The trailer offered assurances that A) Spider-Man: No Way Home will open only in theaters this Christmas and B) audiences won’t have to watch the Disney+ shows to understand it.
Sony pulled off a coup at CinemaCon last night, both debuting the much-hyped/anticipated Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer and then treating the attendees to a full screening of Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife. The Spider-Man 3 version 2.0 teaser was immediately offered up (in non-bootlegged form, although the leak did nothing but help in terms of building anticipation and dominating the news cycle) online where folks got their first look at Jon Watts’ direct sequel to Spider-Man: No Way Home. As of now, it has notched around 225 million views in the first 15 hours.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange remains at his best when he’s expressing his disdain (or patronizing support) for his fellow MCU superheroes. Having him as “Peter’s mentor” role this time (after Robert Downey Jr. in Homecoming and Samuel L. Jackson in Far from Home) is a fun choice. The film’s multiverse-centric plot will feature prior characters from prior Spider-Man franchises showing up in the MCU, including Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octavius from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 and at least one Green Goblin (be it Willem Dafoe from Spider-Man, James Franco from Spider-Man 3 and/or Dane DeHaan from The Amazing Spider-Man 2).
More importantly, the trailer offered two crucial pieces of information, one in terms of when it’ll open and one in terms of what’s required to buy a ticket. Sony declared their fidelity to the big screen and theatrical windows, which makes sense as A) they don’t own a major streaming platform, B) their mega-bucks Netflix pay-tv window deal is predicated on theatrical movies still being of paramount value to streamers and C) Tom Rothman and friends are trying to position Sony as the last “major” old-school movie studio. The trailer stated Spider-Man: No Way Home would open exclusively in theaters “this Christmas,” and “December 17.”
While that’s subject to change (Venom: Let There Be Carnage was supposed to open September 24 instead of October 15), the hope is that the Delta surge will have abated by Thanksgiving, leaving Ghostbusters: Afterlife (November 11) and Spider-Man 3 (December 17) sitting pretty. Aside from a promise that the film will open this Christmas “only in theaters,” the entire trailer was structured as a reassurance of a different sort. The middle 66 seconds of the trailer, between the Sony logo at 0:58 and the “This Christmas” text at 2:04, details Peter Parker asking Stephen Strange to make everyone forget he’s Spider-Man.
Why is 1/3 of the trailer made up of a single first-act expository/narrative beat? Well, because it affirms that the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home will be predicated on events that occur in Spider-Man: No Way Home. It’s a reassurance that you’ll be able to understand and enjoy this third Spider-Man movie even if you haven’t watched the Disney+ television shows. Hell, since the trailer details the post-credit cliffhanger from Spider-Man: Far from Home (Mysterio implicated Spidey in his “murder” and outed Peter Parker’s alter-ego to the world), audiences don’t even have to have seen that flick to follow along.
This goes to the notion that, contrary to popular belief, Marvel movies and Marvel television shows don’t require you to have seen all of their respective installments to enjoy a given MCU show or film. You can walk into any MCU flick with little-to-no knowledge of what came before. You don’t have to see Civil War to enjoy Black Panther and you don’t have to have seen Ant-Man to enjoy Captain Marvel. You don’t really have to have seen Avengers: Age of Ultron to enjoy Captain America: Civil War. Heck, Iron Man 2 is not essential for Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World isn’t required viewing for Thor: Ragnarok.
It helps if you’ve seen the “mythology episodes,” which arguably include the Avengers quartet and the two Captain America sequels. However, they are not essential viewing and the films contain exposition and flashbacks to get anyone up to speed on past-tense storytelling. Even if a given film picks up where a previous one left off, the core plot points of this new film occur in this new film. For example, Civil War may be rooted in the fallout of Tony Stark’s planet-endangering actions in Age of Ultron, but the events that spur the Avengers to fight each other (the explosions in Sokovia and Vienna) take place during the present-tense narrative of Captain America 3.
Spending so much time showing how Doctor Strange’s memory spell creates multiverse related chaos is an assurance that the events of WandaVision and Loki won’t be essential to the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home. Will they be referenced? Possibly. Will Elizabeth Olsen and/or Tom Hiddleston show up and discuss the events of those Disney+ shows? Maybe. But the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home will not be predicated on every theatrical viewer having watched the Disney+ shows. Even Anthony Mackie’s Captain America 4 will both pick up from the events of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and be structured so as to not confuse folks who last left Sam Wilson at the end of Avengers: Endgame.
Despite declarations that the Disney+ shows will be essential MCU fodder, Kevin Feige and friends are not foolish enough to risk alienating the copious general moviegoers (the ones who actually get these films to top-tier theatrical box office) by tying their comprehension and enjoyment of an MCU movie to their presumed consumption of a Disney+ show. The secret of the MCU is that, for all of Hollywood’s post-Avengers attempts to create their own cinematic universes, the interconnectivity was always a seasoning and a bonus rather than the main course. I don’t expect that to change now, no matter how much Disney wants to make Disney+ the center of their universe.