What Amazing Spider-Man 2 Skipped

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone on location for  "The Amazing Spiderman 2"

Spoiler Warning: This post is going to deal mainly with the ending of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. So proceed at your own risk.

In the comics, Gwen Stacy is famous for being the first love of Peter Parker’s life, and for getting killed by one of his enemies. “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” happens to be my favorite Spider-Man story, and it’s widely considered the end of the Silver Age of comics. The story is literally the end of an era for a major genre. It’s that significant.

So when Gwen Stacy was announced as a supporting character in The Amazing Spider-Man, there was a lot of speculation about whether Sony would repeat that arc with Marc Webb’s reboot. And if so, when?

Well, it happened in the last fifteen minutes of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Gwen had helped Spider-Man defeat Electro. The Harry Osborn Green Goblin had been knocked unconscious, but not before he sent Gwen falling. Spider-Man tries to catch her with his webbing, but it snags her an instant after she hit the ground.

The death itself is pretty well done. It’s an amazingly tense sequence. The audience I saw the film with gave a collective gasp when she hit the pavement. On the Empire podcast Spoiler special for the film, Webb talked about the metaphoric significance of the scene  happening in a clocktower with Spider-Man trying to stop time. He said that this was the sequence the entire film was built around.

The last ten minutes of the film show Gwen’s funeral, and Peter mourning her over the course of the next few months, as the public wonders where Spider-Man went off to. An imprisoned Harry Osborn gets ready to use his father’s resources to create the Sinister Six. The film ends with Spider-Man back in action, ready to fight the Rhino.

They might even have a better handle on the long-term aftermath of Gwen’s death than the comics. If that story of the kid who liked Spider-Man had been in Amazing Spider-Man #123, it could very easily appear on best of lists. However they also skipped over the events of possibly the best issue of the Spider-Man comics, the entire second half of “The Night Gwen Stacy Died.” In Amazing Spider-Man #122, Gwen Stacy is dead and Peter Parker is grappling with that, looking to make sure that Norman Osborn is going to join her. I don’t know if any superhero has ever been this pissed off.

Peter Parker is pissed.

I understand that there are some structural reasons to leave out the immediate aftermath, along with a Spider-Man ready to bring the wrath of God to his enemies.

Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy was essentially advertised as the co-lead of the film. So it makes sense to keep her around in the film as long as possible. Fifteen minutes of an angry Peter Parker hunting down Osborn in the aftermath of her death means that she’s not gong to be available for a good chunk of the film. Especially if they want to keep the epilogue.

A difference between the comics and the film is that the movie Gwen knew that Peter Parker was Spider-Man. So she had to choose to put herself in danger. So she helped Spider-Man defeat Electro, one of the major villains of the film, and helped save two packed airplanes worth of people. So it also makes sense to keep Electro’s defeat as close to the end of the film as possible. Especially since it would be followed by a fight with the Harry Osborn Green Goblin, a five month interlude and a fight against the Rhino.

Amazing Spider-Man 122 - 07

The other difference is Gwen’s killer. In the comics, it was Norman Osborn. This meant that a grief-stricken Peter Parker had to balance his anger at Norman, his grief at losing Gwen and his friendship with Harry Osborn. When Harry Osborn is the one responsible, Peter’s feelings are a bit less complicated.

In Amazing Spider-Man #122, Peter spent some time searching for Norman Osborn. It is a bit different to have a superhero hunting down a middle-aged businessman, than it is to have the lead searching for a teenager. A teen also doesn’t have as many obvious places to go.

Sony also decided that Harry has to be kept around to lead the Sinister Six in The Amazing Spider-Man 3. This means he can’t die in the confrontation with Spider-Man, the way Norman did at the end of Amazing Spider-Man #122. He can’t be too sympathetic, although it’ll be tough for someone to gain the audience’s understanding after killing Emma Stone. If Peter Parker spends a few minutes beating the holy hell out of him, it makes him less effective as a villain in the next outing. And it could also make the next film more dramatic if the inevitable encounter between Spider-Man and Harry marks their first encounter after the death.

