I think we can all agree that refrigerators are not the most hygienic places to store bodies.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself on a plane. (I had no idea how I’d gotten there, and spent the next 24 hours trying to discover the truth about myself with a group of similarly amnesic misfits.) During my time in a big metal box in the sky, I took advantage of the free movies at my fingertips and I decided to watch The Amazing Spiderman 2. I’d been wanting to watch it for a while, and the first movie was good, despite it having the same rehashed plot seen in Batman Begins, Man of Steel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles(2014) (also ew) and probably many more, but I just hadn’t got around to it.
So how did I find Amazing Spiderman 2?
[Insert sounds of confusion and relative distress here]
There were a lot of things that I enjoyed about Amazing Spiderman 2; overall, it was perfectly enjoyable, with engaging dialogue and an interesting villain backstory, but one aspect stood out to me in particular, and that was the character of Gwen Stacy. I’m going to pause here to deliver a brief spoiler warning. In the interest of getting my point across as clearly as possible, I’m ditching the town of vague allusions to plot points and venturing into spoiler city. If you’ve already seen the movie or read the comics, or you just don’t really care about spoilers because the movie’s been out for a year or so now, then hey! Keep going! Otherwise, sorry, here’s a .gif of a dog jumping on a trampoline. Thanks! Come back next time!
Back to Gwen. It’s necessary to first establish that Gwen is Spiderman’s girlfriend. Her purpose within the narrative is to be Peter Parker’s love interest; to be a character that the male hero can protect and worry about. She serves as his weakness, and provides a space for his character to be fleshed out, his personality and humour to be exposed and developed, especially in the absence of a best friend/sidekick character. Gwen’s character also facilitates the showing of Peter’s caring side, and any conflict within the relationship provides extra drama to run along as a sub-plot to the main story line. This is the role that the girlfriend character in any traditional hero narrative fills, and to a certain degree, that’s okay; every character in a simple plot such as this provides either conflict, assistance, or exposition, and the same goes for events.
Obviously in a fictional narrative in any form, everything is a plot device. That’s how stories work, but here’s the thing; if you’re going to treat your male protagonist as a person, then you have to do the same with the rest of your characters – yes, even the female ones – too. And the thing is that Amazing Spiderman 2, so narrowly misses achieving this.
Gwen Stacy is the top in her classes, she graduates from highschool as valedictorian and oh by the way, had a job at a major scientific company before she graduates. In both movies, she is essential to Peter’s success, because she is the one who actually comes up with the plans. In Amazing Spiderman 2, she makes his webs heat resistant using magnets… because science. Not only is she intelligent, though, she is independent. At the beginning of the film, we see Peter attempt to break up with her “for her own safety.” (brooding heroes amirite?) It is implied that this is not the first time that he has done this, and Gwen, instead of being pushed around by his angst, puts her foot down and breaks up with him. There is an entire sub-plotline devoted to the full ride that Gwen has been offered at Oxford University, and how she will not sacrifice her dreams to follow him around. Ultimately Peter decides that hewill follow her to England, putting her aspirations in front of any of his plans. As a plot tool she exists for the furthering of Peter’s character, but as a person within the narrative, she has an entire story line, if not arc, that is independent of him.
… And then they put her in the refrigerator.
Let me back up a little. What I’m referring to is the Women in Refrigerators Trope, where strong female characters are killed off or brutalized purely to advance the male protagonist’s story arc. The impact of their deaths are then glossed over in exchange for some male brooding and revenge obsession. This perfectly timed Feminist Frequency video that I just happened to have on hand, does a really good job of breaking down this particular trope.
So now when I say that they (the scriptwriters, the comic book writers, the patriarchy, whoever) put Gwen Stacy in the fridge, I think you can probably guess how her story arc ended. In the big, climactic fight seen, Gwen is thrown from a clock tower. Despite being caught by good ol’ Spidey’s web on the way down, Gwen still dies from whiplash, or severe falling… trauma, or… patriarchy, I DON’T KNOW. And I’m conflicted, because on the one hand, everything in every piece of narrative fiction is a plot device. If there were no plot devices, every story, ever would just be a couple of people sitting in an empty room, with nothing happening the entire time, and it wouldn’t be in an avant-garde-make-you-think-about-life’s-little-intricacies kind of way, no, it would be in an absolutely-nothing-happens kind of way. Also, it’s not like you can say “that’s it! No more women die in film ever!” because that’s really not the point, and would rob the world of some beautiful and very honest portrayals of death.
But on my other hand, which to be honest is lifting higher that the first one, this death just feels unnecessary. And no, I will not accept the fact that she died in the comics as a viable reason, because that is so not how the world of cinematic adaptations works. Sure, Peter’s really sad and very broody, but the same conclusions could have been reached without Gwen’s death. Think how much better everything would have been if she had continued on as a contributing member of the movie and the fictional society, instead, the scriptwriters fell back on, frankly, a really dead, beaten horse of a trope.
What’s more, her death is even more pointless because it comes at the end of a movie that does not have and will not have a follow-up film, seeing as the franchise is being rebooted with a new Spiderman, and a new story. What did her death contribute to the movie? HUH? 15 minutes of angsty hoodie-sulking and guilt, only to end with some “all you need is hope” cliché? Where’s your revenge plot now, hmm?
You could have had it all, but instead you shoved her in there with last Tuesday’s leftover lasagne.