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Is Ned Leeds ripped in Spider-Man 3 because he's a different version from the multiverse?

With the third Tom Holland-led Spider-Man movie beginning production this past week, the web-slinger is in the news more than he has been in some time. A large reason for that comes from speculation about where the next movie will go following Spider-Man: Far From Home's cliffhanger ending back in 2019. With Peter Parker's secret identity coming to light and him being branded a murderer by The Daily Bugle's J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), a bulk of the innumerable fan discussions going on center on the titular hero, even though his closest companion, Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon), warrants just as much analysis as he does.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ned is Peter's best buddy and one of the few people who knew about his crime-fighting alter-ego before the Bugle gave everyone the inside scoop. He's appeared in both Spider-Man: Homecoming and Far From Home, and it's a given that he'll tag along for the next Spidey adventure, although, he's going to look drastically different than he did in the previous two films. Recently, actor Jacob Batalon shared a mirror selfie on Instagram that shows off his much slimmer frame, adding fuel to the speculative fire raging across the internet about his role in the upcoming film.

It's entirely likely that Batalon only dropped the weight for his own, personal reasons, and power to him for that. However, there's a chance that it could tie directly to his return as Ned, or perhaps the arrival of a different version of the character from an alternate universe. Taking into account all of the talk surrounding the next Spider-Man movie, this idea is less far-fetched than you might think and could manifest itself in a few crazy ways. 

Doctor Strange could bring in a different Ned from the multiverse to Spider-Man 3

On October 8, 2020, The Hollywood Reporter broke the story that Benedict Cumberbatch was joining the cast of the currently untitled Spider-Man 3 to reprise his role as Doctor Stephen Strange. With Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) gone and Peter on the run from the masses who believe he killed their hero, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), now is a perfect time for the Sorcerer Supreme to step in and take the young Avenger under his wing. It remains unconfirmed, as of this writing, but Strange's presence in Spider-Man 3 could also bring with it the opening of the multiverse, welcoming other iterations of MCU mainstays into the main timeline.

This claim isn't totally unfounded, either. Jamie Foxx's return as Max Dillon A.K.A. Electro, a character he made famous Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, points to potential crossovers with other, established Marvel continuities. Not to mention, Strange's next solo movie – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness — could deal with the quantum fallout of his wizardry. Will that fallout include a much different, more muscular incarnation of Ned? Anything's possible in the multiverse. 

Spider-Ned to the rescue?

With the multiverse being as limitless as it is, Ned Leeds from an alternate dimension would likely diverge greatly from the one fans have come to know and love. In fact, it's plausible that one specific version could've suffered the same spider bites his friend Peter did in the MCU, granting him abilities such as wall-crawling, heightened senses, and superhuman strength. Therefore, the possibility that Ned became the Spider-Man in another universe can't be ruled out entirely, and a potential a team-up with Peter Parker to take down some bad guys in Spider-Man 3 isn't an impossibility, either.

Over the past few months, reports and rumors concerning a potential Spider-Verse crossover in the upcoming movie – bringing together Tom Holland, Andrew Garfield, and Tobey Maguire's respective portrayals of Spidey — have swamped social media. A representative from Sony recently shot down any hopes for such an ambitious cinematic event, but regardless of whether or not the previous two are returning Holland's Spider-Man doesn't have to be the only one present come Spider-Man 3.

Could Ned finally become the Hobgoblin?

While it would be wonderful for Ned to stick with the good guys, the multiverse doesn't limit itself to such moral alignment. He very well could become villain, thus realizing one of the more popular, and long-awaited fan theories that state Ned Leeds will inevitably take up the Hobgoblin mantle. There's precedent for this in the main Marvel Comics continuity, as when he worked for The Daily Bugle (the newspaper, not the MCU's Infowars parody), he was brainwashed and controlled by the Spider-Man rogue for a brief arc.

Jacob Batalon has made it no secret over the years that he'd love to transform Ned into the Hobgoblin on the big screen, totally reinventing the role for future movies. As he told Screen Rant, "It'd be so great [if] they're not going to want me to die. [I hope] they're going to want me to stay on and be part of the Sinister Six. That's just my theory." This proposition is incredibly intriguing and certainly seems like it serves Sony's ends; the studio has been attempting to build a Sinister Six team-up for years. Now that Batalon's build is a bit closer to the historically lanky-yet-muscular appearance of the Hobgoblin, it's a possibility they're already working to make it a reality.

Marvel Studios' history of requiring its actors to bulk up before taking on their heroic parts is well documented, and if that's in the cards for Jacob Batalon, then some version of Ned Leeds from across the multiverse is about to take center stage very soon.