Warning: This article will be very detailed and full of spoilers for the current Spiderman movie series. Proceed on your own peril.
So, this is the real start of the current series….I will post every two weeks, until I run out of interesting characters to talk about. But I might do a “normal” month once in a while, and Decembre is reserved for fairy tale month, as usual.
After all the time I spend on discussing the MCU in the introduction, it might look odd to start out with a character which is featured in one of the “other” Marvel movies. Gwen Stacy is a safe choice though, since her arc is pretty much finished at this point. Plus, she is a character I am really excited to write about.
What I thought about Spider-man beforehand:
Before the Rami movie came out, this was a character I liked. I watched the Spider-man shows in the 1990th. If there was anything which bothered me about his character than that never ever seems to go right for him (I also never got why he doesn’t sell his one-of-a-kind photos to a newspaper which pays better and doesn’t publish polemic articles). I mean it is nice to see a hero with real people problems, but there are real people problems and there is bad luck on a Donald Duck scale.
Then the trilogy happened and I developed a dislike for the character. All the contrived nonsense which ruins his life combined with his constant whining about stuff he could change if he really wanted really put me off. And yes I am very aware that being unhappy is kind of a thing for Spider-man. But there is whiny, and there is whiny with a capital nyyyyyyyyya.
When the reboot of the Spiderman franchise was announced, I reacted pretty much like anyone else. I didn’t really see the point of a reboot so shortly after the first trilogy, especially since I was pretty much tired of Spiderman either way. And the motivations behind the reboot were more than iffy. I am not that unreasonable that I act as if Sony is the devil incarnate for wanting to keep a right they have paid for. But it’s nevertheless a bad circumstances for making a movie.
What I think about the Reboot:
To my surprise, I like it. In fact, The Amazing Spider-man is the first Spider-man movie I felt compelled to watch multiple times, so on my personal list, it is my favourite Spider-man movie – and not as a guilty pleasure, I think it is a genuinely good movie. Not perfect, but good.
A lot has to do with the approach. The original trilogy looked very much like a moving comic, but the tone was often so goofy, I had a hard time to take it seriously. And the American flags in every other shot didn’t help. I burst out laughing when Peter walked off the cemetery in Spider-man 1, the flag in the background with the swelling music. It was just so ridiculous (and yes, I do get that this was in the aftermath of 9/11 when emotions run high, but that is already a weak excuse for the second and no excuse for the third movie).
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Spider-man 1 and 2 upon the first watch. They were very impressive back then and their influence on Superhero movies is undeniable. But I never had the desire to own one of those movies. The only part I watched multiple times was the train scene of Spider-man 2 (there is a reason why this one became iconic), and they didn’t generate enough interest in me to even look forward to Spider-man 3. The only reason I finally watched that one was because I felt I had to for this review. So I guess I was a little bit more open minded towards a different approach on the material than those who really enjoyed the first trilogy might have been. Here are five points in which I consider the new Spiderman better than the old:
1. Better Casting
And that is not a diss towards the main actors of the original trilogy, they mostly do a good job, even though the actors seemed to have mostly picked on the grounds of looking similar to the comic counterparts. But more or less everyone else doesn’t. With some of the extras I was wondering if they were reading the text off some invisible teleprompter, so wooden is the performance. In TAS there hasn’t been any hooky acting so far. Plus, it has Sally Field! Who might not look like Aunt May, but delivers an outstanding performance (to be fair, she has a better dialogue to work with, too). Strangely the one character for which they should have paid attention to the optic during the casting but didn’t was Spider-man. I always had a very hard time with Toby Maguire in this role simply because he is build kind of stocky. In the costume, he doesn’t look like a human spider at all. Andrew Garfield on the other hand is roughly the same size, but has this very lithe built and overly long fingers. And he has the movements down to a t.
2. Better Origin Story
The problem I always had with the original trilogy is that I never bought Peter Parker as Spider-man. Not just because of his built but also because of the way he acts in his Peter Parker persona. I know that Peter Parker is supposed to be a nerd, but this version is so freaking awkward and insecure, I have a really hard time believing that he would turn into the wise-cracking Spiderman over night. Plus, the way he tests out his abilities is just stupid, especially when he decides to jump off a roof in a first test. Who the hell does that?
