Spider-Man: No Way Home – The Beginning and End of Spider-Man
I can’t believe that it was almost 3 months ago that I last wrote about Spider-Man in the article Sony’s Spider Web – Building the Spider-Verse. I knew I was getting withdrawal shakes from something but now I know its because a quarter of a year has passed and I haven’t spoken about Spider-Man AND in that time we have had No Way Home swing into theatres near us! I feel better already just typing this much and I am only 81 words in…
By the time this post is out (and if I am not behind already) this will be out on the 5th January 2022 meaning a full 21 days have passed since No Way Home released in the UK so I think I am okay for spoilers… but it goes without saying that there are spoilers ahead. That said, before we get into the meat of it all, besides the film we also have the below trailer land for the film which will give you time to decide if you want spoilers:
Very exciting stuff! I wish I was on the ball enough to have broken this trailer down before the film but I guess we will have to do it retrospectively! My hope is that that also gives you enough space between the intro of the post and the myriad of spoilers coming your way! But one last chance – SPOILERS AHEAD….
There is a lot to go over and I know I won’t tick it all off in one post but lets see how I get on anyway. Before I delve into this any further, I wanted to say that this is my favourite live action Spider-Man film of all time and it rivals Into the Spider-Verse for best overall. The reasons will become apparent as the post goes on, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was everything I wanted, and in parts, even more. I have seen it twice; once on release day and then again a few days before posting this, so it is still etched into my mind however there are parts I can’t wait to stop and look at more closely (the multiversal tears with all the figures lurking in to begin with). It isn’t without it’s issues (which I will be covering here) but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t love every moment of it.
Bippity Boppity Boop – Strange Magic and the Villains
Believe it or not, I am not a wizard as I am still waiting for my Hogwarts letter, but the spell cast by Dr Strange at the start and then at the subsequent spell cast at the end seem to create some narrative plot-holes (or maybe future plot-points) that stick out a little for me. I will caveat that we are dealing with magic here defined by the rules set out by the writers of the film so there is a lot of ways around/about/out of these but the more I think about it, the more I get tripped up by the logic that the writers may well have written for themselves.
Lets take the first case – ‘people who know Peter Parker is Spider-Man are leaking through‘. Okay yup that makes sense and I can see why that is an issue… but that doesn’t ring true to individuals villains, for example what about Venom and Electro? Starting with Venom, for those of you who have seen Venom 2, the post credit sees Eddie Brock and Venom whoosed into another hotel room where on the TV our favourite Spider-Man fan boy, J Jonah Jamerson is covering the revelation of Peter Parker being Spider-Man. Venom seems bemused by Peter saying ‘that guy’ and I can’t figure out if its a look and tv lick of knowing him or of curiosity. How he could know him would require time travel unless there is a Tom Holland Spider-Man that Venom has come across in his 80-million light years of travel in an alternate dimension… unless the symbiote is also multiversal? Could this Venom symbiote be the same as the one who Toby’s Spider-Man faced in Spider-Man 3 or at least connected to a ‘bigger Venom’? A bit stumped with this one. If the footage is also to be believed as a live broadcast of Peter’s reveal then it would also have happened before Peter had asked Strange to cast the spell. So this could mean that the spell worked in a similar way that the collision worked in Into the Spider-Verse where people enter Mile’s universe at different times, or Venom’s arrival is unrelated to the Strange incantation… but if that’s the case, why did he then go back in a similar manner to the rest at the end of the film? …And breathe…. If you need a reminder of the post credits, you can see it on YouTube here – thanks YouTube. This also doesn’t solve issues such as why only the Eddie Brock version was brought across and not the Topher Grace version? And also why some of the symbiote stayed. That’s like teleporting somewhere but leaving a sock you came with or more seriously, leaving a limb – it seems like a convenient narrative point as opposed to something in line with the universe’s logic. There is a clear set up here for Venom 3 but will that cover Eddie Brock trying to unravel is his multiversal trip or will it follow the Venom symbiote left to play with Holland? Honestly, it generated more questions than answers that don’t quite match up with the logic of the spell.
