It’s no secret that I am a fan of marketing campaigns, especially marketing campaigns for “big” movies (Avengers: Infinity War, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Deadpool, etc.), that deceive, obscure and mislead for the sake of preserving the theatrical experience. Credit must be given to Sony’s Spider-Man: Far From Home marketing. The film’s boffo $185 million Tues-Sun domestic debut is partially due to a strong campaign that managed to not give away the whole movie in the previews and TV spots. Moreover, they used MCU continuity and an understanding of how online media works to offer distractions and red herrings to avoid revealing the movie in question. In short, they lied through their teeth.
Yes, I will try to avoid spoiling much in the way of what transpires in the Jon Watts-directed flick, because Sony went unusually out of its way to avoid spilling the beans before theatrical release. Yes, there will be one second-act beat that needs to be noted in this post, but I will offer plenty of warning and contain it to a single paragraph. Pretty much all of Sony’s campaigns for their previous live-action Spider-Man movies have been spoilery as hell.
The second Spider-Man trailer showed Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin dropping Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane AND Toby Maguire’s Spider-Man successfully catching her. The full Spider-Man 2 trailer was a beat-by-beat rundown of the movie right up until the big train fight. The first Spider-Man 3 marketing hid Topher Grace’s Venom and focused on Thomas Hayden-Church’s Sandman, but the later trailers and TV spots (understandably) let that third-act twist out of the bag.
Sony’s campaigns for The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 were so voluminous (TV spots, clips, trailers, etc.) and spoilery that folks online cut together relatively accurate abridged versions of both movies before release. Sony’s campaigns for Spider-Man: Homecoming and Venom weren’t much better. Venom had a pretty standard “What you see is what you get” campaign, even if you can argue that it held back on some of the weirder character beats. It still offered most of the big plot-specific money shots.
And Homecoming followed up a fine first teaser in December of 2016 with a spoiler-filled and lousy trailer in March of 2017 which laid out the entire thematic arcs and the point-by-point plot beats through the end. The Homecoming campaign hid one minor plot twist, but the rest of the movie was laid bare. So, it’s shocking that Sony was willing to play coy and to use tools that I’d argue were unique for them to release Spider-Man: Far From Home into theaters with most of its plot and plot twists intact.
It did this in two specific ways. First, it used spoilers specific to Avengers: Endgame (Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is dead, and every one is said) to distract from the actual movie being sold. The first trailer, released in December of 2018, did even less than that, merely selling the “Tom Holland’s Peter Parker goes on a high school European summer vacation” angle, complete with Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury mugging it up and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Quentin Beck fighting on the side of good. What seemed to be a major sequence, Fury and Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill fighting Elementals and Mysterio showing up, was the stand-alone prologue.
The second trailer, which was released 11 days into Avengers 4’s domestic run, revealed both that Iron Man was dead and that the film took place after Avengers: Endgame. It used the whole “What did this trailer spoil about Avengers Endgame?” hook to garner interest and media attention without spoiling much about Spider-Man: Far From Home. Secondly, (moderate spoiler, so skip this paragraph and the next one if you’re unaware) it used Mysterio’s bald-faced lie about his origins (that he’s a good guy from another Earth fighting the supernatural menaces that killed his world) to unleash a deluge of speculation about what the multiverse meant for the next phase of the MCU.
As you find out at the halfway point, Beck is, well, he’s not an interdimensional superhero here to save our world from the fate that doomed his. From that point onward (spoilers ending… now), pretty much everything that happens plot-wise is “new to you” even if you’ve seen the trailers. Slight digression but thank you to writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers for not drawing out this “everybody knows” plot twist to the point of absurdity, which is a big reason The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t quite work. Anyway, many of the money shots which are sold as big climactic beats are from the first two acts of the picture.
No, I won’t reveal what goes down in the second half. But the movie, whatever my issues with it overall, contains plenty of unspoiled buzz-inducing moments, including a gonzo-bananas action sequence that closes out the second act and a doozy of a mid-credits cookie, that will have folks buzzing precisely because they weren’t revealed (or even hinted at) in the pre-release marketing. I don’t know how leggy Far From Home will be, but I imagine the surprising legs it showed even during its Tuesday-to-Sunday domestic debut were partially due to how much of the movie felt fresh, surprising and “new” to theatrical moviegoers who had seen most of the trailers, TV spots and related marketing.
Sony’s various marketing departments didn’t just not reveal stuff, they (and, yes the characters) lied through their teeth about major plot details and character beats, while using the specter of Avengers: Endgame spoilers to avoid having to say too much about Spider-Man: Far From Home. And if it legs out despite kiddie competition from The Lion King, Hobbs & Shaw, Dora and the Lost City of Gold and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, it’ll partially be because Sony didn’t give away the whole damn movie in the previews. Those previous spoilery Spider-Man campaigns did their job and led to big bucks. But Far From Home shows that Sony can play a little hide-and-seek and reap similar rewards.