This is part of my series on the gender of the 2012 big budget blockbusters. Check out the others: The Hunger Games, Prometheus, MIB3, The Avengers, Brave, Snow White and the Huntsman, Ted and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Magic Mike.
So there's a new Spiderman movie out and it's entertaining. Or at least, looking at Andrew Garfield is!
But my objective with this series isn't to talk about how attractive the leading man is...it's to examine the gender situation of each film, so that quite changes the spin I have on The Amazing Spiderman.
Unfortunately, women are of little consequence to this film. The only two significant female characters are the love interest, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and Aunt May (Sally Field) and simply put, the way they are both dealt with fulfills stereotypes. (Spoilers to follow.)
Aunt May is probably the more frustrating of the two for me. She fulfills the duty of nurturer but that's about it. My understanding of Aunt May (from the admittedly very flawed previous Sam Raimi trilogy) was that she is a provider of wisdom and support to her nephew. The take here positioned her much more as a sweet but fragile woman who needed Peter to protect and care for her. On the other hand, Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) provides wisdom, strength, and guidance in the first half of the film when he is still living. Aunt May is left as a nice person at home who cooks for them and needs to be picked up so she doesn't have to travel the scary path home alone. There's no other way to put it: May is all around depicted as a fairly stereotypical mom/wife without much depth or complexity.
Gwen Stacy has a little bit more going for her. She's first in her class and has a prestigious internship at Oscorp. She stands up for classmates who are being bullied. She sticks by Peter/Spiderman when he needs her and works to ensure that he has what he needs to be successful and defeat the villain. However, her dad Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), pulls her into his police cruiser to keep her safe, and effectively removes her from the action for a majority of the most interesting scenes. Then, with his dying wish, Captain Stacy asks Peter to promise him he'll stop seeing Gwen as to protect her from the lifestyle that comes from being partnered with a vigilante superhero. Peter obliges and what Gwen actually wants becomes of secondary importance, at least for now.
Over and over, the message was that the women need to be saved and protected: from their neighborhoods, from danger, and sometimes even from their own wishes. This theme severely limits the female characters and as a result they don't contain anything particularly interesting and they certainly don't contribute to the story arch in any meaningful way. Gwen is the love interest. May is the nurturer. That's it. Their very reasons to exist are dependent upon their relationships to men.
All of the action and the really interesting stuff comes from men and happens to men. Like I mentioned before with MIB3, that in and of itself in isolation is not a bad thing--but the overwhelming fact that most stories are male driven/aimed is exceedingly frustrating. It makes me appreciate the Katniss Everdeens of the world all the more.