TAS on the other hand gives me the impression that someone sat down and really considered what kind of person would be comfortable with swinging through the air like this. A skate boarder, who else (well, a roller blader or half-pieper but a skateboard is easier to add). This Peter is more a loner than a nerd, but exactly because he is more someone who is constantly overlooked than someone who is truly shy, it makes sense that he would enjoy the attention he gets as Spider-man. I also like that he creates the web shooters himself instead of having the webbing coming magically out of the wrong part of his body (that part was really stupid in the original trilogy imho, even if it does solve the never-ending cartridges problem).
But most of all I love how much time is spend on him becoming spider-man, how he has to learn to measure his strength, to control his abilities. When he jumps of the roof, it feels like the logical next step and not like a suicidal act of stupidity. With him it is a step by step process. First he is just testing his abilities. Then he starts searching for his uncle’s murderer. Then he wears the mask to protect his identity. Then he figures out that swinging is fun. And finally he picks up the spandex suit because it allows him faster movement, culminating in the moment when he swings on the reflecting window and the audience finally gets a view on spider-man in full costume (if this had been the first spider-man movie ever, I bet this would have become an iconic scene). I just love that the writers even bothered to take logistic problems into account, like where he leaves his stuff when he is swinging around.
Now I realize that the original trilogy stayed much closer to the comics. But I nevertheless like the new take better. For one, Uncle Ben feels like a person, not like some sort of walking fortune cookie. And I also like his message better. “With great power comes great responsibility” is a great catch phrase, but it has also the power aspect in it. This Uncle Ben basically says that you should use your gifts (whatever they are) responsible and if you can help other people, you should do it. This puts the responsibility on everyone, never mind if they have superpowers or not.
Peter actions are way more understandable because he is still a teenager, not a young adult, and he obviously goes through a process of finding himself and dealing with the resentment he feels towards his parents for leaving him. And I also liked the fact that he always was a hero. He didn’t need the superpowers to become one, he was ready to take a beating to protect someone else beforehand. But more importan: This movie is not afraid to give Peter some true culpatibility in the death of Uncle Ben. I always felt that the original trilogy (and by extension the comics) kind of excused him. There was no reason for him to believe that the guy who leaves the office of his corrupt boss is not just someone who took what was promised to him and will go and shot some random passerbye, nor could he know that Uncle Ben would be there. But in the new story, the one reason Uncle Ben is even out there is because Peter first stormed out and then hid from him. Peter knows fully well that the guy who robs the store could be dangerous, but he doesn’t care in that moment. And because he didn’t care, Uncle Ben stepped up and died. That is a way more powerful motivator in my eyes, because Peter’s desire for revenge is for a large part born out of guilt, and his later shift to be the hero is born of the desire to be what Uncle Ben wanted him to be.
3. Better Action Scenes
Naturally the technology has developed since the first movie, so TAS has quite an advantage over the original movies. But that’s not the reason why I give TAS the edge.
Yes, the train scene in Spider-man 2 is iconic. Yes, the settings are gigantic. But that aside, I don’t think that the action scenes of the first trilogy are that memorable. They tend to be overly long, repetitive and often the fighting didn’t look that convincing. TAS works mostly with a smaller scale. But the stakes feel much higher. Partly because the first movie establishes early on that there are boundaries to Peter’s power, that he still can get hurt and that there is always the possibility that he might fail. This creates more urgency in the action scenes, which are fast paced and perfectly staged.
I think my favourite is the fight against Electro, because it shows how to use slow motion right. In the original trilogy, I am not sure why they even used it at all. It often looked like it was supposed to be Peter’s perspective, but he is Spider-man, not The Flash, he doesn’t see anything slowed down, he is just hyper aware and operates largely on instinct. In the new movies, the slow motion is usually used to demonstrate how many decisions Peter has to make in a split second. It is entirely for the benefit of the audience, who can now see what his senses are able to be take in at once. There are people who might get electrocuted, a car flying through the air and Electro himself, and he has to take care of all of it with only one web shooter still functioning. You have to slow that moment down in order to show what he is actually doing, and that he is able to do it, is just more impressive by seeing how fast he has to make his decisions.
4. Better World Building
I have to give credit to the original trilogy: you feel the plan behind it in a sense that it has one overreaching storyline which kept the trilogy somewhat together, and that is Harry Osborn’s arc, as contrived as it is. But otherwise? Peter seems to operate in some sort of bubble in which next to nothing he does has any kind of impact, and everything goes to the extreme. The Daily Bugle keeps writing story against him, and the public opinion reflects that because apparently everyone reads this one newspaper and is unable to think for himself. One would expect that there is a little bit more variety in more or less everything.
