Warning: If you haven’t yet seen The Amazing Spider-Man 2, then you should absolutely stop reading right now.
As many have predicted for nearly a year, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) does indeed fall to her death in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, much as she did in Amazing Spider-Man #121 — a comic which, appropriately enough, is known as “The Night Gwen Stacy Died.” But regardless of speculation and source material that dates back nearly four decades, some audiences were still shocked to see Peter Parker’s first love come to such a terrible end. “I’ve poked my head into theaters in L.A. for that moment just to hear people gasp,” director Marc Webb tells EW. “It’s fascinating. People just don’t believe it.”
Webb understands. He felt much the same way when Gwen Stacy was killed off in the comic. “It stayed with me in a profound way. It broke me. I was anxious and curious to explore it on the screen. From the very beginning I planned on doing it,” he says. “For me, everything in the movie was built around that moment. There’s a cost to being a hero.”
But there was another theme that greatly interested Webb: “[The movie] is also about time and about valuing the time you have with the one you love,” he says. He points out that the very first shot of the film is a ticking clock, and that its first line is Richard Parker saying, “I wish I had more time.” Time is the underlying theme of Gwen’s valedictorian speech, and her last fateful moments take place where? At a clock tower. “Ultimately, it’s not the Goblin that kills Gwen,” says Webb. “They’re fighting in the cogs, in the machinery of the clock tower, and Spider-Man puts his foot in between the cogs and literally tries to stop time. That’s what causes her death—his inability, despite his enormous efforts, to stop time.”
This is the stuff of classic tragedy. “It’s about trying to do good, and by virtue of trying to do good, bad things happen,” says Webb. “It’s what Oedipus does — he goes out and tries to save the city, and he ends up sleeping with his mother.” Webb laughs. “His efforts are noble! But the irony of it is that he causes damage by trying to do good. That is, to me, the most resonant thing of tragedy. Spider-Man is saving people and the world, but it’s at his own expense.”
Of course, it’s not so easy to sacrifice your very popular leading lady either. “I’m utterly aware of the consequences for us,” Webb says. “Emma is beloved, and that relationship is the heart of these movies. But that’s also why we couldn’t shy away from that. It has to have impact. It has to shock you. It has to be devastating. Anything else would be undermining the truth of it.”
As for Peter Parker, he’ll have another movie to work on healing. “It’s going to be really difficult for Peter Parker to move forward,” says Webb. “But that’s the challenge of it: How do you recover from that? That’s going to play out in the next movie.”