Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) has stolen a New York police car and has driven it across town (no mean feat from what I’ve read about the traffic of the Big Apple). She’s run into Electro (Jamie Foxx) at full tilt and come to a screeching halt. Then she approaches Spiderman (Andrew Garfield) to tell him off, and to inform him that she is her own woman and to stop making decisions for her. Spiderman is notably shocked that (a) she is here at all, and that (b) she hasn’t noticed the danger she’s in, given that Electro has just laid waste to the power station they’re standing in the middle of. She cannot be reasoned with.
Compare and contrast this to the scene I’m thinking of in STID, where Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is sitting in a shuttlecraft currently converging on the Klingon home planet in violation of several treaties and undoubtedly in an act of war. She chooses this tense moment to bring up a relationship issue she’s having with her partner Spock (Zachary Quinto), while Kirk (Chris Pine) looks on disbelievingly.
Both women are supposed to be intelligent and capable. Stacey has in TAS2 just gotten a scholarship to Oxford University, she’s graduated top of class at her university and is gainfully employed at Ozcorp, the über technological source of a great deal of pain in the city and source of the spider that bit Peter Parker in The Amazing Spiderman (2012). Yet she’s so pissed-off she gets into a relationship argument with Spiderman in the middle of a half destroyed power station. Not only did these scenes stretch plausibility, and broke the mood of those preceding, but they made the women look petty and over-emotional, as-if screaming “look at me! I’m a capable woman! I deserve to be listened to and seen!”
Why was I not surprised then that this latest Spiderman adventure was penned by the same men who wrote STID, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the men who gave us a Starfleet officer (Dr. Carol Marcus, played by Alice Eve) in her underwear being ogled by Chris Pine? Certainly they apologised for this blindingly sexist scene (Ed. Actually it was Damon Lindelof), but that it was written in the first place indicates, I think, a little bit of an issue writing female characters. Indeed, the four female characters in TAS2 which are of note (and are the only ones in the entire movie other than a Spiderman rescuee and a mother who lets her son wander into a live-fire scene) are Embeth Davidtz playing Peter’s mum Mary; Stefanie Bari playing Mallory, a Personal Assistant first to the boss of Ozcorp, Norman Ozborne (Chris Cooper) and then to his son, Harry (Dane Dehaan); Gwen Stacey, Peter’s on and off again girlfriend; and finally Sally Field playing Aunt May, Peter’s guardian.
And what do these women get?
Mary gets a couple of lines of dialogue, gets locked in a toilet and is then shot, but saved by her husband (scientist Richard Parker, played by Campbell Scott) who somehow manages to beat-up an assassin sent to kill them both. Mallory has a grand total of two lines of dialogue the whole picture and honestly, I can only think that the rest of her scenes ended up on the cutting room floor because she’s only there to inform Harry that she’s overheard some of the board talking about something, knowledge he could have obtained by looking into the computer he seems to have no trouble with. Aunt May talks about clothes washing, a little about Peter’s father and has a quick scene in a hospital because that’s what older women get to do with their lives. Gwen Stacey gets a little more, being a slightly more major character, and gets a graduation speech, dumps Peter because he’s unable to commit to their relationship because of the promise he made to her father at the end of the last movie, gets almost caught by Ozcorp security because she’s worked out who Electro is (but unsurprisingly saved in the nick of time by Peter), and then gets to temporarily save the day after the aforementioned relationship discussion. Oh, and she dies at the end, but for what reason I don’t know because she didn’t hit the ground.
These are characters with skills, they are people who clearly are where they are because they’re intelligent and resourceful, even Aunt May who is working as a waitress and studying — presumably — nursing. So why aren’t they allowed to have screen time which includes showing any of these skills off? The slap in the face for me was Gwen Stacey caught in gridlock and when she spies a web-message (literally not electronically) on a bridge from boyfriend Spiderman, says “Stop the cab”. Really?! She’s been accepted to Oxford and she can’t tell the cab is standing still?
It’s this kind of lazy-arse writing that makes me really scratch my head and wonder why, in this the 21st century, we even have to have this conversation at all? If Dan O’Bannon could write a strong female character, who acts within the boundaries and the skills which she has within that story, then why can’t we get the same 35 years bloody later. The movie, of course, is Alien (1979), and the character, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver).
I know that TAS2 is not high art. It’s a superhero flick which should, unfortunately, be subtitled “leave your brain at the door”. But if writers such as Christopher and Jonathan Nolan (Dark Knight Rises, 2012), and Joss Whedon (The Avengers, 2012) can write strong female characters in their superhero flicks, then why can’t Orci and Kurtzman?
TAS2 follows directly from the last movie, give or take a few months to a year. We begin with Spiderman preventing the theft of apparently explosive nuclear material from an armoured car by Russian miscreants including Paul Gammatti whose demeanor screams “The Rhino”. Indeed, he is recruited to the cause of the bad-guys at the end of TAS2, gets the suit and in another of these implausible scenes that Orci and Kurtzman seem hell-bent on writing, holds his fire when a child wanders into a battle scene dressed like Spiderman. That he continues to avoid shooting when Spiderman himself makes an appearance, despite this being the very webslinger that captured him at the beginning of the movie made me wonder what the hell was going on? This was about as clunky a scene as I could imagine and seemed tacked-onto the narrative, perhaps a result of bad viewing figures had the movie ended with the death of Gwen Stacey. Even The Incredibles (2004) got their ending scene right: straight after a track and field event, we get The Underminer coming up for air to be confronted — off-screen — by The superhero team.
This is not the only clunky scene. Take for example the ease with which Harry Ozborne first manages to get into a high-security asylum for the insane, then incapacitates two guards, one with his own tazer. Seriously? This from a guy who is apparently dying of an incurable disease? And then to add insult to injury, he gets through to a super-secret room where Electro is being held.
But the icing on this particular cake is Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon, AKA Electro, the big bad of the movie, who starts out as a clumsy engineering type in the mould of Moss (Richard Ayoade in The IT Crowd), moves through into a passive, bullied employee of Ozcorp, and then becomes a marauding electricity monster as a result of a stunning decision to fix an electrical fault by standing on a metal railing and connecting a severed connection with bare hands, then falling into a vat of electric eels.
This is the engineer who designed a super power station. And yet, he doesn’t know about how Electricity works? Really?
Once converted to the blue Electro, he manages first to escape what appears to be a morgue in the basement of Ozcorp (why in god’s name it would be there is anyone’s guess), and then gets out into what I’m assuming is Times Square where he rather suddenly becomes very angry and vengeful. Admittedly, he’d just been shot, but it just seemed out of character based on what had been seen before. At no time had he shown even a dribble of anger or annoyance; indeed, not twelve hours earlier, in a child-like and perhaps cute scene, he was imagining a conversation with Spiderman which included being brought a birthday cake by the webslinger. “Geeky” in Orci and Kurtzman’s minds clearly means latent maniac, the same as intelligent woman equals needy over-emotional moron.
If you like spectacle (and indeed, I saw this flick in 3d at the rather good Backlot Studios in South Melbourne), then TAS2 is going to make you happy. If, on the other hand, you’re expecting more of your superhero movies, in light of what was achieved in The Avengers (2012), then this will disappoint.