The other part that falls into this plot hole is Electro – he doesn’t learn Peter Parker’s identity in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as the Green Goblin of that universe learns after Electro is beaten and seemingly reduced to nout. To reinforce this, when Garfield is speaking to Foxx/Max, Max says that he thought that he would have been a black Spider-Man meaning he has zero idea who he actually is. This is a nice nod to Miles Morales as he affirms that he is sure there is a black Spidey out there somewhere but unfortunately it also contradicts the logic of the spell. Electro takes on a different form to what he did in the TASM universe (but we know this is likely due to the electricity feeling different) so there is an argument to make that he could be one of the infinite versions of this same instance, and that in his fight before he died he knew about Peter’s identity (maybe just his name) before getting beaten but the dialogue in the film suggests that this Max Dillion still has no idea. Again, this contradicts the ‘everyone who knows Spider-Man is Peter Parker’ logic.
Don’t get me wrong, I am so glad that this happened but narratively this feels like a way to shoehorn in all the villains from previous films in a hopes that people don’t look into the logic too much. You have had most of Toby’s rogue gallery turn up and you wouldn’t be able to have Venom because that could cause more confusion with the current Venom run and you wouldn’t have Harry Osbourne because you already had Norman Osbourne. For Andrew, you wouldn’t have the Dane DeHann version of Goblin because a) he pales in comparison to 2002’s iteration, especially considering the part he plays in the No Way Home story and b) Willem Defoe. Of course we could have seen Paul Giamatti’s Rhino but… yeah no. Would love to see him fighting on the Statue of Liberty though….
It feels like there was a huge task in terms of getting the Sony films and the Marvel films together with a coherent reason why they should collide and the spell works in theory as long as you don’t question the logic or dig to deeply. Alternatively, this could be stage setting for future Spider-Verse shenanigans that are wrapped up in 2022’s Spider-Verse sequel. It would be interesting to revisit this film a few years down the line once we can reflect back on how this film set up and influenced what is to come.
And while we are on villains…. what the f*** was Sandman doing? This stuck out for me because his motivations seem to change according to what he, as an antagonist, is expected to do. Its established midway through that he wants to get home to his daughter so out of any of the villains yanked into the MCU, he should be the one wanting to help Spider-Man get back. He helped Holland against Electro, much like he helped Toby at the end of Spider-Man 3… cool, that tracks he’s not a ‘bad, bad guy’. just a man acting out of self preservation. Okay, as it goes on he doesn’t trust people, fine understandable, new universe, new sand – why would you trust these strangers? But he doesn’t seem overly attached to his powers and, if anything, struggles to live a normal life with them… so why then is he so hell bent on stopping the Spider-Men from curing him and sending him back? He flees the apartment when it all goes down with the Goblin and Peter and actively tries to stop any of the Peters either fixing him or, worst case, triggering the magic box. He wants to see his daughter who isn’t in that universe and that box is the one thing that can get him back there AND this kid is going to get all the sand out of his cracks but instead he decides to throw down. It just doesn’t make sense and he, of all of them, was the one that I believed would least fight against the plan. We would have missed out on the cool scenes, yes, but at the same time this story was about learning responsibility and this sandy man has a responsibility that he was actively dodging. Not cool man.
Spider-Man: The MCU’s GOAT?
That was a bit of a villainous rant above but I need to give some time to the titular hero(es) as from a character development point of view, this was crucial in defining Holland’s Peter’s attitude as a hero within the MCU. In the comics for a while, a defining motto for Spider-Man was ‘Nobody dies’ and this was a mantra he saw through, even at his own personal expense. This film takes that and combines it with the famous responsibility motif to challenge what it means to be an MCU hero. You have people in this universe with the power to shape and influence nations and when they face adversity it often descends into a war of ideologies and fists. The heroes don’t actively kill their adversaries but I wouldn’t say they safeguard against it either and most of the time it inadvertently end up happening anyway (with a few exceptions). And when these villains are spared and apprehended, they are spared to face justice and jail and that is about it. The Raft in Civil War for example, is designed to take these people out of society and keep them in a cage until the end of days and that is their punishment. We never really see this justice play out and we certainly don’t always see the impact it has on our heroes as they move through their lives and films. This is where Spider-Man changes and challenges this expectation; Peter has the power and therefore it his responsibility to help people, no matter the person or how lost they are. You know what, I love this moral exercise, so this little discussion will become a separate blog later on – it’s now on the list.
