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That's What She Said

Call Gwen Stacy a Damsel In Distress Around Emma Stone At Your Peril

Hot tip for if any of you end up interviewing Emma Stone at some point during the Amazing Spider-Man 2 press junket (hey, you never know): Don’t ask her how many times her character Gwen Stacy gets rescued. Or do, if you’re OK with her going off on how Gwen’s the one who’s rescuing that reckless Spidey all the time, thank you very much.

I don’t remember all that much about The Amazing Spider-Man—it didn’t do anything to make me seethe, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to expose myself to it, either. Like lima beans. But I have a vague memory of Gwen Stacy being rescued a few times. At the school? And later at the tower? My brain took leave of that movie five minutes after I saw it. But anyway, in the sequel, now that Gwen knows Peter Parker’s secret identity, she’s going to involve herself much more with saving him than being rescued by him:

Via TotalFilm:

When we asked her how many times Spider-Man saves her in the upcoming sequel, Stone replied: “Not many. I can think of one important instance.

“She saves him more than he saves her. She’s incredibly helpful to Spider-Man… He’s the muscle, she’s the brains.”

Stone adds: “I don’t get to do too many crazy stunts. She gets herself in the middle of stuff, that’s for sure! I do get webbed to a car. There’s shit like that.”

You know, New York stuff. Getting stuck to a car by spider webbing.

The way Stone makes it sound is that Gwen saves Spidey with her smarts and  Spidey saves Gwen with his physical prowess, which ugggggh. I have seen that, particularly in superhero movies, approximately TWELVE. GAZILLION. TIMES. Look, I love that Gwen’s a genius. A science genius: Even better. On an individual level women saving men with the power of their brains is cool—Jane Foster taking Selvig’s super science staff and figuring out how to weaponize it on the spot in Thor: The Dark World was pretty wonderful—and the message that physical strength is not the only way to save the day is absolutely a vital one to send.

I just want more ladies storming into the fray to rescue their men, that’s all. The MCU gets props for having Sif and Pepper throw down for Thor and Iron Man. And then there’s Black Widow, who threw down for the entire world. But what can I say? Katniss and Tauriel have spoiled me.

(via: Blastr)

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  • Jake Mertz

    In the comics was Gwen Stacy was indeed a damsel in distress, and a cry baby. Frankly, I was glad they when they killed her off, and Mary Jane became Peter’s girlfriend, and then wife. At least she wasn’t crying her eyes out in just about every book she was in.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that she’s actually more of a character in the movies. It’s gonna kinda suck when they kill her off, unless they;re going a totally different direction with her then the comics did.

  • Anonymous

    All forms of saving are valid and powerful. I don’t need nor want all women to be physical action heroines to prove their strength.

    It depends on the woman and her story. For Gwen, it makes sense for her to use her brain. And that’s equally valid. The issue here is that we don’t have enough stories with the man using his brain and the woman using her brawn. That’s why I enjoy Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor. It’s a rare example of the positions being reversed.

    Then you come to the problem that many of the women saving the world with action doing so in sexualized costumes whereas women like Gwen get to be less sexualized. So that’s a give and take as well. I want all the stories and all the forms of power. But this is perfectly wonderful for Gwen.

  • Ali Miller

    Just what I wanted to say, thanks. As someone who is not physically able to do a whole lot (yay, asthma) I enjoy seeing women on screen save the day without relying on athleticism of any kind. I like seeing men in that role, too, and wish the roles were flipped a lot more.

    And yeah – let’s remember that Lady Sif is an Asgardian, Pepper had Extremis on her side, and even Widow is a highly trained martial artist. Gwen Stacy is a high school student. Not exactly equipped with the advantages our other lady heroes have. And yet, she manages to be perfectly badass in her own right. Emma’s Gwen is actually a significant reason why I’m enjoying the new Spidey franchise (much prefer her to Kirsten Dunst’s MJ).

  • Anonymous

    Is she going to be his source for web?

  • Elizabeth Wells

    Gwen did some Spidey-saving in TASM as well. He saves her at the school because instead of evacuating with everyone else, she stuck around to clock the Crocodile on the head with a fire extinguisher before he could evicerate Spidey. It didn’t do much more than distract the Croc, but it helped. In the tower the only reason she’s there is to make the antidote to the evil serum the Croc was going to use to mutate everyone in New York. She saves herself in that case by building an impromptu flamethower to keep the Croc away while Spidey is still swinging across town.
    So yeah, Gwen, not so much damsel-in-distress.

  • Adrian

    Gwen Stacy wasn’t a damsel in distress in The Amazing Spider-Man, either. She was smart, beautiful, brave, and quite helpful in many ways throughout.

    Save for the music, I’d argue that The Amazing Spider-Man is equal to or better than Raimi’s first Spider-Man film in every way.

