The Wrong Lesson Marvel Might Take From Spider-Man: No Way Home
Spider-Man: No Way Home opened late in 2021, and still more than doubled the box office of the previous champion, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. In a year with limited opportunity to visit the local multiplex, this latest Spider-Man solo entry into the MCU franchise still ranks second only to Avengers: Endgame in opening weekend take. People were excited to see the rumoured appearances of previous Spider-Man actors for themselves. It was one of the highest energy premieres we’d ever attended, with several parts of the movie met with cheers.
This live-action movie based on the ‘Spider-Verse’ stories from the comics has very quickly become the highest earning movie in the history of Sony Pictures. It’s a ridiculously high achievement. Unfortunately Hollywood, and Sony in particular, have a terrible habit of taking away the wrong message from successes and attempts to replicate that success without always understanding what the point of it is. Identify a success and produce copies expecting the same result, repeatedly disregarding the concept of diminishing returns.
We’ve seen something of a pattern in superhero movies recently. Looking at the box-office returns, one could surmise that throwing together a group of known characters sells tickets. Each of the Avengers movies, Godzilla vs Kong, Crisis on Infinite Earths and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice did huge business and the former manages to keep outdoing itself. Granted, Justice League fell flat on its face, but no-one explained to them that you have to have existing characters that people like before they’re going to get interested.
In a year where even Disney and Marvel have struggled to bring audiences in (especially when there are still regions in lock-down), Spider-Man blew the competition out of the water. Shang-Chi was ruling the charts before Spidey got loose. Black Widow was successful, but did not perform as strong despite also having a familiar and popular character in a lead role. The key difference is that Spider-Man: No Way Home pulls in established versions of known characters, characters that learn heavily into nostalgia for the largest audience demographics of cinema-goers.
It’s possible that the MCU is about to move away from throwing together as many characters as possible and focus in on different versions of the same character, or characters from other universes. We’ve been promised more cameos in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, and Hugh Jackman posted an old picture of him and Kevin Feige for some reason, leading many people to believe this foreshadows an appearance of Wolverine from Fox’s X-Men movies. There are two cinematically released version of the Fantastic Four, Blade, Daredevil, Ghostrider and more that can be drawn into this new world. Then there’s the TV shows that have only be tangentially connected to the MCU, including Runaways and Cloak and Dagger to bring through.
Disney have also been brewing alternative version of characters on their Disney+ streaming service. Loki is the most obvious candidate, focusing on a group of alternative Loki’s breaking open the Multiverse, but we also see White Vision, two new Captain Americas, a new Hawkeye…oh, and What If…. This final example doesn’t necessary exist in a space where it can interact with the cinematic movies on which it is based. Or so we thought, until the new Doctor Strange trailer revealed otherwise.
If the message taken away from the immense success of Spider-Man is that people get giddy over their new action figures fighting their old toys, then we’re going to be looking at a very short arms race of escalation. When both X-Men and Iron Man launched their own trends of comic book adaptations there was a rush to buy up and solidify ownership of superhero properties. We’re likely to see every studio archivist dusting off the movies that might nudge a nostalgic nerve and attempt to bring them back to the screens.
The first big example if the first solo outing for the DCEU version of the Flash, perplexingly based on the ‘Flashpoint’ story arc (again, not learning the lesson from Justice League). The big selling point, beyond two Ezra Miller’s running around, is the return of Michael Keaton’s Batman from the 1989 Tim Burton movie. There’s a very finite pool of resources to use here, and this trend is going to burn out and get silly very quickly. We’re just going to have to wait and see how quickly it crashes and burns.
Let’s hope that this isn’t the big lesson that Marvel takes away from Spider-Man and his Multiple Multiverses.