Back to it though, this is a sentiment that is delivered by Aunt May in this film but is echoed and reinforced by the other Uncle Bens through their Peter Parkers, but ironically its a sentiment that Garfield and Maguire were unable to uphold themselves in many cases. Green Goblin and Doc Ock died facing Toby and Electro ‘died’ facing Garfield (but he did a better job of apprehending his Goblin and Lizard). Despite facing great personal loss, Holland’s Spider-Man doesn’t seek to just defeat the villains but to cure them. The ‘cure’ is a bit on the nose, but he is essentially looking to fix the issues that cause these individuals to be villains and even if it doesn’t necessarily address the underlying issue, it helps them on the path to rehabilitation. None of these characters start out as villains in their own stories but instead were victims of circumstance that made mistakes along the way. Costly mistakes and some that were inspired by greed or arrogance yes, but not always inherently evil intentions at the start. Because of this sentiment, I think it earns Peter a fast track close to the top of the MCU greatest heroes alongside Iron Man; not because of powerset or villains or even the scale of his heroics, but because of his willingness to take a tougher road as opposed to the ‘easy’ route of simply defeating someone. Peter makes several tough choices that, to a certain extent defy logic, through-out this film even before his main final sacrifice. For example he takes some of his (or his parallel selves) greatest villains into an apartment to science the hell out of them and try to fix them. He tries to understand what the issue is and tries to do what their Spider-Men couldn’t do and remedy it, despite the fact that these characters could well be corrupted by power and pose a huge risk to him and his allies. This is not the typical superhero response to their antagonists but instead demonstrates his character and the parental influence he has received that he should be trying to help first and punch second. The film doesn’t deny Holland his rage however – on numerous occasions you see an emotional and visceral Spider-Man in his fights and this Peter Parker is more than ready to finish the Goblin off and its only through the intervention of another Parker, his older & wiser self, that he learns he has to rise above the anger and desires of revenge to instead try and help people, even at the sacrifice of his own short term gratification. Not to interpret too much, but there is a lot to be said about how this can be seen today in humanities desire to get short sighted justice rather than considering that helping someone change and considering the context that resulted in their situation in the first place, is as important as incarceration and that rehabilitation and empathy sometimes has a much more rewarding outcome, despite the path being harder and sometimes requiring personal sacrifice in the process.
In a film about second chances, it’s fitting too that Peter Parker gets his second chance (or maybe third chance) to fix a mess of his doing. I would argue that in Homecoming he escalated the Vultures plans but that ‘villainy’ was occurring anyway so Peter learnt how to better trust in his mentor, while weirdly also not trusting in his mentor because if he hadn’t then it could have ended worse? And in Far From Home it was the opposite in the fact he gave his trust too willingly and therefore gave the keys of the world to a disgruntled ex-employee and arguably another Iron Man villain… No Way Home however is the best example of how his youth and inexperience contributed to an action that had drastic consequences far beyond his own realm – it’s not just about learning the responsibility of your own power anymore but also about the consequences of your actions. These films often comes down to portraying his youth and naivety as being a bad thing but we don’t always consider the adverse; he is eager to help and keen to trust and to prove himself but often finds himself taken advantage of due to these perceived weaknesses. Goblin himself attacks Parker for mercy being a sickness and a weakness when in reality these should be seen as the strengths that he has. This message is sometimes hard to see though, especially when his mercy causes such widespread devastation – but then again, you could argue that sometimes that is the price of mercy. It’s a shame as well that he has had to learn this mantle of responsibility over a period of three solo films and three additional outings whereas it took Garfield and Maguire a film each to learn what responsibility meant. It creates an element of immaturity with Holland’s Spider-Man when in reality he is learning about his responsibility as a hero on a scale dominated by super beings and different threat levels.
Taking all this into account, I think there is a still a fair ground here to say that the MCU Spider-Man in one of the MCU’s truest heroes because, in my mind, he demonstrates some of the truest heroic qualities that should be found in a hero. In No Way Home, at the end he performs a sacrifice that rivals that of Tony Stark and although he gets to live, he is dead to everyone around him, even his loved ones. Unlike Stark, he’s not mourned or celebrated, he’s simply forgotten. He tries to help those who actually try to, and to some extent do, cause him harm and which even results in him losing his last family member. And most importantly, besides all of this, he keeps going. This rings true to the spirit of his comic book counterpart but also serves to potentially inspire a new generation heroes in the MCU and maybe even seeking to inspire on a level that transcends the MCU itself. We live in a world where forgiveness and empathy can often be seen as weak, and I will be honest, I even think that the decisions he makes are naïve and fanciful as often situations are less clear cut than presented in the film, but I also find that its hard to not be inspired by the idea that sometimes the hardest thing to do can be the right thing to do. If this sentiment can inspire younger generations, both in the MCU and in the cinemas, to try and help and understand others rather than to judge and persecute, then actually we could see some positive change in the world.
Spider-Man No More?
