Spider-Man: No Way Home

Tobey or no Tobey, that is the question. It has been a heady guessing game for Spider-Man fans these past few days. A quick recap, first: Leaked photos suggesting ex-Spideys Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield could be part of the upcoming new adventure, Spider-Man: No Way Home, led to current Spider-Man Tom Holland rushing in to deny all such conjectures. This, even as many fans insist badly-edited shots in the new trailer, which dropped last week, seem to confirm Maguire and/or Garfield are very much in the film.

Fan hypotheses on those lines are seeded in the fact that Hollywood studios producing superhero films have been known to doctor trailers in the past, in order to hike the hype. In turn, vehement and unending social media chatter around Maguire and Garfield’s possible appearances ensured that Spider-Man: No Way Home remained among top trends everywhere for days.

The superhero movie, as a genre, has always banked on social media fan frenzy to garner big publicity, and throwing in the odd red herring with (deliberately done?) editing botch-up could seem like a smart ploy, whether or not Maguire and Garfield make the final cut of the film.

For Marvel and Sony, Spider-Man: No Way Home easily ranks among their most imposing releases ever. The film rides a rumoured budget of over $180 million, and coming at a time when the audience is only cautiously returning to halls in the post -COVID scenario, this is their mega offering for the holiday season, slated to clash with December biggies from rival studios that include The Matrix Resurrections, West Side Story, Sing 2, and A Nightmare On Elm Street.

Spider-Man: No Way Home could surely do with anything that helps raise the publicity noise by a few decibels, and frenzy around the film only promises to heighten in the weeks leading to its scheduled global release. Be sure, any upcoming trailer of the film will garner as much hype upon release as the film itself.

The film, though, will have to tackle a challenge that is far bigger than anything which the rival studios put up in the cineplexes around the same time that it opens worldwide.

The bigger battle lies in living up to the legacy that has spawned the film. For, on one hand, Spider-Man: No Way Home serves as a closure to the story of Peter Parker (for now), and on the other, it will be Marvel’s biggest project to open in theatres in the post-Avengers phase. Pathbreaking superhero blockbusters raise the burden of expectation for upcoming projects in the genre coming from the same makers, and Marvel boss Kevin Feige would only be aware how rivals DC are still struggling to outscale the bar set by Christopher Nolan with The Dark Knight films.

The challenge seems more imposing if you consider Marvel’s year so far has been one of mixed results. The studio’s winners in 2021 are Black Widow and Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings. Venom: Let There Be Carnage was average fare while Eternals was a disappointment for most. Spider-Man: No Way Home was always the studio’s big bet to top the year’s box office charts. If massive hype needs to be created and sustained to achieve that goal, one way to do so is involve all three stars who have reprised Spider-Man over the years, in the film’s promotional campaign in media as well as social media.

From what we officially know of the upcoming film’s plot so far, Peter Parker (Holland) is desperate to restore the secrecy of his identity as Spider-Man after being exposed by the super villain Mysterio (played by Jake Gyllenhaal in the 2019 release, Spider-Man: Far From Home). Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) agrees to help Peter but things go wrong, which leads to the multiverse breaking open. In turn, this accidentally unleashes five supervillains from earlier films across the multiverse upon the current timeline. Of these, Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), and Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) belong to the Sam Raimi-helmed universe that had Maguire essaying Spider-Man, while Lizard (Rhys Ifans) and Electro (Jamie Foxx) belong to the Amazing-verse toplined by Garfield.

This is where involving Maguire and Garfield for greater hype-building for the film becomes important. For a moment, even if we were to assume Holland’s avatar, as the webbed superhero of the current timeline, will battle it out against the five villains all alone, a reiteration of the masked superhero prototype, as set by Maguire and Garfield, only adds to the excitement because these baddies belong to their universes.

For hardcore fans of the multiverse, after all, the essence of Peter Parker lies in all three actors who have portrayed him. It is as much about Maguire’s portrait of a vulnerable nerd who looked like and acted as a self-doubting and confused teenager, but who somehow managed to emerge a hero at the end of the day, as it is about Garfield’s understated assurance while essaying a teenager who has just started understanding his powers as well as weaknesses.

Somewhere between these lies Holland’s Peter Parker — the cute, charming, and somewhat kookie youngster. Holland was around 20, barely out of his teens, when he portrayed Parker for the first time, in the 2016 release Captain America: Civil War, probably the reason he got the high-school student vibes the best among the three actors. He won over fans as much with the sense of humour he infused into Parker as with a sense of realisation about his position in the Marvel Cinematic Universe of superheroes when he joined the fight against Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.

Yet, Peter Parker would somehow seem incomplete on screen without the portrayals that preceded him. For Holland’s sake, therefore, a dash of Maguire and Garfield was always necessary, to sell Spider-Man: No Way Home.

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