Fan service as a concept is the idea that something happens within a piece of media simply just to
satisfy its fanbase. The term is historically associated more with TV shows due to their longer
duration, but because of the increasing amount of franchise films in recent years, it is becoming more prominent in films too. Franchises such as Jurassic World, Ghostbusters, and even the Marvel
Cinematic Universe (MCU) have all been found guilty of including certain scenes or plot points for
no reason other than to satisfy fans. Fan service isn’t always a bad thing, as it can provide some of the most memorable moments within cinema when it is earned and actually works. However, a lot of the time fan service serves as a crutch for writers and directors, and ultimately leads to them forgetting about the importance of a coherent plot. If the heart of the film comes from people- pleasing alone, then it is likely that the general content will lose its way.
Last year, I believed that there were two films that could possibly fall victim to bad fan service for
obvious reasons. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) and Scream (2022) both placed a large part of
their marketing on the idea of nostalgia. Spider-Man and Scream obviously both appeal to very
different groups, but what both have in common is a loyal fan base spanning many generations. Many people remember going to see the first Scream movie in the cinema, just like many people remember their parents showing them Scream as their very first horror movie. A lot of kids grew up wearing their Spider-Man mask to inspire strength, and to this day, the spirit of Spider-Man helps even adults get through dark points in their own lives.. The undeniably special thing about the character is that there have been three different portrayals, all spanning different periods of time, meaning that almost everyone has a different version they hold dear to them. However, I did find myself wondering if director Jon Watts would take advantage of this fact. It would be very easy for him to psychologically engage fans with the plot of this film, without actually worrying about the general content of it.
It was no secret that this movie was going to properly introduce the multiverse to the world of the MCU, meaning that virtually anything was possible. Jon Watts had the ability to give the fans anything that they wanted, and even if this was accompanied by a terrible plot, he would have likely gotten away with it due to the hype revolving around the film. Scream on the other hand has, for the most part, always relied on the same group of characters. These characters have become familiar to fans and play a major role in the magic of the franchise. One of the main marketing strategies for the new Scream was of course, the return of old characters. Although I was excited for this film, I struggled to see how they would introduce a new set of characters, while still focusing on the old group enough to please fans. The new directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett had to satisfy the long- term fans of the franchise, while also introducing a story that was compelling enough to stand alone, and I think they managed to do this successfully.
Spider-Man: No Way Home was highly anticipated for a long time, even before rumor’s and fan
theories began to surface. The character of Spider-Man in general is very popular, and so is the MCU,
so no one had to worry about the film doing well at the box office. However, during the waiting time
for this film, many fans came forward with a lot of crazy ideas, and the return of certain characters
was even confirmed within new trailer releases. As much as I was excited for this film myself, part of
me was worried about its overall reception when it finally came out. The endless amount of fan theories created expectations that I thought were almost impossible to reach – and even if the writers did decide to conduct some of these ideas, I found it hard to believe that they could do this without losing track of the actual movie they were trying to make. As can be told by the fact that No Way Home is the third highest-grossing movie of all time, earning $1.8 billion so far, I was evidently
wrong. This isn’t just because they bring back characters from previous films, but because the movie
in itself stays focused on its most important factor— Peter Parker. I think the MCU Spider-Man
movies are very different from the others within the franchise. They have more of a coming-of-age
feel to them, rather than the superhero epics that we usually receive. Of course we still see Spider-
Man in action, but this trilogy of movies focuses more on Peter Parker growing up and finding out
what it takes to become a real hero. With the return of actors like Andrew Garfield and Tobey
Maguire, it would be hard for this movie not to lose its way, and forget about the development of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man as a consequence of focusing on the excitement of the old guys.
