Things take quite a turn for the web-slinging Peter Parker before The Amazing Spider-Man 2 draws to a close, and the last twenty minutes of the movie deliver some twists and shocks that have had audiences gasping (and Vulture staffers arguing). Join Kyle Buchanan and Jesse David Fox as they debate some of those big moments below.
KYLE: Hey, Jesse! Now that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has been out in theaters for a full weekend (at least in the United States, since it’s been out abroad even longer), it’s time we discussed the movie’s third act. This is the part where I sound the obligatory SPOILER ALERT.
Got it? Good. Let’s move on.
So, Gwen Stacy (played by Emma Stone) dies. This is something that comic-book fans have seen coming for quite a long time — director Marc Webb has said numerous times that he wanted to be faithful to Gwen’s doomed arc from the comics, and Stone was photographed in Gwen’s “death outfit” while filming — but I wonder whether general audiences will be taken aback. I also wonder whether the scene works in the context of the movie. Before I get into my own feelings, what was your reaction to all this?
JESSE: I went into the movie aware that she was going to die and spent much of the movie asking myself if she had to. Kyle, I really didn’t want Emma Stone to die. For years, I’ve very vocally said that Emma Stone should’ve been Spider-Man. And unsurprisingly, I took her death very hard, but we’ll get to that later. My answer to you is yes, I think her death works — both for her character arc and for Spider-Man’s.
I think the trouble with the whole great power/great responsibility thing is the inherent paternalism. Especially, in this case, with Denis Leary always lurking around with that sour puss of his. The whole movie is Peter saying how he can’t date Gwen because of a promise he made to keep her safe. I kept thinking of Mad Men’s Peggy Olson saying, “Well, aren’t you lucky, to have decisions.” Guess what, men: Gwen Stacy got into Oxford without you, so you don’t get to tell her what she can and cannot do. And is there any greater freedom than the freedom to die? In her death, she is a symbol to Spider-Man that just because he saves people, it doesn’t mean that he’s a savior.
I think in that capacity, this Spider-Man reboot nailed Gwen’s arc. Sure, it’s called Spider-Man (and not Gwen & Spidey Forever), Peter Parker is the protagonist, and ultimately Gwen’s death is about how it affects our hero, but, inside that, they were able to create a character with real agency. And that’s great. Also, Emma Stone.
What did you think? And how did you take seeing Emma Stone die? Did you cry? If not, guess how much I cried.
KYLE: Well, it’s interesting that you bring up the whole paternalism thing, because I found it funny how much Peter tries to dissuade her from taking part in the final battle. I could smell the studio note there: “We have to make it clear that Peter did not want Gwen involved, and is therefore not responsible for what happens to her.” I practically expected Spider-Man to present her with a waiver beforehand.
I did not cry. I do think the part where she falls is well-done, and of a higher caliber than most of the rest of the movie (perhaps the slow-mo, arms akimbo plunge just reminded me of how Sam Raimi would have shot this). That final crack is worth a big wince. And the seasons-passing montage at the cemetery is effective, if all too brief.
But that’s my biggest problem with the decision to kill off Gwen Stacey: They rush through it! I would have loved to live with that plot point a little longer, or even let the mood marinate between films, à la The Empire Strikes Back. Instead, the studio is so petrified by the idea that you might leave this movie depressed that they rush Spider-Man into another action sequence in order to get him back into wise-cracking mode. If you’re saying, “We need to have Spider-Man fight a silly, bellowing Paul Giamatti in a mechanical Rhino suit so that the audience knows the status quo will be preserved and will still go to see The Amazing Spider-Man 3,” then maybe you are not making the sort of movie that kills off its female lead.
JESSE: Now we’re talking! This is the debate I’ve been having with myself. The seasons-passing montage, though not incredibly original, destroyed me. I also wondered if it was too brief, but I felt like it worked, if only as a display of some Pixar-level concise storytelling. So, part of me is grateful that it had be condensed for the power of that scene.
