Although multiverse crossovers have been common in Marvel comics for years now, when it comes to silver screen Spider-Man has found some of the greatest success hopping dimensions. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse won an Academy Award, and Tom Holland’s Spidey is set for a new multiverse adventure in Spider-Man: No Way Home which will see characters from Sam Raimi’s movies return.
Many fans of Sony’s Spider-Man games are hoping that the series will also embrace the Spider-Verse like Spider-Man: No Way Home. There are certainly some exciting possibilities like jumping between radically different art styles, different versions of the player character will different abilities, and more. However, if the games go all-in on the multiverse like the Spider-Man movies have, there are reasons it could limit the type of Spider-Man stories they can tell going forward.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man
One of the biggest challenges facing the MCU when it introduced its version of Peter Parker was fitting him into the world already built by the time Marvel acquired the rights to use the character. The MCU’s Spider-Man grew up in a New York which had already been invaded by aliens and saved by the Avengers, where superheroes were already household names, and where the classic comic trope of the secret identity had been thrown out the window all the way back in Iron Man 1.
Captain America: Civil War chose to forgo Spider-Man’s origin story and early career entirely. Uncle Ben was already dead and Spider-Man was scouted by Tony Stark after he’d already established himself as a local New York superhero off-screen.
Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has only ever been in the MCU after his character had already moved on from the “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” stage of his career. Although Spider-Man: Homecoming made some great choices that helped root Peter’s heroism in the everyday life of a high schooler, the first MCU Spider-Man movie still saw him start out in Stark-made suits with an AI assistant instead of the simple suit of the Raimi movies. He may have lost his suit privileges later in the movie, but the difference in the character's starting point remained stark.
The Spider-Man Universes
The MCU movies later saw Peter leave New York entirely and will now see him leave the very reality of the MCU to travel between dimensions. There’s the potential for some great moments, the return of Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus for a start.
Ultimately, however, the MCU has moved well beyond the point where it can tell smaller scale Spider-Man stories about a homegrown hero. Peter’s role as Tony Stark’s protégé leaves him without some of the comic book classics found in the Raimi movies. The MCU's Peter isn’t a photographer working for J. Jonah Jameson, and is about as unlikely to deliver a pizza to make ends meet as he is to spontaneously combust.
Unless No Way Home ends with Peter stranded in a dimension outside the MCU – which seems unlikely – the Marvel movies will never be able to return to the smaller-scope Spider-Man stories that capture so much of what made the character beloved. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the multiverse Spider-Man stories, but each version of the character that ends up webslinging through multiple realities also goes past a point of no return when it comes to the kind of stories that can be told about them in the future without drastically reducing the stakes.
The Sony Spider-Man games have plenty of Easter eggs hinting at other heroes existing in that universe, like the Sanctum Sanctorum inhabited by Dr. Strange or the Avengers tower players can find in the game’s map of New York. These are just background details, however, and broadly the games remain the only mainstream version of the character whose stories are contextualized within an MCU-style world of superheroes, and who hasn’t been exposed to the multiverse.
No Way Home
Unlike the MCU, Sony’s Spider-Man has yet to go beyond that point of no return. There’s still the chance to tell stories about a struggling Peter Parker throwing on a homemade costume and fighting local villains. Tom Holland’s version of Peter Parker is great, but is also unlikely to be able to tell that kind of story again. Insomniac's Peter Parker may already be out of high school by the time the first game takes place, but he stays far truer to the character’s humble origins.
Spider-Man stories may be far from grounded, but Sony’s Spider-Man games offer one of the few mainstream Spider-Man stories that call back to the relative realism of the older comics or the Raimi movies when compared to the MCU. Raimi’s Spider-Man struggled to pay his rent, while the MCU’s Spider-Man received self-constructing nanotech Spider-Man suits from a billionaire. The scale of the story and Peter’s place in the world are completely different.
Not only that, but in the games Sony establishes that both Peter Parker and Miles Morales exist and are alive and well in one universe. Miles Morales was originally introduced in the comics after the death of one reality’s Peter Parker and would go on to meet an alternate universe Peter in a later story.
Similarly, the Miles of Into the Spider-Verse also sees his universe’s Peter Parker killed. Sony has the best of both worlds – it can tell high school stories about Spider-Man through Miles, and it can tell stories about a slightly older Spider-Man through Peter, without killing off the original or introducing a multiverse element to the world.
It’s possible that a future Spider-Man game could feature some reality warping by a villain like Mysterio, but if Sony goes ahead with a full-on multiverse Spider-Man game using the world from the first two games as a launching pad, it could struggle to go back. The next MCU movie’s title makes it clear – once the multiverse is opened, there’s no way home.
Spider-Man: No Way Home will premiere in theaters on December 17, 2021.