One problem Sony’s going to have going forward with The Amazing Spider-Man 3 is the lack of people who knew Gwen, and would care that she died. I understand why they cut out Shailene Woodley’s Mary Jane, but at least she would have worked in that role.

The final page of Amazing Spider-Man #122

There is a snag with seeding Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane in the same film in which Gwen Stacy died. The original comic readers had a month between Gwen’s shocking death, and that famous moment between Peter and MJ. Later readers aren’t as surprised by the big twist, and are able to determine the pace at which they experience the text. For the most part, filmgoers don’t have that advantage. So it might be problematic to have a tender moment between two characters who most viewers know will be romantically involved in the future twenty minutes after the most magnetic character was killed off.

In the comics, Spider-Man was blamed for Gwen’s death, which made for memorable encounters against the police and with the staff of the Daily Bugle. That wouldn’t have worked out as well for the later scenes where the public wants Spider-Man to show up and save the day, so it had to be cut. Even if the public is surprisingly accepting of Spider-Man’s role in the death of a respected police captain’s daughter.

In the new films, Peter’s supporting cast was essentially limited to Gwen and Aunt May. In the comics, he also had Mary Jane, Harry and the staff of the Daily Bugle. So there were also more people for a pissed off Spider-Man to interact with. That made for powerful moments.

Amazing Spider-Man 122 - 10

If I was building the entire movie around the Death of Gwen Stacy, I would try to figure out ways to make more room for this part of that story. There were probably too many villains in the film, although that’s an inevitable result if this film is used to introduce half of the Sinister Six, and Sony doesn’t believe in giving Marc Webb 3-4 years to come up with the best possible sequels. These are luxuries afforded Sam Mendes with the James Bond films, Christopher Nolan with the Batman movies and even JJ Abrams with Star Trek. When Webb has to worry about all these other considerations for his third movie, somethin has to give, and it’s just not going to be as good as it could be.

There is still one significant cut that could have been made. The subplot with the parents probably took up too much time, with the opening plane crash, and the whole scene with the abandoned subway station, especially since it had so little impact on the rest of the film. It’s arguably necessary at some point in the trilogy to resolve the questions about why the Parkers died, and to demonstrate how Richard Parker’s discoveries won’t be able to help Harry. But it seems that most of these twenty minutes, all of which take away from Peter and Gwen’s story, and don’t involve Spider-Man beating up any supervillains, could have been saved for the next film. Aunt May’s disclosure that Peter’s parents were considered traitors is more intriguing if the film doesn’t start with the heroic way in which they died. It could work as something for the audience to mull over as they wait for the next one.

Now you would have more time to show Peter and Gwen hanging out with people who would care that she died, and an angry Spider-Man lashing out against the world before he realizes that he still has great power and great responsibility.

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Multiple Villains and Spider-Man Movies

Poster with the bad guys in Amazing Spider-Man 2

There used to be the argument that the best superhero films (excluding team series like X-Men) were those with one villain. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Spider-Man 2 were pretty good. Spider-Man 3, Daredevil, the Burton produced Batman sequels, Superman 4 and others, not so much.

I didn’t quite buy that line of reasoning. The Nolan batfilms were excellent, and packed with 2-4 villains, depending on whether you count the likes of Carmine Falcone and Mr Zsasz. The second Captain America film continued the Marvel Cinematic Universe tradition of sequels with multiple antagonists, as Cap had to fight the head of Hydra, the Winter Soldier, Batroc, Crossbones and Arnim Zola.

That said, after seeing The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I’m wondering if the one villain rule, while not essential for other superheroes, should apply to the wallcrawler’s films. This bodes poorly for the sequels, given the focus on the Sinister Six. I liked the movie, but that was due to how well Andrew Garfield inhabited Spider-Man, and his chemistry with Emma Stone, rather than anything to do with the villains.

