I have now seen The
Redundant Amazing Spider-Man
twice in theaters - the first time with friends, and the second time
with my brothers when it was a rainy day and we didn't have time to see The Dark Knight Rises. I liked the film more than the previous Spider-Man movies, largely because of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, but I also liked the film's treatment of Gwen Stacy.
Women in superhero movies don't often get much to do. If they're not completely invented for the film for the sake of throwing a bone to female viewers (Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins), they're left in the role of damsel in distress who do nothing but get into trouble and get rescued (Mary Jane Watson in the original Spider-Man trilogy). Female superheroes and anti-heroes, like the Black Widow in The Avengers or Catwoman in Batman Returns and The Dark Knight Rises, are more complex, but if you're not a hero and simply dating one, forget it - no good characterization for you.
That is, unless you're Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man. (Note: I haven't read the comics and this post will only talk about Gwen in the film.)
|Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man|
As far as superhero love interests go, Gwen Stacy is very cool. Here are three reasons why:
1) She's intelligent for her own sake, not just for Peter's.
In The Amazing Spider-Man, Gwen Stacy is a student at Midtown Science High School with Peter Parker, as well as an intern at OsCorp. She's gifted in the field of science, hard-working, and has a good sense of humor, gently ribbing Peter after Flash Thompson beats him up in front of the school.
But she doesn't come across as the Token Smart Female, the one-dimensional character archetype who's thrown in the story so the hero can have a love interest and the female viewers can stop complaining about lack of female representation. She's smart in a way that makes sense to the character and to the plot. Of course Gwen Stacy is smart; she's a student at a magnet high school! She's also shown researching and working at her computer in several different scenes, and the direction indicates that she's a girl with an active life outside of Peter Parker and Spider-Man. We don't get to see much of it, but we can tell it's there.
|Gwen in the hallway of Midtown Science High School|
2. Gwen helps save the day.
The main hero of the movie is, of course, Spider-Man/Peter Parker himself, as it should be - it's his name in the title, after all. But I was pleasantly surprised to see how active Gwen was in the plot of the film. When the Lizard tried to turn all of New York City into reptile-people, Gwen was the one who cooked the antidote. Captain Stacy passed it to Spider-Man, who released the antidote in the air and cured not only the people of New York, but Dr. Connors/The Lizard himself.
Again, I'm not used to seeing the superhero love interest take an active role in saving the world. Spider-Man could not have saved the world without Gwen's help. She wasn't just a participant in Spider-Man's plot; she played a vital role - and she did it using her brain and applied knowledge.
|Gwen working at OsCorp|
3. Gwen has Peter Parker's number. I loved that Peter told Gwen about his secret identity halfway through the movie. It felt like a fresh take on the story to have the love interest learn of the hero's identity early in the story. But I groaned near the end of the movie where [spoiler alert!] a dying Captain Stacy asked Peter not to involve Gwen in his heroics anymore. I could see the plot of the next film playing before my eyes: Gwen would have hurt feelings that Peter was ignoring her, and there would be a Classic Misunderstanding between the two of them until the very end of the movie.
I should have given the screenwriters more credit. It takes about sixty seconds for Gwen to realize what's going on after Peter tells her he can't see her anymore. She understands very quickly that her father must have asked Peter to stay away from her and keep her safe. She doesn't like it, but she gets it.
|Gwen and Peter (Andrew Garfield)|
I'm happy that The Amazing Spider-Man made Gwen Stacy an actual character instead of turning her into a nameless, faceless love interest. I hope the writers continue with Gwen's strong characterization and put equal care and attention into writing Mary Jane Watson, if and when they introduce her. (And if they can have a red-haired Emma Stone play Mary Jane as well, that would be great, because Emma Stone makes everything better.)