a hero, that they're honoring some sort of truth to themselves, and they want us to understand why they're doing what they're doing," explained Webb, who grew up in Madison, Wis. "Villains rarely think of themselves as villains -- convincing villains, anyway."
"If you look at Michael Mann's movie 'Heat,' you have great empathy for both those adversaries, and you understand very clearly why they want to stop each other or why they're at odds with each other," Webb added. "There have competing ideas of what people think is good."
The interesting dynamic within "The Amazing Spider-Man" is how Peter finds himself the middle of the conflict without a clear-cut definition of who he is or what he stands for. Instead of a straight-up good versus evil storyline, the film finds Spider-Man, at least in Capt. Stacy's perception, to just as much a menace to society as the real bad guys.
"It's much easier for audiences to empathize with Spider-Man's point of view, obviously, but at the heart of the conflict, there are three characters who are driving the narrative forward," Webb said. "There's the Lizard, who wants to wants to create a world without weakness and doesn't want to be an outcast; there's Capt. Stacy, who's all about law and order; and there's Peter Parker, who initially motivated by vengeance. His crime-fighting is incidental in the first half of the movie. He's trying to satisfy some dark part of his soul."
The turning point for Peter in film, though, is when the Lizard goes on a path of destruction on a bridge, where his victims whether intended or incidental, are mercilessly trapped. Struggling to save innocent victims, Peter discovers he has a responsibility.
"Spider-Man realizes that while they're all motivated by their own truths, he finds compassion," Webb said. "And truth without compassion is not a virtue."