The film was just too busy. Storylines include the death of Norman Osborn, the origin of Electro, a dying Harry Osborn trying dangerous experiments, a power struggle at Oscorp, Peter trying to keep away from Gwen Stacy because it was her father’s dying wish, the first time Spider-Man beats Electro, shady experiments performed on Electro, a rematch between Spider-Man and Electro, a fight between Spider-Man and the unnamed Harry Goblin, Peter learning his parent’s secrets, the aftermath of the bad thing that Harry did and the origin of the Rhino.

906429 - The Amazing Spider-Man 2

There are exceptions, but the most acclaimed Spider-Man comics tend to have one antagonist. The Master Planner saga had Doctor Octopus. The Night Gwen Stacy Died had the Norman Osborn Green Goblin. Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut did have a small role for Black Tom, but it was mostly Spider-Man VS the Juggernaut. At the same time, the most acclaimed Batman stories tend to have multiple bad guys. Dark Knight Returns had Two-Face, the Joker and the leader of the mutants. The Long Halloween had Scarecrow, the Joker, the Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, Two Face and others.

Something that makes the Spider-Man comics and films different than other series is the focus on Peter Parker’s private life. That leaves less time for building up the bad guys. Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a two hour plus film in which we didn’t get much of a sense of many elements of Peter’s private life. What was he up to after graduating high school? What’s it like at the Bugle? Does he hang out with anyone else? The most egregious omission may be the way J Jonah Jameson, the best character in the Raimi trilogy, is kept as an off-screen presence.

It also doesn’t help that Jamie Foxx’s Electro is easily the least interesting villain from any of the Spider-Man movies. The power set makes for interesting spectacles, and I like how Peter and Gwen had to come up with strategies against him. But he was pathetic in a way that didn’t really fit the tone of the movie, and that made his transformation into a major player less believable.

Structurally, I could understand why they went with several bad guys. After setting up the mystery of the Osborns in the first film, Webb and company had to follow through on that. Harry fits well into the subplot about Peter’s parents, without repeating Norman Osborn’s story from the first Spider-Man. However, it would be problematic to make Harry Osborn a solo villain less than a decade after he shared the screen with Venom and Sandman in Spider-Man 3. He gains superpowers later in the arc, so the film still needs someone for Spider-Man to fight before that happens. Of course, there are similar problems with Electro, as the film introduces Max Dillon before he gets his powers. That necessitates new action sequences even earlier in the film.

Andrew Garfield;Paul Giamatti

I’m not sure what Sony could have done to make things better. They ended up making an okay superhero film (although reviews are brutal) but considering the source material, it could have been so much better. One option would have been to split the events into two films. So Amazing Spider-Man 2 could have Electro as the bad guy, while the next one could have Harry Osborn. An advantage is that Harry’s transition from Peter’s friend to his archenemy could be more convincing. One problem with that is that if Marc Webb spent an entire movie setting up Harry Osborn as the main villain in a sequel, it would essentially require repeating the major beats from his story in Spider-Man 2.

There are other villains who might have been better fits for this particular Osborn narrative. In the comics, the Vulture was an elderly scientist who sought revenge against the employers who cheated him. So he could match a story in which someone attempts to usurp control of Oscorp after Norman Osborn’s death. The supervillain origin could build on things that have already been established in the film,  so the story wouldn’t require anyone gaining superpowers in a mishap involving electric eels. A guy who has been at Oscorp for decades might also have connections to Peter’s parents, allowing the main villain of the film to be tied to a major subplot.

I can understand why they opted to go for Electro. He made for interesting set-pieces, and he made sense with Gwen Stacy’s story. For the film’s ending, Webb needed Gwen to decide to risk her life to save others, and that works better when the bad guy is a maniac trying to shut down the power grid, rather than an elderly man with wings.

