the amazing gwen stacy
The latest chapter in the never-ending story that is the Marvel universe hit cinemas a few weeks ago with another unwanted tale of Peter Parker and his teenage-superhero woes: The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The film covers familiar Spidey territory: Peter is just trying to have a normal life, but an endless parade of genetic-experiments-gone-wrong keep pouring out of Oscorp’s labs and interfering with his plans. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 sticks to the status quo, following Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) as he breaks up with girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) almost immediately after the film begins, because he wants to keep her safe. Battles with villains Electro (Jamie Foxx) and the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) ensue, with predictable results.
If it seems like I can’t be bothered outlining the plot of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, that’s because I can’t. We’ve seen enough incarnations of this story by now that a synopsis is no longer necessary. Besides, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is – in this humble reviewer’s opinion – an absolutely terrible film. It hits all the wrong notes – bad pacing, too many villains, and a plot that recycles elements from the reboot’s first instalment. And talk about lazy writing! Painfully expositional dialogue, an abundance of telling rather than showing, and reliance on tired stereotypes that seem to have been used to save time. Why create a nuanced, complicated, morally ambiguous character when you can simply give him a German accent and have him narrate his evil plans? Who needs more explanation than this guy has tattoos and a Russian accent – he’s obviously a criminal, who cares why. Have we travelled back in time here? UGH. I could not get out of that cinema fast enough.
It’s worth noting, however, that I’m almost entirely alone in this opinion. On the night I saw it, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had an 85% rating on RottenTomatoes.com, (though this has since decreased) and reviewers more prolific than I seem to be utterly in love with the sequel, praising it for it’s ‘emotional core’ and ‘spectacular’ visual effects. I found the score positively grating, and completely lacking in subtlety; others have called it a ‘brazenly eclectic’ enhancement. I have wondered more than once whether or not I saw the same film as everybody else. Although I love superhero films with what might be considered an unreasonable passion, I’ve been forced into the odd conclusion that perhaps The Amazing Spider-Man 2 just wasn’t made with me in mind.
That said, there was one saving grace, one glimmer of hope in an otherwise badly-directed dark place: Emma Stone’s subversion of the damsel-in-distress trope – otherwise known as Gwen Stacy.
Gwen Stacy really saved this film for me. Despite my lack of investment in her and Peter’s second breakup, and despite the fact that the portions of the film dealing with Gwen and Peter’s relationship felt like the projectionist had accidentally spliced a rom-com into the middle of this so-called action movie, and despite the fact that neither Garfield nor Stone did a particularly impressive acting job; despite all of these misgivings, Gwen Stacey remains the one redeeming feature of this otherwise execrable piece of cinema. Why? Because Gwen Stacy shows that mainstream cinema just might be starting to listen its feminist critics, and heeding their advice.
Gwen Stacy is smart. She is a scientist, and there isn’t a single mention of science being a man’s world, or a moment in which this blonde is portrayed as ditzy or too emotional to do her job. When Peter webs Gwen to a car hood to prevent her following him into battle, she frees herself – and calls him on it. Calls him a caveman, to be precise. On several occasions, she reminds Peter that he does not get to make her choices for her: she’ll be the one to decide if being in a relationship with Spider-Man is too dangerous and she’ll be the one to decide whether or not she gets to come along on his New-York-saving missions. She reminds Peter – and the audience – constantly that she is not a moron, and that despite the fact that she’s the love interest, she can actually be useful in tough situations. She is the one who helps Peter redesign aspects of his Spidey-Suit so that he can fight Electro without damaging it, and she uses her scientific knowledge to help defeat the villain in Spider-Man’s final battle with him. Gwen Stacy is freakin’ awesome, and, for the most part, the film lets her be awesome. It’s amazing.
Without wanting to spoil things for those who haven’t seen it yet, it’s disappointing that the film eventually ends the way that it does: it felt to me like all the good work the film had done in making a strong, interesting, smart, capable love-interest was undone in the film’s final half hour. Nevertheless, Gwen Stacey remains a sign of Hollywood’s potential: they can make great female characters, if they really put their minds to it.