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.
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.
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.
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.
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.