In interviews, writer Jeff Pinkler described the film as a story about growing up. The Vulture would have been more appropriate for that story than Electro, whose motives don’t fit Peter Parker’s story. My impression from the interviews with the cast and crew is that they gave a lot of thought to what Electro represents, since it doesn’t fit what the rest of the film is about. Walter Chaw of Film Freak Central praised the allusions to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and thought that the character allowed the film to address topics of racial and class politics. This all makes for a very busy film, something that can be alleviated if there are less villains.

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Capital and Bestsellers

The Huffington Post is excited about the wealth manifesto Capital In the 21st Century

The top story on the Huffington Post right now is the success of an unlikely bestseller, a translation of the French Economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

What interests me right now is the quoted sales figures. Jia Lynn Wang of Wonkblog is ecstatic about the numbers.

The book has sold about 48,000 hardcover copies and 8,000 to 9,000 e-book versions, according to Susan Donnelly, sales and marketing director at Harvard University Press, the publisher behind the English-language version of the book. (The book written originally in French and released there last year.)

There are presses cranking it out in the United States, India and Britain, and the book is in at least its fourth run. Even though the book was already a hit in its native France, it’s now taking off among English readers around the world, said Donnelly. She expects that sales in China, Hong Kong and Japan will also soon follow.

As a comic book fan, I acknowledge the need to grow the market when estimated sales just over 50,000 are enough to get an issue into the top 25. So, it always surprised me to see a reminder of the problems of the rest of the publishing industry. And nothing highlights that as much as the runaway success of a title with sales in the mid five figures. I’m sure it’ll sell more with the feedback loop of all the current media coverage, but it showcases the level of attention we’ll give to something that ultimately reaches a limited number of eyeballs.

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The Infinite Spider-Man: Commitment To Change And Other Alternatives

The Commitment to Change in Amazing Spider-Man #28 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

An obvious question about retcons is why it’s necessary to preserve elements of a series’ existing status quo? Why shouldn’t writers and editors embrace earlier developments? So, I considered the “Commitment to Change” approach, as a contrast to the Illusion of Change. The conclusion was that change for the sake of change is harmful for a character that’s been around for a long time, and the same is true of an approach of choosing the preferences of current fans, who may be ready for something different, over the interests of future readers, who would have certain expectations about what they’ll find in a Spider-Man comic.

Considering how the series could develop over the course of the coming years raised the question of whether Spider-Man could be replaced by a new generation of Marvel heroes.

A regular Marvel Universe version of Miles Morales was one potential alternate, although it wouldn’t be the same as Ultimate Marvel. Ben Reilly was another possible substitute. Marvel would have to figure out how to bring him back first.

Another significant question was whether Spider-Man’s story should be allowed to come to an end. Which leads to the question of what type of ending would be the most appropriate for the character, a guy who doesn’t tend to get the girl at the end of the first act.

Death and divorce were considered as alternatives to One More Day. Writer Kurt Busiek had argued in favor of a particular method of depicting a divorce. It was one of several potential compromises.

Ultimate Crossover

I considered whether Peter Parker’s private life matters and if there’s even a point for the creative team to focus on anything other than the action- adventure aspects of the series. A related suggestion was to give the supporting cast members the interesting private lives. I was not in favor of either idea

I considered the argument that the book could be made less like Archie, although that seemed to be based on a misunderstanding about a storied from of serial fiction. The next argument was whether the book should be less like a soap opera. And the Spider-Man comics have been influenced by both

There was also the suggestion that there could be two titles set in different universes, with different outcomes for the characters. And that readers had other places to get their Spider-Man fix than just the regular series. And that there was no need to distinguish between the “real” Spider-Man and other versions of the character.

A final claim I was considered was whether the only problem was in the quality of writers, rather than anything to do with the status quo. Or perhaps the problem is that the writers should have devoted more energy to one particular supporting character.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.