  • Anonymous

    Ali—fellow asthma sufferer here too! :) I exercise a great deal and I’m very strong but I’ve been on steroid inhalers my whole life and dealt with a lot of health problems/physical pain due to my serious asthma. My brain was my weapon growing up and I relate the most to fictional women like Lois Lane who change the world through their jobs. That’s my inspiration.
    At the end of the day, I think it’s important to remember that civilian heroes are VITAL to these franchises just as they are vital to our own society. We all have a role to play. I love Lois Lane. I love Gwen Stacy. I loved that Pepper was a CEO.
    I’m a huge proponent of Wonder Woman getting her OWN narrative with Steve Trevor (or something like him) by her side bc it’s a wonderful example of the roles being reversed and seeing a wonderful man ( who yes is her EQUAL bc equality isn’t physical guys) being the civilian hero while Diana is the supernatural figure. We need to see all these roles for women. Balance is important. We don’t have balance right now which is why it’s frustrating.

  • Travis

    “I just want more ladies storming into the fray to rescue their men, that’s all. The MCU gets props for having Sif and Pepper throw down for Thor and Iron Man. And then there’s Black Widow, who threw down for the entire world. But what can I say? Katniss and Tauriel have spoiled me.”

    Spoiled is right if you’re seriously complaining that Gwen Stacy won’t be getting into fistacuffs with the Rhino.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think this is about Gwen Stacy though. We actually do have some pretty incredible heroines in comics who use their brains and jobs to save the world and that’s super inspiring.
    I think the point is that it’s about balance. We need to see women in all different roles. It’s less about Gwen and more about the lack superheroines who aren’t overtly sexualized on the big screen.

  • Laura Truxillo

    The biggest thing I remember about Gwen Stacy (actually about the movie itself) was the way that she waited while the Lizard was stalking her until he was exactly where she wanted him, and then improvised a flamethrower.

    That was pretty sweet.

    She was also in a dangerous situation because she was selfless enough to do the hero thing, instead of tropey Damsel reason like being trapped or kidnapped.

  • Ashe

    “The issue here is that we don’t have enough stories with the man using his brain and the woman using her brawn.”

    Funny you mention that, I was just thinking today how I’m starting to see this flipped in recent animated movies: Astrid and Hiccup in How To Train Your Dragon, Eep and Guy in The Croods, etc. Even Kung Fu Panda, despite Po and Tigress both being warriors, it’s Tigress who demonstrates the ‘brooding, strong, silent personality’, whereas Po is more sensitive and emotional.

    Brave also touched on different forms of strength in women: Merida, who’s action-prone and very physical, learns to be diplomatic and mature throughout the movie. Elinor, peaceful and cautious, learns to be adaptable and take action.

    It’s not common, but nonetheless, good stuff I’m seeing!

  • Anonymous

    Marvel Studios and the Amazing Spider-Man franchise are doing a pretty good job with their female leads. These characters were created a long time ago and were clearly damsels in distress but there is a noticeable effort to modernize those characters and make them more than just victims. It’s quite a step up from Sam Raimi’s Mary Jane, which was the absolute low point in the genre, IMO.

    Now, if someone could make the next step, we’d have a female superhero movie on our hands.

  • AnnaB

    I’ve actually been a great fan of this “flipping”. Loved the Croods, and I was so pleased that Tigress was the strong, brooding type in Kung Fu Panda. There’s also Kensi and Deeks in NCIS: LA, where Deeks resentfully tells Kensi that “not all of them was raised by Jason Borne”. I like a strong lady character with a mind on her, but I do appreciate the cleverly done turnabout.

  • Objection

    Raimi’s MJ didn’t do more or less than TASM’s Gwen did. But she DID have agency and her own character arc instead of just being shown as only Spider-Man’s girlfriend. So absolute low point? I think not. TASM Gwen was a step DOWN. A true “strong female character” isn’t one who is never in distress or who kicks ass. Just because Gwen isn’t kidnapped doesn’t mean she isn’t a shallow, inconsequential character.

  • Objection

    You misremembered. She wasn’t luring him into any trap, she was hiding and had the flamethrower ready for self-defense. And the Lizard wasn’t stalking her to kidnap or hurt her, but to take the chemical vial she had…which he rather hilariously does while she’s using the flamethrower.

    I will give kudos for the selfless hero thing though…she was doing a better job at that than Spidey was at the moment.

  • Anonymous

    Spider-Man rescues Gwen once in the film, at the school (and, IIRC, this is after she deliberately distracts the Lizard’s attention from Spider-Man). She doesn’t need rescuing at Osborne Tower – she gets out of that situation herself, runs outside, and her dad and his cops are there.

