By J. McGinnis
WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS AN ENDING SPOILER FOR THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
If you have yet to watch this film and don’t want the ending spoiled, do not read this… I don’t often show my geek flag, but yeah, I’m gonna for a moment. Spider-Man comics were my first literary and artistic love, the base inspiration for every line on every piece of paper that I’ve ever drawn on, which is the only reason I’m posting this.
I really am beginning to like the new films. These films are pretty epic. A film based on a story arc that one already knows still being able to coax an emotional response makes for an excellent piece of work in my opinion. That, and I like the actors portrayal of key characters a bit more than the last series. However, I already wish they’d gone in a slightly different direction.
You may think that this is just about a fan-boy’s take on a film… which means that this may end up long winded… But, let me assure you, this, like any other story worth telling, is all about a girl. The woman I’d loved since before I even liked girls. Gwen Stacy. Actually, Gwen Stacy was the first girl to ever break my heart.
Just to clarify, the ending of the new film kinda follows “The Death of Gwen Stacy” issues (Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 / #121 – #122, 1973), and this arc was probably one of the most influential works I’ve ever encountered.
I’d read the 1986 Marvel Tales reprint of the original 1973 arc the year it was released. It was one of my first few memorable experiences of Spider-Man… It was also my first real reaction to the idea of death. When Gwen died, so close to salvation, it hurt… Badly. To be honest, I had the biggest crush on the character when I was young, and thus, those frames were heart-wrenching to page through.
For me, back then, it felt like a huge loss, like I would be forever missing out on something that could have gone so much further, been so much more than what it was. I think that story actually colored my perception of loss and death more than I would care to admit. I don’t really handle either all that well. Though it was by no means intensely graphic in the depiction of death, I was quite young in ’86. I’m not sure that it’s an arc I’d let a child of tender years read through if they had yet to experience the loss of death, grieving it and how to cope in the aftermath… different times, perhaps.
Long’s been the time since I’ve last thought about how the character of Gwen Stacy exited the comics, yet, due to the end of the latest film, I feel like a little kid again. Markedly sad, really. The feeling is not terribly unlike going through a break-up with the same person again, older wounds sorta peel open. This isn’t exactly a bad thing. Again, emotional investment in a film’s or book’s characters can push the experience way over the top. It can help even the lowest budget hand-cam film put a myriad of special effect extravaganzas to shame.
Like the comics, a reprieve may yet loom on the horizon in the form of Mary Jane Watson, the girl most associated with Spider-Man. Now, I can’t wait to see what they bring about when the series finally introduces Mary Jane. It took a long while for me, but I eventually came to adore the character of M.J., and grew to think of her as one of the best characters in Spider-Man’s universe, but still, Gwen will always hold a special place in my heart.
This is where it starts to lose a bit of luster for me. I get that the new films have to eventually make room for M.J., but the new films still have yet to even introduce Mary Jane… If they’re gonna go with source material, especially from what I consider to be the end of Marvel’s Silver Age, please, at the least, do it somewhat proper…
Because of not showing anything about M.J. thus far, the writers have inadvertently neglected to show the close friendship between M.J. & Gwen(for the second time, if one counts the first trilogy), and the very real sense of loss that was felt not only by Parker, but by Mary Jane as well. In fact, as far as source material, the loss shared by both Pete & M.J. over Gwen’s passing is what began to draw them together in the first place. So, to me, they’re already getting it a bit wrong.
My thoughts are that in order to give M.J.’s and Peter’s relationship substance, something more real, more vital than the last set of films, the hardships and triumphs that they face together should run deeper than the run of the mill damsel-in-distress-confused-at-who-to-date + woe-is-me-I’m-Spider-Man stuff that made Kirsten Dunst’s & Toby Maguire’s version sorta fizzle. Sadly, the loss of Aunt May just isn’t going to cut it on its own (should they go that route), just as the loss of Harry Osborn at the end of the previous film 3 just didn’t quite make that necessary impact.
In my opinion, when people watch a character who is dealing with the death of a lover get over that loss too quickly by moving on to the next flame without really dealing, it sorta cheapens the effect of said loss, as well as helping to make the next relationship arc seem less than genuine, sort of like a rebound relationship. That’s what made me eventually come love comic book Mary Jane so much… She wasn’t able to just sit around relying on Pete 100% for emotional substance, nor was she some rebound floozy a-la-007. By both needing and being needed, in regards to Gwen’s passing, M.J. became Pete’s anchor.
Because she loved Gwen just as much as Peter did, Mary Jane suffered with Peter. She hurt for him as well as along-side him. That allowed her to show him that not everyone is so fragile, yet to be fragile was by no means a weakness. Because of that, she saved his soul. She paid her dues. However, I don’t think that would have been possible without BOTH Gwen’s friendship and sacrifice.
Without Gwen to provide key elements, M.J would have proved unable to give Peter the one oft overlooked thing that the shared loss of Gwen gave her to give, the one thing that makes someone able to be someone else’s rock, the one thing Peter Parker needed more than anything in all the world if he was ever to become a real life inspiration, to cross beyond the frame boundaries and pen and ink. Empathy.
Without true emotional content coupled with reader reciprocation on a deeper level of empathetic human connection, Peter Parker’s uniquely relatable personality could have oh-so-easily been lost to the Kevlar clad, stale personalities that rendered Spawn, Batman, and many other comic book heroes immaterial to so many readers. In a way, Gwen gave Mary Jane those things to give to Peter. In a way, Gwen Stacy made Spider-Man what he is, in both the literary character and true-life market sense.
I believe the current run of films could have explored Pete’s & Gwen’s dynamic more, maybe even kept her in the whole way through this time around, or even play the rivalry-of-friends angle with M.J., but to begin this push towards the M.J./Pete run without Gwen in the mix seems like kind of a waste. I guess the writers/directors just have their own ideas. I fear that without Gwen to truly pave the way, to help Mary Jane prep Pete’s character for the road ahead, something may get lost in the translation.
The glimmer of hope, however, is that this series of films are, for all purposes, very well written and acted. It’s because of this, that I can’t say for certain what it will be like when M.J. turns up. I can’t say that it’s going to suck, but I can’t say that it’s going to be great, either.