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The Infinite Spider-Man: One More Day

Marko Djurdjevic's One More Day close-up of Spider-Man's hands.After reflecting on retcons in general, I considered what exactly Joe Quesada accomplished with One More Day. How did it change the history of the characters? What was the explanation for those changes?

A deal between Spider-Man and Mephisto to save Aunt May’s life was central to the story, so that led to two main questions. Was Mephisto written out of character? I looked at his early appearances, and it seemed to fit his motives and power set. Would Peter Parker have taken the deal? Two things convinced me that he would have: The extent to which he’ll value the lives of others, especially in Paul Jenkins’ work, and his explicit willingness to sacrifice himself for Aunt May in other comics.

The mechanics of time travel were also considered, as I reviewed whether the depiction of time travel in One More Day was consistent with other Marvel Comics, and if those changes should have been more significant.  That led to the question of whether the alterations were adequately explained. Did the infamous comment “It’s Magic, We Don’t Have to Explain It” reveal a carelessness about the revisions to the franchise? To what degree had Marvel succeeded in clarifying what had happened? This is emblematic of a difference in priorities between fans, who want to see detailed examinations of the fallout of various developments, and comics professionals, who prefer to move to the next stage and their own stories.

The next step was determining the effect of One More Day on the pros. Could writers be scared away from the Spider-Man comics? Did it make the backstory of the characters too confusing? Does it hammer the point that their contributions could be too easily erased?

Most of the focus on One More Day was with the last two issues. I considered its merits as a story, and the extent to which that was significant. How much did it matter if One More Day was good?

Peter Parker punches Iron Man in One More Day

There were a few other complaints about the story that I considered. Some thought that it was too similar to an arc from Geoff Johns and Scott Kolin’s run on The Flash. At least one smart-aleck asked what would happen if The Simpsons jettisoned the kids so that Homer could be single. A common complaint was that someone else in the Marvel Universe should have been able to save Aunt May. The writer seems to have disowned the story. Some readers had the impression that there should have been more consequences to the retcon, while others argued that twenty years of Spider-Man comics no longer mattered. There were two final questions about the protagonist: Does it matter if Peter Parker would have been the type of guy to get married? Does something feel off with Peter Parker?

Finally, I noted how what followed OMD represented something different from before, a flexible approach to continuity. This fit changes in the industry, and reminded me of the best comic book of the last decade: All-Star Superman.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.

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Estonia In The Media

With Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, Estonia’s in the news. The Daily Beast had a profile on President Toomas Ilves‘s efforts to fight back against Putin.

So, where should the West focus its attention?

Ilves’ eyes light up and he repeats one word: “Banks,” he says. “Banks.” The American sanctions have targeted one financial institution so far, Bank Rossiya, described by the U.S. as “the personal bank for senior officials.” But such measures could go much further. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States developed a complex and stringent system for applying economic sanctions to target terrorist funding. Ilves would like to see the same sort of tools deployed against many of the banks doing business with the Russian government and Putin’s cronies.

Ilves also raises the idea of reviewing Europe’s recognition of Russian passports as “trustworthy travel documents.” A key element of Moscow’s game plan in the territories it wants to take is “passportization,” the cynical—not to mention illegal—distribution of Russian passports to citizens of other countries. That’s what it did in the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the run-up to the 2008 War. Earlier this month it did the same thing in Crimea. “If it were some other country that was a passport mill, there would be a reaction to that,” says Ilves.

Russia had compared Estonia’s treatment of Ethnic Russians to the treatment of ethnic Russians in the Ukraine. National Review‘s Andrew Stuttaford defended Estonia on this.

The reason that there is a large Russian minority in the east of Estonia is that that region, essentially situated around the city of Narva, was ethnically cleansed by the invading Soviets at the end of the Second World War. The Estonians who lived there were either killed in the fighting, murdered, deported or driven into exile, something that Moscow seems curiously unwilling to acknowledge.