As I mentioned in my Spider-Verse post in October this film was as much a conclusion of Holland’s initial arc as it was an epilogue to the previous Spider-Man runs that came before. I am glad I was right in this but I will be honest I didn’t expect it to be as touching a resolution as we saw. I was expecting a throw away line from each iteration that rounded up what they had done and just tied a bow on it but we got so much more. We saw the reconciliation between Toby and Doc Ock in a way that felt like old friends catching up after a long hiatus. We saw the comedic elements poking fun at the inconsistencies and differences between these worlds; natural webs v webshooters, robot rhinos v aliens on Earth v aliens in space and even discussing the varied fates of supporting cast members. The one stand out moment that got me emotional though was Garfield’s redemption in his saving of MJ. Garfield’s run is inconsistent and messy, but the anchor of his story is that of Peter and Gwen, so when we see the moment she dies in number two it is heart breaking no matter your stance. To see him make right the catch with MJ that he failed years before was a moment, not just emotional for me, but emotional for this iteration of Parker. And that is the beauty of these three on screen; they all learn from each other even in the moment and they grow even in the time they are out of their universes.
A particular shout out needs to go to Andrew Garfield here because as I look back at his films I see them in a new light. I watched them recently and I struggled with them after seeing the Holland films, but seeing Garfield in this film and, upon reflection, I feel like he was written incorrectly and under utilised as a Spider-Man. He has the capacity to be a great Spidey and he did a better job in the half hour on screen in No Way Home than he did in the two films across Amazing Spider-Man in my opinion. With the right story he could bring some genuine delight to the Spidey community out there out there. And you know what, he looked like he was loving the opportunity too which, frankly, is infectious. Following this film there is a lot of talk of an Amazing Spider-Man 3 and a Spider-Man 4 and these would be great because these characters have learnt so much coming out of their brief spell in the MCU that it could offer some genuinely fresh takes on these stories and their universes. How would they behave knowing now of the multiverse, magic and Avengers? As much as they may have had unspecified events that happened between the end of their tenure and No Way Home, you could, in theory, reboot these three webs into original stories to weave new interpretations of classic tales.
This film closed off the Holland arc of the MCU and although we know there is a future, that is still very uncertain in my eyes. But it resets the status quo for Holland to the down on his luck hero who puts the people and his city first. Hopefully we get to see him donning the classic look a lot more, a look inspired by his encounter with Maguire and Garfield while he finds out what the future holds for him in a world that doesn’t know he exists. The film gives us an idea of what our generational Spider-Men have done since we saw them and gives them an element of closure (with a tease for more) while allowing Holland to get back to basics without Happy, without Tony and without a support network. To a certain extent, this is back to classic Spidey after a bit of a flipped-on-its head origin story. Selfishly, I hope this isn’t the end of Holland’s Spider-Man and that we see more of this within the MCU, even in a way that straddles the Sony-verse, but a lot can change with actors and contracts especially following Spider-Man’s phenomenal success at the box office. Even outside of the cinematic continuity, the prospect of him tussling with Kingpin (who we recently saw in Hawkeye) and teaming up with Matt Murdock/Daredevil as he even made it into No Way Home, is exciting that we may end up seeing a grounded fighting for the soul of the New York.
This was simultaneously an easy post to write and a tough one to complete. I have so much to say about Spider-Man but I know that you, my valued reader, can’t read my rantings and musings all day. I could discuss Aunt May’s fate in greater detail, I could delve into the implications of the final spell and what does it mean for Spider-Man and I could even tie all this into Hawkeye and the rest of the Disney+ shows but that, much like Spider-Man 4/Amazing Spider-Man 3/Spider-Man 3, is for another day. My expectations were met with No Way Home and I was given an experience that tied up three franchises that have spanned my life – from sneaking into Spider-Man 2002 as I was only 11 and the 12a rating in the UK didn’t exist yet, to the edgy, angsty teenage years of 2012 Ryan when Amazing Spider-Man came out, all while tying up my favourite incarnation of Spider-Man yet and positioning him as a part of something bigger. The film is a delight and I would see it more if I could and, despite the inconsistencies I have mentioned, this film ranks as one of my all time favourite MCU films.
Keep an eye out for more things Spidey, as well as other content coming your way this year including lots of video game talk, interviews with fellow nerds and takes on what’s happening in the pop culture world around us. You can find me on Twitter and Twitch with my streams starting this Sunday (9th Jan) so drop in and let me know if you disagree. You can let me know if you agree too… I don’t always want to argue!