The reason I think this works in the opposite direction, is because both Garfield and Maguire’s
Spider-Men serve as a literal representation of Peter Parker’s strengths and weaknesses. The return of these characters allows for Peter’s developments to be vocalized, without it feeling forced or
unnatural. When Peter loses Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), it is perhaps the lowest point we have seen
this character reach within the entire franchise, but Maguire and Garfield’s characters are there in that moment to remind us of the Spider-Men we grew up with. Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin also returns, which I would argue is the most well-utilized return out of them all. Green Goblin, with the help of Dafoe’s excellent acting, is arguably the most menacing on screen Spider-Man villain from any of the movies. He’s relentless, evil, and exactly what MCU Peter Parker needed to legitimize him. We know all too well from the other films that Peter has loved and he has lost. In a way that we have never seen before, Peter’s grief turns to rage, and all he wants to do is kill Green Goblin. In a moment of anger he comes very close, but Maguire’s Spider-Man is once again there to remind Peter who he is. Despite the pain and sacrifice, what always remains is Peter Parker’s good heart, and this is exactly what makes Spider-Man a hero. This is a vital turning point for MCU’s Spider-Man as it is his transition from boy to man, in a synthetic way that also provides the nostalgia that long term fans have been craving for years. The fans of the original Spider-Man trilogies were undoubtedly serviced throughout the film, as there were many references and nods to these films, and although they are a joy to watch, they all manage to stay in the shadows of the actual plot and allow our new Peter Parker to shine. The return of iconic characters doesn’t ruin the plot of the movie; in the end, it actually makes it stronger.
Scream is a little different from Spider-Man since the franchise doesn’t have the same scale of
backing as the MCU epic, but a loyal group of horror fans that have loved it for years. I would argue
that this is even more of a pressure to live up to, as the probability of pleasing fans is made even
lower. I was more worried for this film to fall victim to bad fan service, as it is the first one that
wouldn’t be relying on Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) as its main protagonist. Of course, Scream 4
introduces a lot of new characters, but I would argue that Sidney, Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and
Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) are still the heart and soul of the movie. All of these characters were
advertised for the new Scream, although I think it was obvious that they would only be in passing appearances. It was clear that they were intending to introduce younger actors that
would serve as a replacement for the old-time heroes. I really struggled to see how they would do this, as Scream is a franchise that relies almost solely on its nostalgia. But again, similarly to Spider-Man, I was pleasantly pleased with the directors’ ability to keep the spirit of Scream alive without relying solely on those who invented it. I actually found the new characters genuinely likeable, and thought they successfully provide the same meta humor seen in the previous films without the film feeling like a desperate copy of the original. The return of Sidney, Dewey, and Gale is undeniably exciting, but this time, it isn’t their movie.
They are there to remind us of the physical and psychological damage the iconic antagonist Ghostface leaves behind, which in turn provides higher stakes for the new characters. Over the years, the character of Sidney has become very resilient and badass. And while this film lets us see her in all her glory, it also uses her as a tool to provide growth for the new protagonist Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera). We watch her make the same mistakes that Sidney did, and through Sidney’s presence alone, we are reminded that someone who may seem weak, is capable of more than we can ever imagine. The whodunnit element is even more prominent within this film, due to the insights from the characters who have been there many times before. There is a scene of Dewey discussing who the killer could possibly be by referencing the outcomes of the previous instalments. Not only is this a cool throwback, but it creates a layer of tension and doubt between the characters, and also with the viewer. The more Scream films that are made, the harder it is to keep the mystery alive, but I think this was a really creative throwback to the old movies while providing a fun guessing game for the viewer in the current one.
I particularly liked the scene between Sam, Sidney, and Gale, as I think it wraps everything up perfectly for the originals while providing a clean slate for the new guys. Gale says that instead of writing about the killers, she’s going to write about Dewey and how he was such a great sheriff. They have finally learned not to give the killers what they want, and on top of this, Dewey is getting appreciation for being one of the most beloved characters in the franchise. Sam asks Sidney if she is going to be okay, and after glancing at her prudently, Sidney replies with “eventually.” This was one of my favourite scenes in the movie, as throughout the franchise, Sidney’s character has always been plagued with fear and trauma. So for her to confirm that she was able to overcome her demons and has managed to find happiness gives much-needed closure to long-term fans, while also providing wisdom for the new protagonist. Unfortunately I think this is the last time we will see the originals on screen together, and I don’t know if the newly confirmed Scream movie in 2023 will follow the same group of characters we were introduced to, but I would argue that our Westboro favorites set them up for more battles with Ghostface perfectly.
In the end, it was beyond possible for both Scream and Spider-Man: No Way Home to fall victim to bad fan service. It would have been very easy for the creators of these films to cling on to the success of the films before them, but both films successfully use beloved elements of their predecessors— not to minimize the plot, but uplift it. They are a key example of how fan service can be used for good, instead of as a cheap trick to gain popularity. Both Scream and Spider-Man: No Way Home were able to grant the wants of their fanbases, without forgetting about the needs of the actual films at hand.