With the upcoming release of Marvel Studio’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, the IP known as Peter Parker will have appeared in nine major motion pictures over the last decade, including six solo movies. Add the three Sam Raimi-helmed solo films from the ’00s, and that makes for a whopping 12 major Spider-Man film appearances since 2002 (and that doesn’t count Spider-Man adjacent properties like Venom and Morbius). Spider-Man, in other words, is the most ubiquitous figure in cinema in this century so far. Even Dominic Toretto (eight film appearances) can’t compete with numbers like that.
After a year and a half spent mainlining half-hearted streaming entertainment during the pandemic, you might feel an undeniable jolt of serotonin coursing through your brain while picturing his red and blue spandex swinging through the valleys of Manhattan on the big screen once again. Or maybe you’re over the superhero gold rush, and can’t possibly imagine the filmmakers could come up with anything new or exciting for the—I repeat—twelfth Spider-Man film.
But that overlooks the myriad of possibilities when you have ginormous motion picture studios working in sync and two decades worth of cinematic Spider-history to draw upon—there are so many toys in the sandbox now, and the actors aren’t getting any younger. And that’s how you end up with the knockout moment in the trailer above where none other than a subtly de-aged Alfred Molina dons the leather jacket and mechanical tentacles to play Dr. Octopus once more. All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again.
COMIC BOOK MOVIE BLATHER &
EXISTENTIAL CRISIS AHEAD ]
Spider-Man: No Way Home, whose trailer leaked in low-quality form on Sunday to Sony’s consternation, finds Peter Parker (Tom Holland) dealing with the fallout from the public learning his secret identity at the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home. The trailer shows him going to Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), asking him to cast a spell so everyone forgets about this; things typically go wrong, NYC gets Inception‘d, calamity ensues. Fans might notice that the story seems to be taking some loose cues from “One More Day,” a controversial Spider-Man arc from the comics.
This MCU iteration of Spider-Man, as played with fumbling charm by Holland in recent years, has enjoyed two relatively small-scale solo films filled with adolescent adventures and lots of techno-babble, in between teaming up with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and the rest in universal-scale Avengers films. But the time comes for every solo superhero franchise to grow up and really go big (Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, etc), and it’s Spidey’s turn now.
The giant MacGuffin that is “the multiverse”—which is becoming the guiding through-line connecting all of Marvel’s Phase 4 projects—is basically just a blank check to bring back anyone who has ever been in a Marvel superhero film or TV series if the fans and suits like them enough. Spider-Man: No Way Home is seemingly shaping up to be a live action Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse; Dr. Octopus is only the most overt nod to this, but there’s also goblin pumpkins (heralding Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin), electricity bolts (Jamie Foxx’s Electro), and possible glimpses of everyone from Rhys Ifans’ The Lizard to Thomas Haden Church’s The Sandman to (could it be?!) Charlie Cox’s Daredevil.
All of which is leading up to the biggest reveal of them all: the seemingly inevitable, much-rumored, and now almost-certain return of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s iterations of Spider-Man, which probably won’t be publicly revealed until the final trailer. Three separate Spider-Men movie series colliding, with the enthusiasm and grace of a child blissfully smashing their action figures together. There’s a reason why Sony has renamed their superhero films “Sony’s Spider-Man Universe.”
This is the promise of big budget superhero films—pure escapism, clearly delineated good guys and bad guys, with a dash of humor and lots of self-awareness thrown in—fully realized. None of this matters at all, except that it matters a great deal to a large portion of the movie ticket-purchasing audience, which is why these films all make a billion dollars, give or take a pandemic. We are helpless in the face of movie studio consolidations; franchise fatigue is an insect under the boot of global box office dominance.
I’ve seen two or three movies in basically completely empty theaters since the pandemic started. The industry is bleeding profusely, and the theatrical experience is truly in danger of becoming a niche concern rather than a dominant form of shared culture. Forget about arthouse cinemas, we’re at the point where even the huge movie theater chains feel vulnerable, and superhero films like these are one of the only things that can keep them going.
So maybe Spider-Man: No Way Home is both the future and the present. Throw all the toys in the sandbox. Keep Inception-ing NYC. Make every movie a team-up film with 50 co-leads. Keep trying to make Benedict Cumberbatch happen for all I care. It’s increasingly hard to tell what’s good or worthwhile entertainment anymore, but I picture going back to a movie theater filled with strangers and watching a bunch of adults wearing silly costumes acting against tennis balls and green screens, and I think, yes, a thousand Spider-Men would be nice, wouldn’t it.