A tangled web: have super-fans ruined the new Spider-Man movie?

The franchise’s devotees are pros at finding clues about the new film. The constant speculation is great marketing – but spoils the surprise

Arachnophilia … Zendaya and Tom Holland (or is it?) in 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Arachnophilia … Zendaya and Tom Holland (or is it?) in 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home. Photograph: Allstar/Sony
Arachnophilia … Zendaya and Tom Holland (or is it?) in 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home. Photograph: Allstar/Sony
Mon 15 Feb 2021 04.00 EST

If you don’t want to read spoilers about the new Spider-Man movie, stop reading now. I didn’t want to read spoilers about the new Spider-Man movie either, but such information has become impossible to avoid on social media. Snippets and scoops about big new movies course through the internet, making their way up the food chain to mainstream outlets (like this one, sorry). As a result, we now find ourselves getting spoilers about movies before they’re even made.

Recent Spider-Man developments illustrate just how absurd things have become. First came rumours – spoiler alert! – that alongside Spider-Man laureate Tom Holland, the latest movie will pull a meta-storytelling flourish by bringing back former Spider-Men Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire. That would have been a great surprise, except now it’s not a surprise. Again, sorry.

The rumour solidified last week when, randomly following up a thing she’d read on TikTok, @daisyjediridley found a tweet from late January from a guy saying he’d just delivered food to Andrew Garfield (and he was “rude asf”). The delivery guy’s location? Atlanta. And what’s filming in Atlanta? The new Spider-Man! Boom! Not to say this proves the Garfield/Maguire cameo is true (and many defended Garfield as “not rude asf”), but it speaks of the dedicated army of amateur sleuths out there, patrolling the web, sharing knowledge, piecing it all together.

Studios have always encouraged a certain amount of cat-and-mouse with fans when it comes to secrecy. They don’t want anyone spoiling their surprises, but a steady trickle of advance information is handy marketing. The fans seem to be winning this game, however. Put out an anonymised casting call and they’ll figure out what it’s for (Spider-Man was “The November Project”). Do a location shoot and illicit images will be up on Twitter before you’ve wrapped. Those images are then crowd-analysed and cross-referenced with clues from interviews (“Zendaya teases aliens in Spider-Man 3?”), Instagram accounts, leaked scripts, tie-in Lego kits, you name it. Bellingcat has got nothing on these folks.

Shot on the fly … Zendaya with John David Washington in Malcolm & Marie.
Shot on the fly … Zendaya with John David Washington in Malcolm & Marie. Photograph: Dominic Miller/AP

Perhaps in counter-reaction, we have seen another trend recently: the secret movie. The aforementioned Spider-Man’s Zendaya, for example, is currently to be found alongside John David Washington in Malcolm & Marie, an artful little two-hander shot in secrecy during the summer lockdown then dropped on Netflix with little fanfare, like a Taylor Swift album. Perhaps we’ll see more like it, but such secrecy is now impossible with big movies. It’s not just Spider-Man; you’ll find these kind of pre-spoilers for The Batman, Thor: Love And Thunder and Mission: Impossible. It’s enough to make you want to turn off the internet, at least for a while.

When Spider-Man finally does come out, you just know some people will be like, “Yawn. Knew that was going to happen.” We often complain about predictability in big movies, but right now we seem hell bent on eradicating surprise. Fan curiosity is a great thing, but it shouldn’t be an end in itself. There’s a point at which advance knowledge tips over from enhancing a movie to detracting from it.

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