Spider-Man is perhaps Marvel’s most famous character, if not the most famous superhero in the world. Defining the superhero action film genre in the early 2000s, the franchise has been rebooted three times. Tom Holland is the latest Spider-Man, who had lots of experience in ballet and gymnastics and paired with his geeky, youthful demeanor, it made him the obvious choice for the next Spider-Man. There is something innovative in the portrayal of Spider-Man in this new trilogy: a high-budget blockbuster film, with some serious upgrades to special effects and costume design. Not to mention the film is part of the biggest film franchise of the decade and boasts an A-List cast, including Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Michael Keaton. So what else makes this film groundbreaking?
WARNING: There will be heavy spoilers for the film in this review, so turn back now if you haven’t seen it and still want to!
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A Web to Untangle
Spider-Man: No Way Home comes in the aftermath of the second Spider-Man movie, Far From Home. Former villain Mysterio exposed Spider-Man’s secret identity Peter Parker to the whole world and he and his closest friends suffer the consequences. Tired of the problems they’re facing every day, Peter Parker seeks the help of Dr. Strange (another Avenger) to try and erase everyone’s memory that Peter Parker is Spider-Man.
Dr. Strange’s spell goes awry and Peter Parker finds himself fighting villains from Spider-Man’s past iterations. Dr. Strange has accidentally broken the multiverse and iconic villains from other universes begin pouring into Tom Holland Spider-Man’s universe. Including the Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, Electro, Lizard, and Sandman, such a revival could not happen without the original Spider-Men who beat them.
Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield reprise their roles as Spider-Man, perhaps the biggest and most anticipated reveal of the whole movie. This was particularly important for both actors — Maguire has not acted in nearly 10 years while Garfield’s franchise came to an abrupt end after Sony and Marvel negotiated a possibility for Spider-Man to appear in the MCU in the first place.
By the end of the film, Parker learns that the only way to prevent the multiverse from crashing into their reality is to make everyone forget who Peter Parker is in their universe, removing everyone’s knowledge of Spider-Man’s real identity. But this comes with all of Parker’s closest friends forgetting who he is too.
The MCU made a bold move to incorporate Spider-Man’s past portrayals but it only made sense — as the only superhero to have so many reboots, it seemed right to give Spider-Man a multiversal arc especially now that the MCU is leaning very far into the multiverse angle for the next phase of the series.
Super Spidey Strength
The film’s greatest feature is that it creates an unmistakable dynamic between all the Peter Parkers — obviously, the characters can’t be going around calling him “Tobey Maguire Spider-Man or “Andrew Garfield Peter Parker” since they’re all supposed to be playing the same character. Charmingly named Peter One, Peter Two, and Peter Three, the three actors all clearly play distinct, yet authentic iterations of the same character that also remain true to their portrayals from the respective series they come from.
Their relationship with each other is funny and entertaining, and they clearly establish these roles, despite their limited screen time together. Tom Holland Spider-Man is still at the forefront of a group, albeit inexperienced and naïve. He hasn’t yet experienced the sacrifices he must endure to truly become Spider-Man until his Aunt May is killed in cold blood. And he goes through the same phases of rage and hatred, which he knows is ultimately wrong.
Seeing them together reminds us of what Spider-Man was once and always will be — the geeky, caring man who loses so much but chooses to look out for the “little guy”.
Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, being the original and oldest Spider-Man brings in a sense of wisdom and judgment that helps him guide the younger Spider-Man towards the righteous path. And finally, Andrew Garfield Spider-Man provides a sense of comic relief to mask his unresolved trauma surrounding his inability to save Gwen Stacy, his MJ. Seeing them together reminds us of what Spider-Man was once and always will be — the geeky, caring man who loses so much but chooses to look out for the “little guy”.
But like all other films, Spider-Man: No Way Home has its own weaknesses. For starters, watching the film requires so much context from at least the past two MCU Spider-Man films, Tobey Maguire AND Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man films, Dr. Strange, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, and The Avengers: Infinity War. You could expand the list further and include the Loki TV show on Disney+ (introductions of the multiverse), Venom 2 (because of Eddy Brock’s cameo in the end credits), and Daredevil (because Parker hires Matt Murdock to be his lawyer). WHEW. If you’re looking to enjoy a Spider-Man movie on its own without so much interference and needed context, this movie might be a little tough for you to watch.
Another problem I have with this film is its pacing. Of course, there’s only so much you can fit in a 2.5-hour long film but sometimes the jumps from tone can be confusing. The biggest example I see is in the second act when the audience has to comprehend Aunt May’s death, a few scenes of comic relief, and the shocking/exciting reveal of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s return as Spider-Man. This all takes place in the span of no more than 15 minutes, which can be jarring for an audience to watch— there are massive leaps in the tone that don’t flow all too well with each other.
This movie solves a few problems, both in-world, and out-world. On one hand, the end of Spider-Man: No Way Home puts Peter Parker/Spider-Man back into the role of your friendly neighborhood superhero instead of making him a bigshot, Stark prodigy superhero. We go back to the roots of Spider-Man’s character and essence, which was a major problem people had with Tom Holland’s iteration of Spider-Man in the MCU.
On the other hand, after the Sony-Disney battles for the rights to make Spider-Man movie, this movie, albeit sad and open-ended, does give a proper conclusion to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man’s arc. Overall, the film does not pull punches when it comes to tugging at your heartstrings and opens up his character to new ventures for future films.
Cover: Erik McClean/Unsplash
Edited by: Debby Mogot