In truth, neither is it quite as strange as it first appeared nor is Webb quite as under qualified. The Amazing Spider-Man may be his second feature, but he's directed countless music videos, full of spectacle and pizazz for everyone from the Pussycat Dolls to Green Day, that have been the route into features for many an accomplished director.And then there's 500 Days of Summer itself – a rare fresh take on that most stale of genres the rom-com, Webb managed to bring something new, harking back to the classic 80s staple of John Hughes pictures, while at the same time avoiding the schmaltz that all too often mars such films. He got great performances from his leads – no surprise from Joseph Gordon Levitt who's routinely charming and affecting, but he steered Zooey Deschanel (an actress I nearly always enjoy, but other find grating) away from her more 'kooky' tendencies, and to a touchingly recognisable portrait of a modern woman.
But then also consider the characters they're playing. Tom (Levitt) is a slightly nerdy young man, stuck in a drab life which is suddenly brought to technicolour (most strikingly in his Central Park song and dance number) by the arrival of the beautiful Summer (Deschanel) a feisty, independent girl who drags Levitt out of his hole. So, a nerdy, introverted young man and a feisty, attractive girl, apparently out of his league – not so far away from the Peter Parker/Gwen Stacy relationship of the comic books which is the focus of this new iteration of the web-slinger. 500 Days even has its own twist on the steady guidance provided by Peter's Aunt May, in the youthful presence of Tom's little sister Rachel (Chloe Moretz) who is the stable core of Tom's life, offering advice and comfort whenever needed, steering him away from self-pity and ruination.
Maybe Webb wasn't such a left-field choice after all.
The director himself has never seemed thrown by being handed such a large project – 'I don’t think about the size of it, I think about the story' - while making clear at all times it wasn't something he chased, ensuring he doesn't alienate those who yearned for Raimi to be given another bite at the cherry. He's been keen to stress the difference of this new origin tale in all the interviews, promising a more 'grounded' Spidey film than those that have come before. This should come as no surprise given the success of Christopher Nolan's Batman films and the poor reaction to Raimi's third, more fantastical, entry in the series.
This in itself has concerned many – worried at what a dark interpretation of Spider-Man may mean. But in fact I think Webb has this right – not dark, but grounded. The comic book Peter Parker has always been very much of the real world, envisioned by Stan Lee as a real teenager, living in the real New York, with real world problems. They may both be orphans but Parker's no Bruce Wayne millionaire playboy, with mansion and cave to protect his secret identity. He may be full of quips and put downs as he beats up foes and swings through the skyscrapers, but Peter Parker goes to school, works for a living to help support his aunt - he even has to make his own costume and web-slingers. If any superhero fits a grounded reality it's surely Stan Lee's meditation on the difficulties of teenage life. And Webb, a director who wrote and directed a hugely admired film, which managed to seem both grounded and yet existing in a slightly heightened reality, is surely well suited to a narrative where giant lizards and malevolent green goblins must exist alongside a realistic depiction of an orphan (with superpowers) coming to terms with his place in the world.
His talent for strong casting has also served him well. Andrew Garfield isn't an obvious choice, but he's stood out in Red Riding, Boy A and The Social Network – and according to Webb in a recent Guardian interview, is 'always about finding the reality in a scene; he's not just going to sit there and recite lines.' Garfield's joined by Emma Stone – an actor who's long deserved a chance to shine in a massive mainstream film after a string of superb performances in Superbad, Zombieland and Easy A. Her trademark flame red hair led many to assume she would make the perfect Mark Jane Watson (as previously played by the blond Kirsten Dunst) but instead she's playing Parker's true first love, Gwen Stacy. A feisty teenager, who fans of the comics know has a gripping story arc ideally placed to play out over a fresh trilogy of Spider-Man films. And Webb has promised she won't just be the screaming damsel in distress that Dunst played in the previous films.'That’s one of the things I really liked about Gwen Stacy,' Webb told screenrant.com. 'One of the great things about Emma Stone is that she is incredibly smart and very confident. Another thing about Gwen Stacy is that she’s a scientist. There’s a joke in the movie about her being first in her class and she’s actually a little bit smarter than Peter. Which I think is a really fun thing to play. I mean Emma is, she would recoil if she heard me say this, but she is a comedic genius. She is so funny.' Anyone who's seen her screen work couldn't disagree.
Early reviews have been positive, relieving fans who feared the first turkey of the summer was on the horizon. My own review will be on the site later in the week – but given what we know of Webb and the cast there's every reason to be hopeful Spidey is about to enter an exciting new cinematic chapter. As the man himself has said 'you have to be respectful of the iconography of Spider-Man but also bring something new. And give something of yourself that’s specific in you in order to make it worthwhile to make. And getting to meet Stan Lee is pretty great too.'
After all, if Marc Webb can bring something new to the rom-com, there's every reason to believe he'll do something interesting in the now saturated superhero movie genre.