In the new movies, though, everything has an impact, and there are always different opinion voiced concerning Spider-man. Not believing in vigilantism is not immediately portrayed as a bad thing. When Gwen’s father voices his point of view, it is easy to understand where he is coming from, and Peter does take his words to heart and changes his approach. And even more: At least in the first movie the police is not (like it is often the case in Superhero movies) portrayed as absent or even incompetent. They do their part, too. When Spider-man has to fight a giant lizard, they are evacuating the people.
Thus said, the second movie kind of throws a lot of the careful world-building of the first movie overboard in favour for strange torture prisons and secret underground station labs. But it still feels more “whole” for the lack of a better word. Gwen Stacy’s family doesn’t just vanish because it is convenient, and some places (like the clock tower) are introduced before they become important. Plus, it doesn’t constantly show off the landmarks of New York until you feel more like you are in a vacation video instead of a real place.
5. Better Characters
The original trilogy had a ton of characters. Most of them were just there, and I often wondered what even their purpose in the story was. Like the daughter of Peter’s landlord, who apparently was only there to make a bad jokes about a young girl in love. Having a crush is literally her only character trait. And this goes for more or less all characters. They have exactly one character trait (hating Spider-man, being in love with Spider-man, having daddy-issues, being a wise old man, being a frail but wise old woman), there is no room for development for any of them. The new movies on the other hand takes great care to create layered characters. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it creates some of the best moments.
For example Flash, who is introduced as the school bully, and in 99% of the movies out there this would exactly his role until he gets his come-uppance. But in TAS, Flash is much more than just a bully. He does respect Gwen because she is helping him with his studies. He is condolatory after Peter’s uncle died (and off-screen also shows support to Gwen when her father dies), and when Peter becomes aggressive in his grief, he understands the feelings behind it and calms him down. Towards the end of the movie they have developed some sort of camaraderie. I was actually sorry that the character was missing in the second movie, even though it makes sense.
What really ruined the original trilogy for me, though, was that it had some sort of invisible reset button which made sure than none of the characters will ever learn anything from their experiences. It was circular writing as its worst, and by the time the third movie rolled around, I just knew that it would rehash the same plot as the first two. I think the character who gets it worst is Mary Jane, who only seems to be in the movies so that Peter can rescue her all the time. But Peter himself makes no freaking sense either. The first movie ends with him deciding not to be with Mary Jane because it is too dangers. In the second he is still trying to keep away from her, but at the same time acts as if he has to win her over. I was quickly tired about getting jerked around all the time. The new Peter Parker develops. He makes a lot of mistakes during the first movie, which he tries to avoid during the second. He keeps maturing. And Gwen Stacy is growing right with him (and independent from him).
All this said, the new movies are far from perfect, and I would be amiss not to address some of the weaker points Sony really could have improved on (instead of pushing the sinister six). Well, the first one comes close to a perfect adaptation imho. There is really not much I would change about it, though I do believe that someone should have looked the script over one last time to make some aspects a little bit smoother – really, the Lizard needs a name on a camera to work out that Peter might be Spider-man? The part in which Peter sneaks into Oscorp’s labs is a little bit contrived and unbelievable, too. There would have been better ways to get him bitten by the spider. And his sudden decision to be with Gwen after all comes a little bit out of nowhere.
I like the horror movie elements in it, but I wish they had emphasised them a little bit more. Likewise the mentor/student relationship between Peter and Dr. Connors could have used a little bit more room.
But there is also criticism levelled against TAS which simply doesn’t bother me. Like the scene with the cranes. Is it contrived? Oh yes! Is it melodramatic? No argument here. But I also love the symbolism of it. It is like the town itself is stretching out a hand in his direction. It is a powerful imaginary, which is only made better by the score used.
There is even stuff other people dislike I consider great. I love that Peter gets hurt by a stray bullet, because, let’s face it, what he does would be way less heroic if he were basically invincible. Plus, being bulletproof is not one of the abilities the common spider has. I love that he never finds the guy who killed his uncle, because it makes his decision to stop his vengeance and help people instead way more powerful. Only by not finding uncle Ben’s killer it is ensured that he truly gave up on his revenge out of understanding of the futility on it, something which would be undermined if he had ever gotten what he hunted for.
All in all, I freaking love this movie! It is the first Spider-man movie I liked to rewatch again and again.
