Scene it: Infiltrating the MCU as an outsider — first stop, ‘Spider-Man’

Spiderman swings above a blurry blue skyline of New York.
(Jadyn Lee • The Student Life)

If you’re like me, you’re one of the unfortunate few who has never watched a “Spider-Man” movie — no particular aversion, it just never happened.

The sheer number of movies produced and all the layers of history involved makes watching any of the newer Marvel franchise movies seem an impossible task. But fear not: The makers of the most recent “Spider-Man” movies have apparently developed the art of writing to please both the uninitiated and the diehard fans alike. I found the multilayered plot of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” to be creative and engaging, and I understood all that was required to enjoy the actors’ performances.

So, how do you find yourself in the daunting situation of entering a long-established movie franchise via sequel, of all ways? Peer pressure, of course, with a healthy helping of FOMO: You keep hearing how dope the new installment is, how you have to watch it and how shocking it is that you’ve never seen a single “Spider-Man” movie, like, ever? Then, when your friends want to travel en masse to the theater to view it again, you decide you have nothing to lose but seven dollars and a bit of dignity, so you go with them. 

Inside the theater, you’re almost jealous of the equal mix of 6-year-olds and 35-year-olds, resplendent in their blue and red shirts, and secure in their earlier indoctrination into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). You try to assume some of their confidence. Then your friends tell you to clap when they clap, and you think, What, there’s further interactive components conspiring to expose my lack of knowledge? But you smile and laugh anyway. 

However, it turned out that my sense of trepidation was entirely unwarranted. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” impressed me with its ability to capture even the uninitiated audience members into its intricate plot. Somehow, the writers were able to guide me through a multidimensional reality, established romances, alliances and friendships, all while I was being simultaneously introduced to each character for the first time — and I managed to enjoy it. The allure of big names Tom Holland, Zendaya and Benedict Cumberbatch did not hurt, either (I will be going back to watch the “Dr. Strange” movies; he owns that role … and that goatee).

This experience was in marked contrast to one I’d had watching a sequel a couple years earlier. When I was dragged along to “Transformers 5” having only seen the first film, I sat through the whole thing in the agonies of ignorance, poor acting performances and flimsy storylines, discreetly checking my phone at multiple points to see how much time had passed. Perhaps a bit dramatic, but when even Megan Fox can’t hold my attention, I know I’m wasting my time.

Now, whether this ability to reach a wider audience reduces the quality of the movie is a different question — for “No Way Home,” reviews suggest the contrary. But I hesitate to support this tactic for all kinds of sequels. 

Even as intimidating as the MCU looks from the so-called “outside,” I know from different franchises how much fans and highbrow critics value inside jokes and highly complex plots that seem utterly baffling without prior knowledge. For example, while one can watch any “Harry Potter” film as a standalone work, arguably they’d be losing much of the appreciation demanded by the story’s rich level of details and continuity. 

Which technique — reaching a wider audience or appealing to a select few — will spell the most “success”? In this economy, the answer will always be the former; any franchise that deviates from the set formula stands out, which is unfortunate in terms of variety. 

Perhaps making sequels wholly accessible to outsiders should be limited to only those franchises with the longest of filmographies, or those with sequels most spread out chronologically, as time, of course, erases memory and relevance, even for fans. 

In the meantime, I’ll watch all the “Spider-Man” movies and get back to you.

Rorye Jones PO ’23 finally got around to finishing “Titanic” and can now reasonably call herself TSL’s TV and film columnist. Yes, she did cry (mainly for the violinists).

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