The third Marvel Studios Spider-Man film almost didn’t happen. In the summer of 2019, arguments between the Walt Disney Company and Sony Pictures Entertainment about the former’s profit participation in the project seemingly stopped development dead. Soon after the companies stopped negotiations, Tom Holland used his clout to get both organization to resume talks.
At least, that’s one version of the story.
However it actually happened, Disney and Sony agreed to produce another Spider-Man film (and to feature the Holland version of the character in a yet-to-be announced Marvel Studios film). And if the recent trailers any indication, this third Marvel Cinematic Universe Spider-Man is going to be the biggest film of the webhead’s cinematic career.
So let’s take a look at what we know about the film so far and what it might mean for Peter Parker’s (Holland) future in the MCU, the Spider-Verse, or some combination of the two.
[Updated on 8/24/21]
(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Since Holland leveraged his participation in the upcoming adaptation of Sony’s Uncharted video game series to make it happen, he is definitely back as Spider-Man. Joining him, as they have for the previous few films, are Zendaya as MJ, Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend Ned, and Marisa Tomei as Peter’s aunt, May Parker. Tony Revolori will also appear as quasi-nemesis Flash Thompson, and J.K. Simmons will continue on as J. Jonah Jameson following his cameo at the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home. But his appearance was more of a tease than we ever realized about the next Spider-Man and the return of some familiar faces. More on that in a moment.
Behind the camera, director Jon Watts returns to join a very exclusive club of filmmakers who navigated Marvel machinery to make a full trilogy – currently, Ant-Man series director Peyton Reed and Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn are scheduled to join him in that fraternity by 2023.
On the script side, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers also return for their third outing with Holland’s Spider-Man, as do producers Amy Pascal and, of course, Kevin Feige, who seems to be using the film as an opportunity to introduce a lot of Spider-Man film history into his Marvel Universe.
(Photo by ©Columbia Pictures)
Although the COVID-19 epidemic slightly delayed the film – it moved from an initial July 2021 release to the end of that year – news started emerging throughout 2020 that suggested it may be the biggest Spider-Man film to date.
It all began on October 1, 2020, when word broke that Jamie Foxx would appear in the the film as Electro, the character he played in Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — the film’s whose relative shortcomings led to the studio’s talks with Marvel about placing Peter in the MCU in the first place. Though it was possible Foxx would play a new version of the character more tailored to the Marvel reality, many began to wonder if he was playing the same Electro from that earlier film, giving it a place in the tapestry of the MCU.
A week later, Benedict Cumberbatch joined the cast to reprise his role as Doctor Strange. According to the reports at the time, Strange was presumed to serve the same “mentor” role as Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Nick Fury/Telos (Samuel L. Jackson) in Far From Home. From the teaser trailer released in August of 2021, though, it’s clear Strange’s role is more “co-conspirator” than mentor as Peter tries to use magic to erase his public outing. In the trailer released in November, Strange also charges Peter with a new task – although some moments suggest they will also come into conflict.
(Photo by Matt Kennedy/©2021 CTMG)
Of course, Strange’s choice to help Peter will lead to his next starring role in 2022’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which seems poised to serve as an Avengers-style keystone in the Multiverse plot weaving its way around Phase 4. In addition to returning to threads from WandaVision, it seems pretty clear he will become aware of the Loki problem as well.
When asked about the nature of his role, Foxx played coy at first, but then infamously posted – and subsequently deleted – a picture of the three live-action Spider-Man actors (Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Holland) to his Instagram. It inspired hope that perhaps Holland’s Spidey would meet his colleagues from other realities, echoing Sony’s Oscar-winning animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
(Photo by Marvel Entertainment)
Then, in December of 2020, a flood of info seemed to confirm this notion. Alfred Molina was spotted on set, and the trades subsequently reported he was reprising his Spider-Man 2 role of Doctor Octopus. Just a few short hours later, a report from Collider indicated Kirsten Dunst was in talks to reprise Mary Jane Watson from the first Spider-Man film series, with The Amazing Spider-Man’s Andrew Garfield also planning to join the film. Original Spidey Tobey Maguire and Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy in the ASM series) were also said to be circling the project; Stone’s pregnancy may prevent her from appearing, while Maguire may only need the right deal to make this meeting of the cinematic Spider-Men a dream come true. Aside from Molina’s casting, none of the others has been confirmed, but the November trailer made it clear that both screen Green Goblins, the Lizard, and the Sandman will all appear as more deadly foes Spider-Man must face. It is still unclear, though, if they will be played by the original actors or just appear as costumes and CGI.