The second movie though…let’s put it this way: It stinks of executive meddling. The first movie left enough storylines to explore, but most of them are either discarded or quickly wrapped up. None of the plotlines in the second movie are really bad, but they are all very rushed. I think the writers did the best they could with the demands they were given, but there is only so much you can do when you have to combine so much in one single movie. The result is a mess, but one with a lot of really good elements in it.
So what did I like? The first fight against Electro, Electro’s character, Spider-man trying to figure out how to beat Electro…well, more or less everything connected to Electro, I just wish that the storyline had more room (there has to be a better moment for Spider-man to peep talk a guy than in the middle of a car chase) and they had designed Max to be a little bit less cartoony. I still liked Gwen (more about that later). Which leaves the Harry Osborn/Sinister Six stuff. And that is just too much. Sinister Six they should have left out (consider this, the MCU had five movies leading up to The Avengers, and Sony tried to do what they did in one), and it is just problematic to establish Harry as a long-term friend in one scene if he was never seen nor mentioned before. And the thing with the deadly disease was just stupid.
To me, there should have been two movies, one about Electro which also introduced Harry, perhaps even as Spiderman’s helper and alley in discovering the secrets of Oscorp rather than Peter Parker’s friend. And a second one about Harry going off the deep end, pulling Gwen into her dead, giving the event the attention and spot it deserves.
Thus said, I like the duality in those movies. In the first one, Peter makes mistakes and has to face the consequences. In the second one, Peter does nothing wrong, and still couldn’t prevent the worst from happening. And that is a harsh but very true lesson. There is no rule in life that if you do the right thing you’ll get the reward and are somehow invincible. If the first movie was about showing what the consequences are if Peter misuses his abilities, the second one was about showing that no matter how much he tries, Peter will never be able to safe and protect everyone, not even the people closest to him.
There are two problems both movies have, though: One, that the creators were apparently allergic to ending them on a sad note. I get that it might have been too much like Spider-man 1 if they had ended TAS1 with Peter breaking up with Gwen after a funeral. But the second movie has no excuse. Even if they do end it with Peter putting on the mask again, it should end with exactly that. Not with a fight, not with a corny scene with a suicidal stupid child, but with him sighing and then swinging out in the night again, accepting his burden with all the possible consequences in the future. Not with him wisecracking. It totally ruins the tone of the whole movie.
The second problem is a bunch of contrivances. In the first Gwen is not only Peter’s classmate, but also the assistant of the guy who knows more about his parents disappearance, the daughter of the guy who is hunting him and the tutor of his bully. In the second both Peter and she just happen to meet Electro before he transforms, every named character with the exception of Peter and Aunt May is working for Oscorp, and Peter himself is also connected to the company through Harry whom he happens to know from the past. It’s a little bit much, all in all.
Spiderman in the Avengers?
That’s one of the current “hot topics”. Since the Sony leak what was formerly just a rumour is now known as fact: There are talks about Spider-man in the Marvel verse, but not the current one, but a soft reboot.
I am torn about this issue. I really like Garfield in this role, especially because he plays is with so much enthusiasm. But I also have to consider what I always tell Tobey Maguire fans: The age of the actor. Tobey Maguire will be 40 this year, we will never see him in another Spider-man movie again. But the same is true for Garfield. He is a little bit younger (and more important, also looks younger), but Marvel will want an actor which will be able to play the roles for ten years or more. If this were not the case, I would be firmly for adding Garfield into the universe. One can easily explain Spider-man’s absence so far with him getting his powers after the Chitauri invasion (which not only fits with the dates of the movies but would also explain why there are so many convenient cranes in TAS), and his absence during The Age of Ultron with him still grieving for Gwen during that period.
What I don’t want is another version of Spider-man from Sony just now. They should stick with Garfield as long as possible.
What do I think about Gwen Stacy:
I think she is a great character. Love interests in Superhero movies tend do be a questionable matter, and the romantic subplot is usually the weakest part of them. In the Amazing Spider-Man, though, the romance might be the strongest aspect of the movie. Gwen runs circles around every love interest which has ever featured in any Superhero movies, she is easily the best written, and she stars in the best written romance of them all. I am serious, the chemistry of the actors are off the charts- which might be because they are a couple in real life, but that’s no guarantee for it translating to the screen. I think why they feel so right with each other comes mostly down to body language and the way the writers see Gwen Stacy.
Just look at the way Peter and Gwen are leaning into each other. None of those awful posters featuring the hero with the love interest plastered at his upper body as if she is leaning into a statue. None of those pictures which involves the love interest being swooped away like a sack by Spider-man. Instead we get to see two people who support each other, who just look whole when they are together.
