By Caroline Palermo, Staff Writer
In many ways, Spider-Man: No Way Home feels like a nostalgic trip. At nineteen, I found myself sitting between my brothers in a dark theater. As a child, I spent my Saturday mornings right next to the same brothers watching Pokemon, Ben 10 and most importantly, the Spider-Man cartoons. On my right, my younger brother sat there with his box of Raisinets like he had four years ago when we watched Homecoming, the movie that cemented Tom Holland as our favorite Peter Parker. And so, the three of us spent the next 148 minutes in a haze of nostalgia, heartbreak and a larger appreciation for Spider-Man.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is the final film in Tom Holland’s Spider-Man trilogy. It picks up
immediately after the end credit scene from Far From Home when J. Jonah Jameson of the Daily Bugle reveals the identity of Spider-Man. Peter Parker faces the repercussions of his revealed identity in bleak fashion: the scrutiny of his moral character, harassment, invasion of privacy and rejection from college.
In typical Peter Parker fashion, he’s more distressed over how his friends and family are being horribly affected — particularly when his best friend Ned and girlfriend MJ are rejected from MIT because of their affiliation with Peter. So, Peter turns to Doctor Strange for help in erasing the public’s memory of Peter being Spider-Man. Unfortunately, the spell goes haywire and while the public does not forget Peter as Spider-Man, the spell does manage to bring back familiar enemies from alternate realities.
No Way Home is a staple Marvel film — it follows a predictable formula that consistently gains critical and general praise with its humor, emotional moments and driven human arcs. But it’s this formula that makes this the best live-action Spider-Man film. While the first third of the film largely depends on the humor of the situation Peter’s in (as well as a darling cameo of Charlie Cox’s Daredevil that deserved more screen time), the remaining run time feels like an authentic Spider-Man story depending on the humanity of Peter Parker.
As aforementioned, Peter only tries to get his identity erased to make the lives of others easier. It’s a subtle detail, not as pronounced as the MIT admissions director calling Peter a hero much to the teenager’s confusion because despite saving New York and the universe, he doesn’t believe it. And that’s a major theme for Tom Holland’s trilogy — discovering how to be a hero. And what better way to discover it than by bringing back all the villains from the past live-action Spider-Man films?
The nostalgia hits you hard when Doc Ock, Lizard, Electro and Sandman emerge on the screen. Doc Ock’s presence grounds the film, setting up the stakes for the remaining run time. Yet, within moments of Green Goblin settling into the universe, Willem Dafoe’s masterful performance of nerdy Norman Osborn and the cruel, barbaric Green Goblin, steals the film. He seamlessly switches from one persona to another, adding the necessary tension needed for a great finale to Holland’s trilogy. His character is vital to the film’s emotional weight, and Peter’s own character development.
Aunt May has served as the backbone to each Spider-Man film, but Marisa Tomei’s May has always been different. Uncle Ben was never cast nor mentioned in the trilogy, and while this was initially to avoid another origin story (Andrew Garfield’s Amazing Spider-Man came out less than five years prior to Holland’s introduction into the MCU), it’s clear this May has acted as both.
While Peter wants to send back the villains to their respective universes to die, May is the one to remind him it’s his responsibility as a superhero — even if it is inconvenient for Peter’s personal life. So, it only makes sense for May to be the one to utter “With great power comes with great responsibility” as she dies in her nephew’s arms.
Saving the villains was the right thing to do, and May doesn’t regret helping them nor making sure her nephew chose the right choice. Naturally, it breaks Peter, because unlike the other live action films, Peter doesn’t have anyone else to rely on: no Aunt May to help him, no Uncle Ben to remind him of what’s right. Only himself.
Or selves, in this case.
Avengers: Endgame was a fun theatre experience — particularly when Captain America lifts Mjolnir, and the audience goes crazy. But, man, seeing Andrew Garfield return as Peter Parker after months of denying it and then Tobey Maguire — the original Peter Parker — walk into frame… that was a beautiful experience. I could talk a lot about how nice it was to see the three Peters interact, the recreation of that Spider-Man meme and the fight scenes, but you could just go on Twitter for that.
People have seemed to forget the significance of these additions. It’s been years since we’ve seen Maguire and Garfield’s Spider-Mans, both of whom have suffered and been in pain. For Garfield it was not catching Gwen (and yes, the scene where he catches MJ was a beautiful and therapeutic moment), Maguire’s continued loss of friends. But they both kept going. Both kept saving and helping the people of Queens. And that is the essence of Spider-Man.
Holland has never once phoned in a performance in his entire MCU run, but the heartbreak and anger Holland conveys in the final act is evidence of the talent he’s always had. For a moment, I thought he was going to kill Green Goblin. The anger in his expression, that need to have Osborne suer for the pain he put him through for taking away his only family left.
The MCU typically lacks emotional depth in their final fight scenes, the stakes aren’t high because we know how it will end. Yet, as I sat there in the theatre watching him punch the manic Green Goblin, blood dripping from his face. I thought this was Peter’s breaking point, and I couldn’t blame him.
It’s only fitting the other Peters are the ones to stop him from crossing a line he can never go back from. A hero should never harm others, no matter what the man behind the mask may want.
But the most heartbreaking part of this film is the ending. To save the world from collapsing, Peter must let the entire world forget Peter Parker. In a tearful goodbye to his girlfriend and best friend, all the allies he made in his time with the Avengers, everyone forgets him.
We watch Peter try to say hi to his best friends, but upon seeing them get the future they deserve, he walks away. We see Peter standing at his aunt’s grave next to Happy who asks him how he knows her. And we can see how desperate Peter wants to tell Happy everything, to break down and tell him the truth. This is the same Happy who he stayed with in Germany. The
same Happy who read his text messages. The same Happy that stitched him up in the Netherlands and listened to Peter’s emotional break down. The same Happy who doesn’t know who he is. But it’s OK because he’s safe, and that’s all that matters.
In the most Peter Parker scene yet, we watch Tom Holland enter a small, crappy apartment with a single box of his possessions. Rent’s due the first of the month. He’s got no degree, no friends, no family, no money, no plan. He’s got no way home.
But we do see a sewing machine with the familiar red and blue spandex and a gleeful scene of Spider-Man swinging through the city. This is the Spider-Man everyone knows from the comics. The broke, kind-hearted Peter Parker with nothing more than a sewing machine and his quick wits.
Tom Holland’s trilogy was Peter’s origin story as Spider-Man. For the past five years, we got to see Holland’s Peter grow into the role of a superhero. Through countless trials, battles, suits and losses Peter understands what it means to be a hero. For Spider-Man to win, Peter Parker must lose.
I still believe Into the Spider-Verse is the best Spider-Man movie, but this is no doubt the best live-action Spider-Man production. Five years ago, I was upset we didn’t get an origin story for Holland’s Spider-Man with the radioactive spider bite and Uncle Ben’s death.
But in 2022 I see that we did get the origin story — the one that we didn’t know we needed, but the one we deserved. His origin story isn’t just a spider bite, it’s discovering the person, the hero, the one who was meant to be and all the trials and tribulations that come with it.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is the perfect film to end this beloved trilogy. It serves as a beautiful tribute to the past and signals a promising future for the Peter Parker that’s finally found his footing as our Spider-Man.