No Way Home is billed as the end of a Spider-Man trilogy, but what’s next? Some spoilery thoughts on the development of Tom Holland’s character follow.
Huge spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home lie ahead.
“Can’t you just be a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man?”
Spider-Man appears in a lot of movies these days. Even without counting the Venom franchise and the upcoming Morbius, which are spun-off from his rogues’ gallery, there have been six live-action movies featuring Spider-Man since 2016, as well as the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.
All of those live-action outings have featured Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, the youngest version of that character we’ve yet seen. When Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios partnered on Spider-Man: Homecoming, the idea was to replicate the Harry Potter model in making several instalments revolving around a school-age Spidey, which means they’ve come along roughly every two years, and which means you can probably expect more of Holland’s Spider-Man to come along in 2023.
Owing to this approach and the complex nature of relations between the two studios, the current version of Peter Parker has been thrown in at the deep end and stuck in arrested development all at once. What’s consistent is the comedy in Peter’s lack of lived experience, but you feel the character being pulled between the ground-level stuff in Jon Watts’ solo movies and the galactic stakes of the crossovers in which he features.
Without spoiling anything more than the trailers reveal just yet, No Way Home leans more towards the scale of the latter by introducing an assortment of multiversal villains for Peter to contend with. He doesn’t know them yet, but the audience does, as they’re played by Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Foxx, Thomas Haden Church, and Rhys Ifans, all reprising their roles from previous Spider-franchises.
And yet, with all this (and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange still trying on that accent because no one’s told him to stop) going on, the story still manages to be about Peter growing up a bit in a way that none of his previous outings have been. It’s only weird that it’s taken this long.
In the course of an opening weekend where the film did pre-pandemic numbers at the worldwide box office, Marvel’s head honcho Kevin Feige confirmed that a fourth Sony/Marvel Studios Spider-Man project is already in development.
The ending of No Way Home suggests some directions for the future of Tom Holland’s take on the character, but with Sony also developing its own Spider-Man universe, will the next adventure be more of a departure from the MCU?
Spoilers lie ahead for Spider-Man: No Way Home. Spider-Man Noir encourages you not to read spoilers on the web before seeing the film, so proceed carefully.
With great power…
Captain America: Civil War reintroduces Peter Parker as a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, whose ramshackle homemade costume and web-shooters complement his amazing spider powers. Minutes later, he’s allied with Iron Man and fighting Team Cap at an airport in Germany.
There are obvious benefits to not rehashing the origin story we already saw in 2002’s Spider-Man and 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, the latter of which had the brass to bill it as “the untold story” before doing much the same story with less colour and more mystery-box guff. But missing this step doesn’t feel like they missed a step, until No Way Home addresses it directly.
I’ve commented before that it’s as if Holland’s Spider-Man is playing on easy mode by the privilege of his connections to Iron Man, S.H.I.E.L.D, and the Avengers. In both Homecoming and Far From Home, he runs out of big-tech backing in Act Three and has only his fantastic superhuman powers to help him win the day. He’s usually still the underdog, as Spider-Man always should be, but the push and pull of the franchise keeps him somewhat static.
Elsewhere, the constant difficulty of Tobey Maguire’s Peter balancing his life and his heroic pursuits makes for great tragi-comic struggles throughout Sam Raimi’s trilogy, while Andrew Garfield’s Peter repeatedly sees those close to him die throughout the relatively short span of the Amazing Spider-Man movies.
No Way Home touches both bases – first in the fallout of Far From Home’s excellent mid-credits cliffhanger, where he’s scolded by Doctor Strange for treating the exposure of his identity as an Avengers-level threat. If there’s an obvious explanation for why Strange doesn’t simply wipe everyone’s memory of Mysterio and his dying declaration instead, I must have missed it. It can’t be the footage thing because people forget Peter just fine after he video-called Jameson’s TV show.
