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Lost in the multiverse: will Spider-Man ever find his way home?

Ben Child
·4-min read

The titles of Spider-Man movies have not traditionally told us a whole lot about their storylines. It wasn’t until Marvel took over the franchise with Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) that we even got so much as a hint of what was about to take place in each forthcoming instalment. And yet this week’s announcement that Tom Holland’s third solo outing as the teenage superhero will be called Spider-Man: No Way Home has got the geekosphere buzzing.

Perhaps it’s because there are so many clues out there already that the next film in the series will go way off the beaten track. On the big screen, Spider-Man has always existed largely in his own New York back yard, bar the odd jaunt into outer space in the Avengers movies and his holiday to Europe in Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019). But, taken together with reports that the new film will delve deeply into the Marvel multiverse, along with the bizarre goings-on in the Disney+ TV series WandaVision, there’s a sense that it might be a while before we see Peter Parker hanging with Aunt May in Queens any time soon.

The most likely outcome here is that No Way Home sees Spidey spinning into multiple alternate universes while struggling to get back to his own. We already know that Jamie Foxx’s Electro (who last appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014) and Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus (last seen in 2004’s Spider-Man 2) will make appearances. As both were effectively part of other Spider-Man universes – where the wall-crawler was played by Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire, for another studio (Sony) – we know something unusual must be going on. That Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange, whose next movie is subtitled In the Multiverse of Madness, will also play a part rather seals the deal.

Holland has denied live on TV that Maguire and Garfield are also due to appear as versions of Spidey, though that doesn’t mean the pair won’t eventually show up in some form. It would be just like Marvel to pull off some last-minute sleight-of-hand – perhaps the versions of Peter Parker in these alternate universes were never bitten by a radioactive spider, for instance. Perhaps they ended up becoming other superheroes, or alternate versions of Spider-Man (giving Holland ultra-useful plausible deniability). In any case, as Holland also pointed out in his chat with The Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon, it’s not as if Marvel tells him absolutely everything.

Eagle-eyed fans have also spotted potential links in publicity for No Way Home to WandaVision: the subtle hexagons appearing here and there on the whiteboard reveal at the end of the film’s teaser trailer seem to reference Wanda Maximoff’s bizarre habit of keeping the town of Westfield, New Jersey inside a giant, protective, six-sided forcefield. Since she’s clearly capable of bending reality to her will, and will also turn up in Multiverse of Madness, might Wanda’s powers (and her ungodly determination to bring Paul Bettany’s Vision back from the dead) be responsible for fracturing the multiverse and causing various realities to bleed into each other, with devastating results?

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If so, Marvel fans won’t mind at all. The chance to experience a pick’n’mix of Spider-Man’s best movie moments over the past 20 years, while ignoring all the bad ones (no place for Rhys Ifans’ awful CGI Lizard, we hope) is too tempting to resist. And yet anyone expecting No Way Home to play out like a live-action version of the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse should cool their boots. Marvel almost always finds a way to refresh story beats from its source comics in delightfully unexpected ways when they turn up on the big screen, and if the studio is going to start cribbing from Sony’s movies we should expect them to follow the same routine.

If Spidey really is to leave the streets of Queens for alternate versions of the Big Apple, at least this solves one major issue for Peter Parker, who was exposed as Spider-Man at the end of Far from Home by Jake Gyllenhaal’s false Mysterio. Who’s to say that, by the time reality resets itself, one of the unexpected byproducts of this multiversal course correction doesn’t turn out to be that Parker’s secret identity has been conveniently restored?