Again: TASM2 SPOILERS INCOMING.
There’s really one side-note to all three jokes here, and a major theme that runs through them, so I’ll break them into two segments. The obvious theme that ties the three gags together is “Spiderman Is Stupid”, but there’s actually something more interesting underlying that.
The side-note: stalky Electro. This is another one of those plot threads that could have been really good, but the film botched it. The concept of Spider-Man saving someone who goes on to be a massive fan, to the point where they start to hate the object of their obsession, is interesting. It happens all the time in reality: that’s where you get people from who go out and shoot celebrities. They love someone so much that they start to hate that person for not loving them back, and the barrier of celebrity to (for want of a better word) civilian makes it all the more insurmountable and painful.
Doing that in the context of a superhero movie, where people get powers at the drop of a hat, has great potential. The mega-fan can have a superpower-granting accident and suddenly be on par with – or even have status over – the person they’re obsessed with. The part in the Times Square scene where Peter is trying to remember Max’s name really nails it, actually. It puts Peter in an interesting situation which really explores a unique part of superhero mythos.
But of course, the film doesn’t handle it well outside of that one scene. Max is obsessed to the point of “cliché Hollywood crazy”, and it removes anything interesting by way of extraneous two-dimensionality. Not even Jamie Foxx’s acting chops can salvage the role! Robert also pointed out that Electro is… not really the right villain choice for this type of scenario, either. He suggested that it suits Mysterio much better, and I agree. As with a lot of things in the TASM franchise, it’s a very saddening ‘what could have been’.
The main thing: treatment of women, specifically Gwen, in the movie.
I mentioned offhand in an earlier annotation that TASM2 has an “unusual back and forth” with how it portrays women. In that context it was about turning Dr. Kafka into a male character, but I wanna talk specifically about Gwen today, and how the movie deals with her as a character with agency.
Having agency in fiction is often a problem for female characters, because characters can’t do anything that their writer doesn’t make them do, and most writers are male. TASM2 was written by three men, for the record, but when they give Gwen agency – and when they don’t – is erratic, and interesting.
There are six major events in terms of the whole Gwen/agency thing, which are 1) dumping Peter, 2) responding to Peter’s stalking, 3) going to Oxford, 4) fixing Peter’s webshooters, 5) going to the power station and 6) spoilers! Her inevitable death by falling. Events 1, 3, 4, and 5 are all examples of Gwen deliberately being given agency of her own. For events 2 and 6, she’s turned into a story puppet that ensures everything is about Peter, our male protagonist.
On the positive side: Gwen makes a decision about her romantic relationship with Peter, realising that it’s damaging to both of them. Peter isn’t the gatekeeper of relationship decisions. She uses her knowledge to solve genuinely plot-related scientific problems that Peter couldn’t, and the film doesn’t shame or emasculate him for that. She knows more than him about science, and that’s okay. In a weird inversion of the old Meg-Ryan-movie-moral, Gwen doesn’t learn that her relationship is more important than her career – in fact, Peter learns that lesson. The scene on the bridge where he promises that their romance will always come first, and he’ll make it work around what she needs to do, is… well, I don’t know that it’s necessarily a good lesson, but it’s certainly a refreshing inversion.
But, then, there’s the bad. And there is numerically less of the bad than the good in this example, but the bad examples are… pretty big. There’s a lot of bad for your buck. What we’re lampooning in the comic is that Peter decides to follow Gwen and keep and eye on her without her knowledge or permission. Let’s not mince words here: that’s straight-up stalking. However sweet or innocent or whatever you think that is, it’s not. She ended things with him, and he decided to ignore that.
Which is not, necessarily, a bad thing in the context of a work of fiction. It can work as part of your story, but it doesn’t here, because the film tries to present it as sweet and affectionate. And so of course, that’s how Gwen responds to it! And damn, was it uncomfortable watching that in the cinema. I mentioned agency earlier, and this is a perfect example of how to take it away from a female character. The other time the movie does this is in the final example: Gwen’s death.
It’s a bit of a confused plot point, really, but I think that’s due to the story and screenplay being (reportedly) hacked to bits over and over during production, and the edit being completely massacred in post. After having Gwen go to the power station (good so far, showing she doesn’t need Peter to make her decisions for her), they proceed to kill her off. Which, again, isn’t necessarily a bad thing! But they only seem to do it because that’s what you have to do with Gwen Stacy.
Gwen’s original death in the comics was a clear-cut case of fridging, but it’s kind of a grandfather-claused-in case now. In a perfect world where gender representation in comics was equal (it’s not), it’s actually a really good bit of storytelling! The ambiguity and uncertain guilt is interesting to explore, especially in the context of Spiderman as a character (Uncle Ben, cough). In TASM2, though, they don’t really seem to have a reason to do it, beyond “that’s what people expect to happen to Gwen.”
Killing a female character simply to motivate the male protagonist removes any agency from the female character – obviously – and importantly, it makes their death entirely about someone else. That’s why it’s a problem: it takes the representation of a large group of people, and reduces it to a cheap plot device for the benefit of a more privileged group of people. Why it’s especially weird in TASM2 is that Peter doesn’t need to be motivated to do anything at that point. This is what makes me think that they did it because, hey, that’s what you do with Gwen.
So there’s a strange and protracted scene where Peter loses his Spiderman mojo because of Gwen’s death, and then has a realisation about what Gwen would have wanted him to do, and gets his groove back. It’s tacked on awkwardly after the plot of the movie has otherwise ended (which happens with a lot of stuff in this movie anyway, to be fair), and it serves to give him something to be motivated through by Gwen’s death. So in effect, they fridge Gwen in order to motivate Peter past… the death of Gwen. Yeah. Wrap your head around that one.
What maybe makes it better is that it’s clearly supposed to be the message of Gwen’s life that gets Peter back to being Spiderman, rather than her actual death, per se. This is interesting. It’s a take that I like on the ‘Gwen must die’ thing, but yet again, it’s an idea that is badly handled by the movie. It’s confusingly written, it’s too sudden and unrelated to anything, and like I said, it feels arbitrarily tacked on. Handled better, it could have helped alleviate some of the women-in-refrigerators aspect to Gwen Stacy, without changing what makes her death recognisable.
On a side note: the movie makes it pretty damn clear that she dies not because of anything the Green Goblin does, but explicitly because of Peter’s webshooting (which we’re mocking in panel three, seriously, is he even the same Spiderman as in the Times Square scene?). Good job missing the original point of the death of Gwen Stacy regardless.
And finally, and incidentally, on the science stuff: that’s… not how electromagnetism works. Like, I can’t even begin to explain how bizarre TASM2′s understanding of it is compared to reality. It’s not even a case of ‘superhero movie physics’, it’s just… a really confusing incomprehension of some basic concepts.