The Biggest Challenge Facing Tom Holland’s Spider-Man 4

Spider-Man: No Way Home set up a new status quo for Tom Holland's wall-crawler. So how come we haven't heard anything about a fourth Holland Spidey movie?

Spider-Man: No Way Home poster; Tom Holland.
Photo: Sony Pictures

Although all three of the MCU Spider-Man movies have “home” in the title, Spidey didn’t feel like he really came home until the very end of Spider-Man: No Way Home. That’s when Peter Parker walked into a squalid New York City apartment, knit together a home-made suit, and remembered his late parent-figure’s words about power and responsibility. So why the heck is Marvel unsure about what to do next?

From the first stories by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee to the married father of two in Jonathan Hickman and Marco Checchetto’s Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man is almost always a hard-luck hero, a guy who struggles to maintain his personal life, limited financial budget, and Spidey responsibilities. The MCU Spider-Man movies have certainly included aspects of those standards, but they’ve always been mitigated by the fact that this Spider-Man has a mentor in the ultra-rich Tony Stark and support from other beloved Avengers.

Spider-Man: No Way Home stripped all of that away by the end. For the sake of his friends, Peter asked Doctor Strange to make the world forget about him, cutting off his one last attachment to Stark and the Avengers while also giving him a tragic backstory in the form of Aunt May’s death. But instead of launching a new era of Spider-Man movies, No Way Home has left viewers and studios alike worried about how to proceed.

Tom Holland in No Way Home

No Way Home could have been a fitting end to Tom Holland’s time as Spider-Man. And yet, when Holland was asked about his interest in another spin in Spidey’s tights, the actor showed no doubt. “The simple answer is that I’ll always want to do Spider-Man films,” Holland told Deadline. “I owe my life and career to Spider-Man. So the simple answer is yes. I’ll always want to do more.”

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So why then have we not seen a follow-up to No Way Home yet? Holland’s answer isn’t quite so simple. “We have the best in the business working toward whatever the story might be. But until we’ve cracked it, we have a legacy to protect,” he explained. “The third movie was so special in so many ways that we need to make sure we do the right thing.”

According to Holland, part of the stall comes from worries about repeating past plot points. That might sound ridiculous after the nostalgia-fest that was No Way Home, but he has a point. Not only does his Spider-Man tenure come after decades of comic books, but Spider-Man has also starred in several television series, video games, and in seven non-MCU feature movies. In short, the character has crawled across a lot of walls.

The Sinister Sinking of Spider-Man’s Foes

Perhaps the biggest problem stems from No Way Home itself. The first two MCU Spider-Man movies did a great job reimagining classic villains and fitting them into the new universe. Adrian Toomes (along with the Shocker and the Tinkerer) made sense as a guy who got screwed out of a contract and got his powers from patching together abandoned tech. And FX artist Quentin Beck was a natural to work under the egotistical Stark. Sure, these characters did fit into the MCU’s awful class politics by pitting the usually working-class Peter Parker against people who dared to resist the rich Stark, but the charismatic performances by Michael Keaton and Jake Gyllenhaal overcame the bad politics.

But then No Way Home decided to recycle old, classic adversaries from previous film incarnations. Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus are two of Spider-Man’s best baddies, and Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina turned in defining performances. There’s plenty of room to go in other directions with these characters, as seen in the Sony Spider-Man video games, for example, but by putting Dafoe and Molina back into those roles, the MCU set a standard that will now be hard to break. Those two actors now cast even longer shadows over these characters going forward, even if producer Kevin Feige were to take potential recastings in a strikingly different direction—say, for example, by choosing Matthew McConaughey, who was long-rumored to be the MCU’s choice for Norman Osborn, as the Green Goblin. After reminding audiences that they love Dafoe and Molina in those parts, Spidey’s two greatest enemies have essentially been taken out of the MCU’s playbook.

Meanwhile Sony’s off-brand Spidey-less Spidey villain universe only further complicates things. Morbius and Kraven the Hunter (not you, Ezekiel Sims) have stood the test of time as Spider-Man antagonists, but most moviegoers associate the former as an internet joke and will probably do the same with the latter. Only Venom has stood out, but the Far From Home and Venom: Let There Be Carnage post-credit scenes only accentuated how poorly Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock fits in the MCU’s world.

In short, if Spider-Man 4 wants to keep consistent with the MCU version of the character without traveling over familiar ground, they’ll have to get creative and dig a bit deeper into the rogue’s gallery.

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Unfriendly Neighborhood Spider-Villains

Fortunately, they have one under-explored option sitting right there. Michael Mando of Better Call Saul fame had a bit part in Homecoming as Mac Gargan, the civilian name of the Scorpion. According to Marvel lore, Gargan became the Scorpion when J. J. Jameson recruited him to fight against Spider-Man. Given the fact that MCU JJJ is modeled after real-world villain Alex Jones, that might be the direction to take the character, if only to give Jameson actor J.K. Simmons more to do.

Homecoming also featured Donald Glover as Aaron Davis, a character most know as the Prowler, which would be a good way to introduce Miles Morales into the MCU. But then that brings up the problem of the multiverse, something that Sony desperately wants to exploit. According to rumors, Madame Web was intended to be a multiverse story, complete with a cameo by Tom Holland, something that Feige managed to squash.

More than just the wild swings in quality between Marvel’s Spidey movies and the recent Sony Spidey movies (Spider-Verse films notwithstanding), another multiverse movie would undermine the good thing that Marvel has with their Spider-Man. After No Way Home, Peter Parker has an opportunity to become the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man that people really love. And with Daredevil: Born Again coming soon, there’s plenty of street level stuff in the MCU to interact with Peter. After all, both Punisher and the Kingpin began as Spider-Man villains.

Spider-Man: Stay at Home

Tom Holland is right. Spider-Man does have a special legacy and No Way Home, for all of its faults, put that legacy in the right direction. But every movie since Spider-Man 2 has been plagued by terrible decisions, whether it be shoehorning Venom into Spider-Man 3, focusing on Peter Parker’s parents in The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, or essentially making Peter a rich kid in the MCU.

Spider-Man is the best superhero of all time and one who always resonates with audiences. And they have a fantastic star in the form of Tom Holland, who captures Peter’s sweetness and tragedy. Sony and Marvel should take their time when planning a follow-up to No Way Home, giving us a movie that takes advantage of the shared universe and huge budget while also remaining true to Spidey’s friendly neighborhood ethos.