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SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, Tom Holland as Spider-Man, 2021. © Sony Pictures Releasing / © Marvel Entertainment / Courtesy Everett Collection

Movies

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’s extreme spoiler secrecy reveals a larger Marvel Studios issue

The existence of strict spoiler protection ruins the potential for dynamic and deep stories.

It’s finally out! The big blockbuster that’s been on every Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) fan’s mind since the first trailer dropped this summer: Spider-Man: No Way Home. The third installment in the MCU Spider-Man franchise has been riddled with rumors around its potential to house multiple surprise cameos after villain Doc Ock from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise appeared in the trailer. Of course, with this speculation comes the potential for big spoilers. 

Don’t worry, there are no spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home in this article: you can read AIPT’s No Way Home review for those. But there is some criticism of why such a strong spoiler culture around the film exists in the first place. Marvel Studios has been very vigilant about dissuading unsanctioned spoilers up to the film’s release by taking down leaks, releasing videos from the stars, even guides to avoid them. Recently fans were also up-in-arms about a tweet from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science that many construed as a spoiler because of this extreme caution. 

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No one loves to hear what happens in a movie before they see it. But if something as simple as revealing a surprise character can ruin the entire film then something isn’t right. Stories should be able to be spoiled a bit and still be good when you see them because the twists and cameos aren’t the only reason worth watching something. Marvel Studios’ strict nature around spoilers shows how much they rely on aspects like surprise cameos and out-of-the-blue plot twists to keep their stories afloat, rather than on cohesive and compelling stories. 

Salma Hayek as ajax in Eternals

Marvel Studios

Spider-Man: No Way Home isn’t the only MCU film that’s had such stringent secrecy around it. Marvel Studios is notorious for being viciously secretive around spoilers for all of their productions. Kevin Smith has even said they have their own “Watergate level” secret police to manage them. Often the actors are given fake scripts or are not able to keep them as a part of this concealment. Recently, Salma Hayek and Lauren Ridloff, stars of Eternals, told Elle of their frustration with not being able to keep the scripts they took notes in because a man in a trench coat would come at night to take them.

Not to mention that MCU stars often aren’t made aware of what they’re filming in a given scene. Notably, Brie Larson filmed the last scene of Captain Marvel by herself with a green screen and a heavily redacted script. Regardless of whether the scene turns out well or not, actors should have all the information they need to perform their best to make the best film they can. 

Along with Owen Wilson receiving a cryptic “Strike 1” text after revealing his character had a moustache in Loki, Jude Law’s children having to sign NDAs on set, and Tom Holland being labelled as the “least trustworthy” cast member for relatively minor slip-ups, among other publicized incidents, there’s a storied history of Marvel Studios essentially policing their talent. 

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’s extreme spoiler secrecy reveals a larger Marvel Studios issue

Marvel Studios

Yes, actors sign NDAs and should adhere to their requirements. But having this level of security for telling even the slightest details is ridiculous for both the stars and the stories. Consider Mark Ruffalo’s casual mention that “everyone dies” in Avengers: Infinity War, the movie’s ending plot twist. It was taken as a joke at the time, but even if it was taken as a huge spoiler it shouldn’t have mattered if the rest of the film delivered the same impact. Essentially, all of this secrecy is becoming more of a hindrance to the stories than a protector of them.

If the draw of your story relies simply on not knowing surprise cameos and plot twists then what of the story? Character development? The visual storytelling? Take out the cameos and plot twists and there still should be something worth protecting. The way the story and characters develop throughout the film should carry their own weight regardless of any spoilers.

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’s extreme spoiler secrecy reveals a larger Marvel Studios issue

Sony Pictures

Take Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Miles Morales’ development into a hero is compelling because of its clear progression throughout the movie. The animated film captures the essence of Spider-Man not through its cast of multiversal Spider-people, but by using the heartfelt themes of the everyday hero and selfless perseverance. And any major plot points felt deserved based on the narrative build-up. If a certain character’s death was spoiled or the ending of the story was revealed it wouldn’t have had a monumental impact on the experience because everything surrounding those moments is just as engaging.

With No Way Home, any spoiler I could have gotten would have taken the intrigue out of the movie. I couldn’t tell you what the main theme of the movie was. I couldn’t even tell you what happened in the movie besides the surprise cameos. The most potent moment of the film involved one of the big cameos and lasted not even a minute. The last line in Bilge Ebiri’s No Way Home review for Vulture was particularly resonant: “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that No Way Home was trying to make us forget that a better Spider-Man movie is possible.”

Though regardless of whether I liked the film or not, the MCU’s strict spoiler secrecy is still a problem. I don’t blame Marvel Studios for being so protective around their cameos and plot points. It’s what they have to do to keep people invested in their stories. But the fact that they have to do it in the first place makes it painfully obvious that they’re so reliant on this strategy to maintain their profitable universe. Unfortunately, this process comes at the cost of compelling storytelling. 

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’s extreme spoiler secrecy reveals a larger Marvel Studios issue

Marvel

Marvel films, or any other ones for that matter, don’t have to be the deepest, most complex pieces of media ever. They can remain major outlets for pure entertainment. But the impact of shock-value spoilers shouldn’t take that potential away from them. Inevitably, the hungry way fast news and social media work these days isn’t conducive to keeping film details under wraps. So, production companies shouldn’t rely solely on creating shock-value spoilers if they want to preserve the desirability of their film.

Take me back to the days when an actual spoiler was simply relaying an entire plot summary. When stars could discuss the production they’re in an interview for. When journalists aren’t restricted in their review writing.  When the revelation of a third-act plot twist wouldn’t negate the importance of the rest of a film. The days when storytelling wasn’t a corporate scheme.

It’s a hopelessly naïve ideal, but there needs to be a change in how we tell stories if we don’t want a single spoiler to ruin them, and Marvel Studios has the power. I hear there comes a certain responsibility with that.

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