Ultimately, however, I agree that the Sinister Six epilogue just really stunk. There’s a version of the Rhino fight that could’ve worked, like if they made it feel more like a comment on the mourning process, that mourning isn’t something you do and then turn off like a faucet. Mourning gets incorporated into your everyday life and slowly a new normalcy gets restored. (The next movie will probably deal with this. Considering the amount of loss he’s faced, Spider-Man is a character who inherently is always thinking about death — score another point for my fellow “Peter Parker is Jewish” truthers.) But that’s not what the ending felt like. It felt like a studio note. I do wonder if it would’ve been different if they didn’t have to give the film’s post-credit scene to X-Men: Days of Future Past.
It feels like the result of them starting the reboot with the plan to do a simple trilogy, but somewhere in development, that ballooned into four movies and trying to emulate what Marvel is doing with their universe. It’s possible that the problems with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 were incurred then, a necessary sacrifice made for the good of the rest of the movies. With a great franchise comes great responsibility. Assuming that they had to kill Gwen at some point, do you have an ideal way you would’ve liked it all to play out?
KYLE: Part of me thinks that if they were always planning to kill off Gwen, they actually shouldn’t have killed off her father in the last movie. Isn’t it going to feel like a repetitive beat in The Amazing Spider-Man 3 when Emma Stone periodically haunts Andrew Garfield — and you know she will — since Denis Leary served much the same function here? Who will be the next person in this poor, branzino-loving family to die in order to furnish Peter Parker with an emotionally charged hallucination?
But mostly, I just wish that they’d given the events of the third act their due, and let them feel whole and earned. The timeline of this movie is admittedly wonky (shouldn’t Gwen have had her college plans figured out well before she graduated from high school, and as the valedictorian, no less?), but I feel like most of the film takes place over just a few weeks, if that … so it’s jarring at the very end when we jump forward several months, skipping over a period where Spider-Man was apparently out of commission while grieving Gwen’s death. We see news reports that the whole city misses Spider-Man and wants him back in action, but the audience has not had the opportunity to miss him. The audience saw Spider-Man fighting Dane DeHaan two minutes ago. That’s how swiftly the fallout is glossed over, cemetery montage or no.
JESSE: I wouldn’t mind seeing a movie about Mrs. Stacy. That poor foodie (what with her celebratory dim sum dinners), whose husband and daughter both died because of Spider-Man! Why hasn’t she become a supervillain by now? She actually has probable cause.
Ultimately, I found myself not caring much about the ending’s clunkiness. When you’re onboard with something, you can overlook a lot. And I was onboard. I like Spider-Man. He’s been my favorite superhero ever since I was a kid. So, yeah, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was no Spider-Man 2, which is still my favorite comic book movie, but I think it offered singular moments (all things Emma, Dane DeHaan showing how good of a character Harry Osborn can be if the actor gives a shit, etc.) that best anything in the very good but very safe Marvel film universe. Maybe it didn’t work as its own movie, but I think it will as part of a franchise. Spider-Man, like the other comic book universes, sometimes feel more like a TV show with very long, very expensive episodes that take years to make. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wasn’t a great episode, but I still have faith in the series.
KYLE: The Marvel Studios team is an instructive example here, I think, because they’ve done this wrong and they’ve done this right: To me, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 felt like the dreadfully scattershot Iron Man 2 — where there’s too much obvious world-building to set up future sequels and spinoffs — when I was hoping for something more like the dynamite Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which works so well as a hold-nothing-back, stand-alone feature. I would have more faith in the Amazing Spider-Man series if it didn’t always have to think of itself as a series, you know? But whether or not the filmmakers gave the death of Gwen Stacy its proper due in this installment, I have no doubt that it will loom over the rest of the franchise in a major way — mostly because they don’t grow Emma Stones on trees. Good luck, whoever plays Mary Jane. You’re gonna need it.