Opinion

Spider-Man: No Way Home is turning into Marvel's Frankenstein's monster

Be careful what you wish for. It's familiar advice, having been used as the tagline for at least a dozen different movies. But while the clichéd warning might also be the stand-out quote in the (newly legitimate) release of the trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home, it's also unintentionally ​​pertinent — a line that could just as well have been directed at the franchise's "frenzied," "rabid," and evidently insatiable fans.

Even Marvel's management has appeared a little taken aback by the way No Way Home is being obsessively dissected online months before its official release. "I'm not quite sure where or why or how the intensity surrounding the No Way Home trailer started," also admitted Adam Chitwood, who regularly writes about the studio for Collider. But Marvel might have reached an ominous tipping point, where fan demand takes on a life of its own and the actual film itself, which isn't out until December, becomes a secondary object, one doomed to be a disappointment if the theories aren't satisfactorily met.

Back in December, industry gossip Jeff Sneider reported in Collider that "everyone" would be in the third Spider-Man movie starring Tom Holland, which would have a "multiverse" plotline to allow for the inclusion of Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus from 2004's Spider-Man 2 in which Tobey Maguire played the title character, and Jamie Foxx as Electro, a character who originated in Andrew Garfield's 2014 Spider-Man. But even more surprisingly, "Andrew Garfield will be back," Sneider wrote in his apparent scoop, "and if Sony/Marvel can close a deal with Tobey Maguire, he'll be back too." 

Speculation continued to build in online fan communities, even as Garfield outright denied the rumors. "I ain't got a call," he told MTV's Josh Horowitz on the Happy Sad Confused podcast, adding: "I see how often Spider-Man is trending and it's like people freaking out. And I'm just like, 'guys, guys, guys' — I wish I could just be able to speak to everyone and say, 'I recommend that you chill.'" Garfield's strong denial was easily dismissed by fans as an attempt to throw them off the trail, despite the fact that his decisiveness marked a noticeable difference from other rumored actors who played coy instead — like Willem Dafoe, who refused to confirm or deny to The Wrap if he was involved in No Way Home in a reprise of his role as the Green Goblin.

Rumors, though, are an imperfect science (remember when fans "figured out" that the movie was going to be called Spider-Man: Home Run? Or how WandaVision was supposed to feature Mephisto?) and the return of the previous Spider-Men actors in No Way Home is a theory with little material credibility at this point. While the trailer released Monday confirmed Molina's return as Doc Ock and teased a Green Goblin appearance (complete with a recognizably Willem Dafoe-esque off-screen cackle), nothing substantiated Garfield or Maguire's return. "The hints that fans online have used to prove this rumor include a DoorDash driver who claims he served 'that guy' who played Spider-Man, and social media posts from Garfield's former stuntman," explains CinemaBlend. "If Sony really got the original Spider-Man actors back, I think they'd be screaming it from the rooftops. The reveal is too massive to keep hidden until opening day."

But one way or another, it doesn't really matter. What is important is how the fanbase is reacting to a movie that didn't even have a trailer formally released until yesterday. The No Way Home situation has become reminiscent of the final season of Game of Thrones, where fan theories got so out-of-control and complicated that the real thing was inevitably a letdown by comparison. Being wrong, though, isn't seen as a pleasant surprise but as an affront. "[The] Marvel universe has yet to devolve into the weird situation that the Star Wars fandom is in right now, where it's literally being held hostage by viciously angry fans," writes Ryan Broderick in his internet culture newsletter Garbage Day, adding though that "if Spider-Man: No Way Home turns out to not be a multiverse movie, at this point, fans will riot. But if it is a multiverse movie, fans and their professional leakers will suddenly be a lot more emboldened."

To an outsider, it might seem strange that fans are dooming themselves to some form of disappointment no matter what the outcome; even Sneider, in his original Collider "leak," confessed that "I'll never understand why fans want to know every little detail about a movie before they see it" despite their fervor being his bread-and-butter. But while there's nothing wrong with enjoying rumors and speculation, there is a line where the version of the franchise in your imagination becomes superior to anything grounded in reality — and thus any deviation from your imagined version elicits toxic outrage. It is, unfortunately, a consequence of a popular film industry constructed on gimmicks like Easter eggs, surprise cameos, and winking post-credits scenes as a means of keeping fans engaged.

Admittedly, Spider-Man isn't quite there yet; so far, the most damaging outcome has only been a leaked trailer online. But No Way Home, as it will one day exist, has already become secondary to the No Way Home authored in the imagination of its fan base. 

Indeed, be careful what you wish for could be a warning to the wish-granter, too. Because whatever way you look at it, Marvel has unleashed a monster — and one that it may have yet to fear.

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