    I liked that she was far more of an equal to Peter than MJ was in the earlier movies, and her knowing about and supporting his role as Spider-Man, and being willing to risk her own life to protect others despite not having superpowers, really made her a better character than your average love interest.

  • Anonymous

    It’s the Lizard, not the Crocodile.

  • Anonymous

    Gwen risked her life to make the antidote that saved New York in TASM, despite not having any superpowers; that’s agency, and far more of a contribution than MJ ever made to any of the fights in the original Spider-Man movies.

    MJ was written as Spider-Man’s love interest, and nothing else – her importance was solely in terms of her relationship with Peter Parker and (up until the end of the second movie) her unavailability. In the first movie she had two different relationships for guys she didn’t give any particular indications of caring for; in the second one she agreed to marry a guy despite admitting she still had feelings for Peter. There’s no characterization explanation for these relationships – they existed in the movie for the purpose of making her unavailable to Peter Parker and causing him emotional distress, and no time at all was spent on why Mary Jane, as a person, would have those relationships. She had to be rescued three times in the first movie and once in the second, screaming all the time, and in the second occasion in the first movie (where Spidey’s rescuing her from thugs) she just stood there while Spidey was fighting them off and didn’t even try to contribute. The commentaries on the films indicate Kristen Blunt didn’t like this and insisted on MJ at least trying to contribute to the fight against Doc Ock in the second movie, even if she was completely ineffectual. I found the movies very annoying in what they did with her.

  • Anonymous

    I’m hoping that if they do kill her off, it’s the result of something heroic that she’s doing (e.g.: she learns something important about one of the villains, is killed because of it, but managed to get the information to Peter in some way). If she’s killed because of heroic things she’s choosing to do, knowing that she’s risking her life, that’s a lot less fridgey than her being killed because she’s Peter’s girlfriend.

  • Laura Truxillo

    Did I say lured? She waited. She was hiding and instead of bolting or screaming or panicking while something very very dangerous was closing in, she waited until the best moment and attacked.

    And I did say that she WASN’T being stalked for the damsel-y reasons like being kidnapped or hurt.

  • Travis

    Might be neat if she’s killed by building debris during a big fight while pushing some kid away to safety.

  • BatiHoney

    Thank you! You took the words out of my mouth. Gwen was, in no way, a damsel in distress in TASM. It’s not like the Lizard targeted or anything. At the school, I’d say that Peter took her out of harm’s way rather than saving her… and at the tower she was just plan awesome and brave.

    I think it takes more than “having to be saved” to be called a Damsel in Distress, so calling Gwen one is unfair and unaccurate. I hope she will be equally awesome in TASM2.

  • Temmere

    I never thought the Raimi movies were exactly masterpieces, but I give them a bit more credit than that. MJ may never have contributed to Spider-Man’s superheroics the way Webb’s Gwen is doing, but the movies still paid at least a little attention to her as a person, showing how she came from a fairly unpleasant home life and was trying to get past that through the various jobs she had. It’s fine to prefer female characters that help save the day (or just save it themselves), but saying that MJ was “nothing” except for Spider-Man’s love interest is, I think, a little unfair.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, but I’ll never believe any character can be a step down from MJ. I can forgive a character being kidnapped one time (even if it’s cliché) but we’re talking about a character that has to be rescued MULTIPLE times in EVERY film. Every single movie ended with her having to be rescued. She wasn’t a character, she was a plot device.

  • Anonymous

    I thought that Spider-Man 2 was absolutely a good movie, but MJ was a weak point in it. Everything that happened in her life was selected by the moviemakers around the impact they wanted it to have on Peter Parker – she was successful to contrast with his lack of success (and she was a model and an actress to emphasize her desirability), she was dating and later engaged to another man in order to render her unavailable (despite the fact that it made her look like an asshole for 1) getting engaged to John Jameson despite knowing she still had feelings for Peter and 2) abandoning him at the altar instead of at least explaining things). Even her unpleasant home life is to give her something to open up to Peter about (it’s stated as much in the commentaries).

    Nothing about MJ’s character and actions is about developing MJ as a person; it’s all about Peter.

  • Anonymous

    The one that gets me is when Peter catches the wall to prevent it from falling on her right near the end of Spider-Man 2. (It’s not really a needful scene, as all it does is imperil her yet again.) She’s just standing there, and Peter gives her this awkward smile and says “This is really heavy”, and it’s supposed to be cute, and I can’t help reading a subtext of “move out of the way of this wall so I can drop it”.

  • Anonymous

    “All forms of saving are valid and powerful. I don’t need nor want all women to be physical action heroines to prove their strength.”

    Agreed. But try explaining that to people like Sarkeesian who look down on that. Personally, I kind of like the role-reversal done in stories like in the videogame Primal or in the movie Underworld.