Has spoiler culture spoiled pop culture completely at this point?
There is a constant push and pull in this business about what to report and when, and I think more often than not, media outlets fail both their audiences and the filmmakers they’re covering.
A perfect example happened at the end of the week when it was reported that Zendaya will be playing Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Now, casting news in general isn’t really a spoiler unless you’re the sort of fan who doesn’t even want to know which characters are in the movie you’re about to watch. I’m not sure why you’d be reading movie news if you’re that much of a spoiler purist, but let’s assume that particular Venn diagram of people exists. In the case of this Spider-Man news, though, it isn’t just a piece of casting news.
If Zendaya is indeed playing Mary Jane, it was obviously meant to be a secret. Marvel and Sony have only been calling the character Michelle so far, even on the call sheets for the film, and if the point of the film was to make it a big reveal, that is completely out the window now. James Gunn made some comments about the reaction to the casting today, and he went out of his way to say, “Do not take this as confirmation that she is playing Mary Jane,” which makes me think that Marvel isn’t ready to give this secret up yet. On the other hand, the images from the Thor Ragnarok set feel carefully orchestrated in a very fun way, intentionally meant to send a piece of information out to fandom. Whether Doctor Strange actually shows up in that film or not, it’s a fun trail of bread crumbs to follow for people as they wait for their next Marvel movie fix.
When people ran the Mary Jane story, they did so with absolutely no discretion. They killed the secret completely dead and did so without hesitation. We did it, too, although we ultimately were more interested in Gunn’s comments. Once the initial rumor broke and people started reacting to it, that was the conversation, and it happened in the public space, and now, there’s no putting it back. Another example just happened with Vin Diesel during a Facebook Live video. As Groot, Vin Diesel does not have many words at his disposal. Five, to be exact. And for a long time, there was a rumor that Diesel might also play Black Bolt for the studio, a clever casting notion since Bolt can’t speak. But right now, I’m guessing Marvel is not happy about a few other specific words he had to say about an upcoming Marvel movie. Specifically, I’m wondering how they feel about his claim that the Guardians of the Galaxy are definitely going to be in Avengers: Infinity War.
When they were first talking about making Guardians of the Galaxy, I remember arguing with Greg Ellwood about whether or not it was going to work. He was of the considered opinion that the film was never actually going to happen, and that even if it did, it was never going to appeal to broader audiences. He was convinced that they were setting it in deep space so they could just pretend it never happened after it bombed. As soon as I heard the line-up for the film, though, I imagined how absurd and delightful it would be to see Rocket Raccoon having a conversation with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, and I had faith that they'd figure out a way to make that actually happen. So it does not shock me to hear that Marvel is indeed finally connecting all the dots, but again… I wonder if they were ready for that information to be out there, or if there was supposed to be some element of surprise. After all, they’re still just teasing Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 right now, like with this piece of art that was premiered over at Empire today —
— which makes me absurdly happy. I want this kind of big crazy space opera with characters I love, and I trust James Gunn to build off of the delightful first film. And if that team’s going to swing in for Infinity War, great. They’ll have had two whole films to build their rapport, so when they find themselves in the middle of this much larger group, they’ll still have that shared identity. All of that excites me… but would I have enjoyed it more if I’d learned that from a trailer or, god forbid, from the film itself?
Marvel handled things perfectly with the reveal of Spider-Man for Captain America: Civil War. They took their time, they teased it out, and when they finally revealed him, people went crazy. It was exciting and perfectly stage-managed. The longer I do this, the more I feel like people should be able to decide when and how they drop information about the actual content of the film, and yes, I know who I am and how that sounds. But if we don’t continue to evolve, both as individuals and as a collective community, then we stagnate, and that’s not good. Certainly, there is plenty wrong with every side of the equation right now. There is a dearth of actual good reporting going on, with most outlets just playing one big game of follow-the-leader, no matter what the leader does or doesn’t know for sure. Meanwhile, fandom is busy eating itself with pearl-clutching overreactions, blatant bullying, bizarre displays of bigotry and racism and women-hating, and with a rush to shut down discourse of any kind by breaking into smaller and smaller insular groups of the like-minded, afraid to engage one another on anything of any substance. I am not the same reporter I was when I wrote my JJ Abrams Superman script review or when I gave up everything on The Phantom Menace almost a year before release. I would not approach those situations the same way now, and with each new situation, I find myself really considering what we are or aren’t adding to a conversation. I’m wrestling with the idea that many fans want a kind of coverage that I’m not willing to provide, and the question of context is an important one for me. If we are going to spoil something, why are we spoiling it? What news value is there in it? How was it spoiled?
We’ve gone from reading from the menu at the restaurant to studying the menu before we go to the restaurant to asking someone to eat the meal for us and tell us how all of it feels exactly, right down to the crap they take to finally get rid of it. We can’t really devolve much further short of fandom just showing up to stand around on a set loudly telling filmmakers what to do before, after, and even during actual takes. Short of that, we have reached the event horizon for spoilers, and it’s time to ask what we do next. I remember one year when I was crazy about Christmas, and I managed to hunt down all of my presents in the house, unwrap them, look at them, and then rewrap them. Of course, my parents knew what I’d done, and I could see it in them on Christmas morning. I had hurt them. All they wanted was to be there for that moment of surprise, to see me enjoy the things they had gone through the trouble of tracking down and picking out, and my determination to open everything early, to know for the simple sake of knowing, ruined the holiday for them. Are we ever going to get tired of opening our Christmas presents early? And as the press, shouldn’t we hold ourselves to a higher standard than “people want to know”?
Look at the release dates below and ask yourself: how much do I really want or need to know about any of these films at this point? There are so many other movies coming out before even the first of these, and the last of them is two years away. I feel like one of the reasons nothing really lasts in a theater anymore is because everything feels pre-digested before it arrives precisely because there is such a pervasive over-coverage of every single potential blockbuster, and while much of it is driven by the studios, there is a big chunk of it that is simply obsessive and intrusive. We risk killing the things we love by micro-analyzing them before they even exist, and I am exhausted by it.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 will be in theaters May 5, 2017.
Spider-Man: Homecoming will be in theaters July 7, 2017.
Thor Ragnarok will be in theaters November 3, 2017.
Avengers: Infinity War will be in theaters May 4, 2018.