I’ve been writing about the first Superman movie for several months in this blog, and I’m just reaching the end of his first date with Lois Lane. And if you want to know how superhero movies have changed from their relatively humble beginnings in 1978 to the frantic blockbuster factory of today, consider this: Superman: The Movie just spent a full twelve minutes entirely focused on the two main characters getting to know each other. I can’t imagine a superhero movie in the 2020s spending twelve minutes focused on anything; they can’t even make one movie at a time.
Just the fact that I can think of Superman as a “humble beginning” is insane; in 1978, they spent 55 million dollars making it the biggest and most exciting film that they could assemble. But as of this weekend, the film seems impossibly small.
This blog is a history of superhero movies, but I don’t want to be stuck entirely in the past, while the rest of the world moves forward. So when a new superhero movie is released, I’ve been writing special weekend popcorn posts looking at what the current film tells us about where this history is going. So far, Superman: The Movie has held up pretty well in comparison to Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Eternals, but the scale of Spider-Man: No Way Home is a different universe entirely.
Spider-Man: No Way Home assumes that the audience has spent the last fifteen years watching superhero movies. To fully appreciate it — or even just to follow what’s going on — you need to have watched at minimum eight other movies, with bonus points for following several spinoffs, including TV shows on two different streaming services. In the normal world that we inhabited not that long ago, that level of pre-release homework assignment would kill the picture; you can easily imagine the scathing reviews, saying that this movie is too complex and self-referential to appeal to mainstream audiences. But it looks like No Way Home is on its way to the 2nd best opening weekend of all time, with a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Anyone who’s been tut-tutting about the future of superhero movies needs to reconsider; the lonely echoes of the singing cowboys calling across the prairie have never seemed so far away.