Overall, Estonia’s ethnic-Russian minority — today around a quarter of the population (down from around 30 percent at the end of the long Soviet occupation) — live far better, and enjoy much more in the way of political freedom than Russians across the border in Russia itself. Indeed, the younger generation (or so I was told during the course of a visit to the largely Russian-speaking town of Sillamäe 18 months ago) have something of an advantage over their Estonian peers. They have a better grasp of Estonian than young ethnic Estonians have of Russian (the language of the former occupier) giving them a useful leg up in the employment market of what is de facto, if not de jure, a bilingual country.

That ethnic Estonians insist that their small country retains Estonian as the sole official language is neither shocking nor surprising. This scrap of territory is the only land that Estonians have left to call their own — and that only just. The fate of three vanished or vanishing languages — Old Prussian, Livonian and Ingrian — in their own neighborhood serve as a constant reminder of what could lie ahead for their own tongue.

eesti kaart_1500x1494_

Daniel Berman argues that Narva is a likely target for Putin.

That corner may lie in the city of Narva. Nestled between Russian territory on three sides, the city has played a large role in Russian history. It was Russia’s first major port to the West in the 16th Century. It was here in 1701 that Peter the Great was decisively beaten by the Swedish King Charles XII in the opening battle of the Great Northern War, eventual victory in which would establish Russia as a leading European power. Finally, it was the site of a major Soviet victory in the Second World War.
If Narva shares the sort of historical links with Russia that inspired such a strong attachment in the Crimea, its demographic links with Moscow are even stronger. 94% of the population is Russian speaking, 82% of whom are ethnic Russians, compared with only 4% who are Estonian. That compares with a figure of only a little over 60% in Crimea. Even more worryingly, Narva is a major symbol of what is one of Estonia’s largest domestic problems, its effort to reduce the size of its Russian minority population through the mechanism of denying a substantial percentage of its residents citizenship. Despite lying within Estonian territory, only 47% of the population possesses Estonian Citizenship. Almost as many, 36%, hold Russian citizenship Finally, 16% are stateless. Having grown up in Estonia, they have no claim to citizenship in Russia or anywhere else, but Estonia has denied them citizenship. As a consequence they exist in a legal grey area, able to move to some degree within the EU, but unable to work or travel outside it except to Russia. Its hardly a surprise then that Narva has an unemployment rate north of 40%, and one of the highest HIV rates in Europe.
On examination there, Putin’s political position regarding Narva is far stronger than it was in the Crimea. Narva is more uniformly Russia in population, has more cause for discontent with Latvia than the Crimea had with Kiev, and his moral argument is genuinely strong. By contrast the West’s case is far less – there is no strategic or economic value in the city, the Estonian government’s treatment of the local population is indefensible, and the locals, especially those who are stateless, have much to gain from Russian support, not least citizenship somewhere, even if its within Putin’s Russian Federation.
In effect, if the West did feel Crimea is worth fighting for, fighting over Narva would be an act of madness. Or it would be an act of madness except for the minor issues deriving from Estonia’s membership in NATO and the EU, most prominently NATO’s Article Five requiring the United States and Europe to defend Estonia’s independence, presumably within its existing borders regardless of what it does within them.

 

In lighter news, the Guardian covered a development in an Estonian soccer match.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal considered what would happen if we developed the ability to communicate with other universes. The President had an important question for her counterparts in those universes.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal Estonia

It isn’t the webcomic’s first reference to Estonia.

20071101

Ten million people have watched a Youtube video of  Sara “smoukahontas” imitating what Estonian sounds like to foreigners. Granted, the vast majority of them were probably interested in the other languages she imitated.

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J. Jonah Jameson Image Dump

 

With Great Power #5 021

Amazing Spider-Man Annual 16-39

Mayor Jonah

Amazing Spider-Man 25 Jonah Wins

Amazing Spider-Man 53 Jonah

Amazing Spider-Man 64 Crazed Jonah

Amazing Spider-Man Annual 1 Crazy Jonah

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