I say secrets and surprises with a certain amount of irony because most of what we have now seen was expected or theorised somewhere. As soon as they announced the involvement of bad guys from the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield Spider-Man films everyone expected Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield to show up too, despite Garfield’s repeated protestations to the contrary. Then as soon as Zendaya’s MJ was shown in the trailer falling from a great height in an almost exact replica of the shot that saw Emma Stone’s Gwen plummet to her death when Garfield’s Spidey failed to save her, it was widely surmised that he would swing in and rescue the girl this time. This came true of course but the suggestion was that this would be his late dramatic entrance into the story. What is perhaps unexpected was not that these actors are in the film (I still got so excited to see this confirmed) but how much these two previous incarnations of the webslinger actually feature.
The way Maguire and Garfield fit into the story is actually lovely, with the two of them being the elder statesmen to Tom Holland’s Peter. All three quickly develop a sweet relationship. It is thrilling to see the other guys back in action too, even if you’re not always certain which Spider-Man you are watching. For this reason rather than any logical narrative one, they spend a lot of time with their masks off. (Unlike Lizard and Sandman who are in their CG manifestations almost all the way through, presumably because Rhys Ifans and Thomas Hayden Church were either busy or not considered a totally necessary expense for more than a day or two of filming and voice work.)
The film also gives Maguire and Garfield a better ending than those they had before. Maguire’s last film with Sam Raimi was a real disappointment compared to the two that proceeded it and Garfield’s didn’t even happen due to Sony’s new deal to bring Spider-Man into the MCU (no ill feeling apparently and I guess we can say that Marvel wanted to make a movie with Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker after all). Here though they both get a nice curtain call as well as one of them getting a second chance to stop the love interest meeting an untimely end.
While MJ may have not have been fridged though, May was. This was absolutely heart breaking but they played the death scene brilliantly. Despite the tired sexist trope of the woman dying to motivate the man though this twist does have a feminist edge. For every other Peter Parker it was the demise of a significant male in his life that set him on his path to great things but Holland’s Parker’s Uncle Ben is his Aunt May. It is her that now delivers the iconic line ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ which is so much better than the version of this sentiment we got with this Spidey’s first appearance in the MCU in Civil War. As I recall it was ‘When you can do the things you can do and don’t, then when the bad things happen its your fault’ or something.
Then there’s Tom Hardy/Eddie Brock/Venom turning up in the mid credit scene and leaving his mark. This is a fairly pointless scene, especially after the set up for it in Venom Let There Be Carnage promised more, but I hope it remains so because I don’t want to see a third version of this villain on screen. Much much better is Charlie Cox’s wonderfully cool cameo as Matt Murdock. Coming in the same week as Kingpin finally showed up in Hawkeye, it is great to know that the Netflix shows haven’t been written out of this ongoing story after all. Oh the potential! I wonder now when we’ll see Daredevil return proper. After James D’Arcy’s Jarvis in Endgame, Murdock is only the second character we’ve seen transfer from TV to the movies and how nice that they are from my two favourite shows. Kate Bishop has to be next.
I have a question though and it pertains to Jonah J. Jameson. If the parallel universe versions of each character look totally different; the Peter’s, the MJs, the Gwens, the Flash Thompsons and the Aunt Mays, why does Jameson look just like J.K Simmons in at least two of these worlds? Also, they’re not parallel universes at all, are they? With Doctor Otto Octavius and Norman Osborn being plucked away before their deaths, there is a time travel aspect here as well. Look, the whole plot might be as fragile as a spider’s web but is all such a joy so let’s not worry about it.
Speaking of fragility, the barriers between realities do seem a little delicate. My suspicion is that at some point we will find out this is connected to the murder of He Who Remains in Loki rather all, rather than just being the result Doctor Strange’s botched spell.
Actually, there was a bit of a secret there; Stephen Strange is not the Sorcerer Supreme anymore due to being effectively dead for five years following the snap. (Knowing what we now know about the victims of the snap from WandaVision and Hawkeye, those heroes all got it together surprisingly quickly for that final battle against Thanos. None of them seemed in the slightest bit discombobulated.) The other big reveal about Doctor Strange came after the credits in the trailer for his next movie. Yep, evil Stephen from What If…? is coming to cinemas, under the direction of none other than Sam Raimi no less. Hopefully he’ll get his MCU redemption after the mess of Spider-Man 3 as well.
To close this down then, I need to mention the nice ‘I’m sure there must be a black Spider-Man somewhere’ line which references Miles Morales and could be a nod to Into the Spider-Verse (a film to which this owes a massive debt) or could be one of those early hints toward something coming later like the ‘we got a guy who swings, we got a guy who crawls up the walls’ comment from Ant-Man. Nice to see the theft of the nanotechnology thing backfire so wonderfully on Doc Ock too, that was a surprise and quite the opposite of what the web fans (deliberate double meaning here) thought they’d get from seeing his arms turn hotrod red in the trailer. I also have to mention the parallels between the moment when 2016-2021 Peter is about to kill Green Goblin by slamming his own the glider down on him and a couple of other iconic scenes. This reflects Goblin’s death in 2002’s Spider-Man of course but it was also reminiscent of John Walker killing that guy with Cap’s shield in Falcon and the Winter Soldier. It even takes place on a giant replica of Cap’s Shield, the legacy and influence of Steve Rogers looming large. (A legacy that Sam Wilson is trying to downplay, so I’m sure adding the shield to the Statue of Liberty helped with that.)
Finally, there’s the unforgettable for us and forgettable for everyone else finale? Poor Peter, no one remembers him. I loved his choice to not tell his friends know who he is. This is not the end we saw coming but it does go back to the end of Maguire’s first film, when he rejected his MJ to keep her safe too. It also leaves the path totally clear for a reboot that isn’t actually reboot, which it turns out is Spider-Man’s real power and one that is perhaps the most impressive and surprising of all.