Also, eagle-eyed fans on the Internet have already noticed the Lizard reacting to a seemingly invisible opponent at one point, indicating some world-famous Marvel image manipulation may be obscuring certain characters in the trailer.
At this time, it is unknown if the previous Aunt May actors, Rosemary Harris and Sally Field, have also been approached, but other rumors indicate Charlie Cox will play Matt Murdoch from Netflix’s Daredevil series — apparently to represent Spider-Man in court.
While all of these actors represent a huge cast, particularly for a Spider-Man film, it also suggests No Way Home is looking more across the gulf to Sony than a story about Peter’s place in the MCU. Which may not be a bad plan, all things considered.
(Photo by ©Columbia Pictures)
The wildly successful Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse already established all the fictional architecture required to either transfer Holland’s Spider-Man into Sony’s film universe – a narrative setting it tried to dub the “Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters” in 2019, but shortened to “Sony’s Spider-Man Universe” last August – or bring the Spider-Verse into the MCU. The various realities are all true, after all; even the reality where Spider-Man 2099 is played by Oscar Isaac. Considering the way other realities appear to be converging toward the end of the November trailer, we could imagine the film establishing a long-term explanation for the two movie universes and Peter’s place within them.
Sony, as it happens, was ready to walk away from the MCU in 2019 thanks to the success of its incipient Spider-Verse. The animated film took home a Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards and created a lasting legacy. The studio’s 2018 film Venom, meanwhile, proved they could launch a successful Spider-Man movie without Spider-Man. That confidence led to some of the disagreements when Disney wanted a larger cut of No Way Home, and it emboldened Sony to finally move ahead with Spider-related projects they wanted to produce since The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
(Photo by Sony Pictures Entertainment)
That film was supposed to lead directly in to a Sinister Six movie in which the most dastardly foes of Spider-Man teamed up against him. The tepid box office and critical response to ASM2 put a hard stop those plans and led to a rebooted Peter Parker’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War and subsequent Marvel releases. Nevertheless, Sony continued to develop Venom, Into the Spider-Verse, and a movie centering on Black Cat and Silver Sable.
As it stands, Sony is currently developing films centering on Madame Web, Black Cat and Silver Sable as separate projects, Silk, Kraven the Hunter, and Spider-Woman, the latter with Olivia Wilde slated to direct. It also has two completed films, Venom: Let There Be Carnage — which bowed in October — and Morbius, set for release early next year.
(Photo by Sony Pictures Entertainment)
Morbius also raised eyebrows with a trailer released in late 2019 that referenced Peter’s current problems in the MCU; that is to say, various shots offered glimpses of posters referring to Spider-Man as a murderer. Making Morbius’s place in the Spider-Verse murkier was the surprise appearance of Micheal Keaton, presumably playing Adrian Toomes from Homecoming and offering Micheal Morbius (Jared Leto) a piece of the action. It left fans wondering whether Spider-Man was finally going to fight the Sinister Six or the group was coming to him to fight on MCU turf. The November trailer presents a sinister group of Spider-Man’s enemies ready to fight him, and Let There Be Carnage’s stinger scene made it clear two Sony characters are definitely in the MCU.
It remains to be seen, though, just how connected the MCU and the Sony Spider-Man Universe will be. There are certain advantages to keeping the MCU and the Spider-Verse close, particularly if the relationship between Sony and Disney warms up. But as with No Way Home’s apparent cast list, the potential universe-hopping plot leaves many breathlessly anticipating its release.
(Photo by Marvel Entertainment)
Spider-Man: No Way Home is set for release on December 17th, 2021, a date that seemed in doubt even after the August trailer. But with just a month to go before release, Sony is absolutely committed to letting fans see the film soon.
Thumbnail images by ©Sony Pictures Entertainment