If there is one fault with Gwen Stacy (aside from constantly wearing those short skirts with stockings which make her look more like an adult fantasy of a high school girl, but I blame the comics for that one), than that she might be a little bit too perfect. But to her credit, her being smart is not a token characteristic which allows her to be a wise-cracker, but something which is an important plot point. There are three aspects which make her better than all the other love interests in Comic book movies:
1. She falls in love with Peter Parker, not Spider-man, and when their relationship becomes serious, Peter tells her immediately about his second identity. This removes from the get go the most basic problem in most of those romances: If the love interest only knows one persona, she is basically loving only half of the person in question, at worst some sort of fantasy figure. It is too big of a lie to built a healthy relationship in.
2. Being intelligent and beautiful are not the only characteristics she has. Her telling off Flash and later expressing her appreciation for Peter getting beaten up to help another student puts her way above the usual love interests, which are often portrayed as somewhat shallow in their affections. Even details like her love for hot chocolate or that she is in the debate club go a long way to make her a layered character. She is also brave and ambitious. Which ties in to the last point:
3. She has an own agenda. She has plans for her future, a future she worked hard for, and she won’t put her life on hold for Spider-man. When they have broken up, she doesn’t mope around, but is still going out with her friends, even if she is down about the circumstances, which make a romance with Peter Parker so difficult. And at no point in the movie she turns into some sort of living McGuffin. Every single time Gwen was in danger during the two movies, it was because she chose to be there, not because some guy decided to kidnap her randomly so that Spider-man has someone to rescue.
If there is one problem I have with the way her story is told (aside from wanting to have her around for longer) is the “should or shouldn’t we be together” in the second movie. Serious, what was the point of ending the first movie with Peter suddenly changing his mind, just to have him break up with her again without anything happening which would explain his change of mind. I can kind of forgive it, though, because I loved how this was handled. Most of those stories are not written particularly well and turn the female love interest into some price to be won, someone who would leave another suitor at the altar on a moments notice, because they are just meant for the male hero. I call BS on that. Woman are perfectly capable of deciding that a relationship is harmful to them, even if they are in love, and they are perfectly capable of falling in love with someone else. In this case though, Gwen does move forward. I love how she basically says that if Peter can’t make up his mind and robbing her if her decision to take the risk, she would break up with him, not the other way around, and that the only reason she gives him a second chance is because he is ready to commit to her.
And then there is Gwen Stacy’s demise. Which, I think, is a hard scene to pull off. Let’s be honest here, there is no way to repeat the shock effect this moment had in the comics. There even is a trope named after it. The first thing I learned about Gwen Stacy was that she died on that bridge.
I have no problem with the concept of character dying in order to motivate other characters. It’s a common trope, and while I wish that there were more male characters who meet this fate instead of it nearly always being female ones, there is nothing inherently wrong with it. But a character should neither be a living McGuffin for the protagonist, nor being randomly killed off for a cheap shock moment. A good character death is not only meaningful in-universe, it has to have an impact on the audience, and not just because we feel the main characters pain, but because we care for the killed character independent from what he or she means to the protagonist. And Gwen is such a character.
This Gwen does not die just because someone had a grudge against Spider-man. She dies because she decided to be there, because she was ready to risk her life. Her knowledge was vital to rescuing the whole city. She could have followed Peter’s wishes and stayed safe, but despite knowing fully well that she might not survive this she went anyway because it was the right thing to do. For that matter, she also knew that being with Peter would always put her in danger, and that she will always worry about him. But she is set on spending the time she has on the planet fulfilling as many of her dreams as possible, aware of her own mortality.
And the movies emphasis her right to make this decision. Neither her father nor Peter should deny her this. But the main reason she is more than just a tool is because she is a full fletched character who has a life independent from Peter. She is smart, she has plans, she will do a lot of good in the world. When she dies, it is not just a tragedy for Peter, it is a tragedy in general. And I honestly have a hard time imagining The Amazing Spiderman 3 (if there will ever be one) without Gwen Stacy in it.
Quote: “My wish for you is to become hope; people need that. And even if we fail, what better way is there to live?”
With the Spider-man movies a lot hinges on the question which kind of adaptation you want. If you want to see something goofy and comiclike, the original trilogy will work just fine for you. But if you want to see Peter Parker as a character whose decisions have consequences and who develops in every movie, give TAS a shot. If for nothing else, it’s certainly worth watching for Gwen Stacy.