Secondly, Dafoe’s Green Goblin rejects his offer of help to rehabilitate and get home and then murders Aunt May. Those who think Marisa Tomei has been short-changed across the trilogy may not be totally appeased by her getting the “With great power, comes great responsibility” before she’s killed off, but it’s a nice moment. But just to underline it, the movie immediately introduces a couple of guys who’ve been here before…
The magic number
You can’t go wrong with the perfectly chosen De La Soul needle drop over the end credits of this one. In the tradition of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, the third film in the Home trilogy also stars three Spider-Men – Holland, Garfield, and Maguire.
Yes, the worst-kept secret in Hollywood is finally aired out when Ned uses Doctor Strange’s sling ring to mistakenly locate two Peter Parkers who’ve been displaced into the MCU by the magic shenanigans. It comes relatively late in the film and hasn’t been given away by any of the cast (Garfield’s entertaining evasions of the topic on successive press tours for Tick, Tick… Boom! and The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, have been nothing short of heroic) but we all kinda, sort of knew, right?
But it remains that the arrival of the two other, older Spider-Men comes at a moment where things have finally started to get to Peter. Before they’re sat around comparing notes on their villains and trading in-jokes, (in such a way that would be accompanied by archive clips if this were a mid-season sitcom episode instead of a multi-million dollar blockbuster) they’re comparing notes on their personal tragedies.
For the erstwhile Peters, that also means filling in some of what they’ve been up to since we last saw them. Maguire’s Peter lets us know he and Mary Jane made it work in the end and are presumably still together in his universe (Kirsten Dunst doesn’t appear). Meanwhile, Garfield’s version talks about becoming “rageful” and needing to rein himself in after the events of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, (Emma Stone doesn’t appear either, but for more obvious reasons) and his later save of MJ is explicitly staged as a redemption.
All of this is in service of teaching that power and responsibility thing that this version of the character has never demonstrably understood until now. He’s a good kid who tries to do the right thing, which is a given for Peter Parker, but the lack of a formative event has gone from saving time to burning it on sequels where several huge events buffet him around the narrative.
Homecoming has him reject an Avengers membership, but Infinity War and Endgame overwrite that when a big-enough crisis strikes. Far From Home has him part ways with S.H.I.E.L.D, but the need to do a live-action Spider-Verse inflates the stakes again. By contrast with the relative smallness of Maguire and Garfield’s outings, the massive scale of Holland’s adventures have put his character at something of a distance.
And let’s not beat around the bush – for all that this is a crowd-pleasing, well-reviewed, massively popular addition to the series, No Way Home is to Into The Spider-Verse as Webb’s 2012 film was to Raimi’s take – less colour, more marketing machinations, and a stodgier version of the ideas that we all loved in the superior, more animated version.
Frankly, it’s the first one of these that feels made with the YouTube audience reaction videos in mind, right down to the insignificant stabbing of Maguire’s Peter that’s purely there to make us gasp (and I did gasp) and then be waved away (and I felt like a dope) lest it bum us all out.
Beyond fan service, it’s only worthwhile for what it contributes to Holland’s character, and what screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers do port over from Spider-Verse is a character self-actualising with a nudge from his alternate selves. It’s more literal here, because Miles Morales is interacting with other Spider-people, not fellow Miles-es.
But more importantly, it tees up something of a reset. Peter chooses to make the sacrifice that he wouldn’t at the beginning of the film, removing himself from the status quo and severing ties with MJ and his friends. What’s more, he gives up the Stark tech, learns how to sew his own costume, and ends the film as a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man once more.
It’s easy to forget that No Way Home almost didn’t happen. Sony and Marvel had a falling-out after the release of Far From Home in summer 2019 and the public airing of this dispute had a predictable outcome. As far as we know, Holland is set to appear in at least three more Sony Spider-Man movies and have a supporting role in an undisclosed MCU movie (our money is probably on Watts’ announced Fantastic Four revamp).
In the context of that agreement though, the ending of No Way Home could be a way of extricating Holland from the to-and-fro of MCU movies for the next chapter. It would be a shame to lose Zendaya’s MJ and the rest of the lovable supporting cast completely, and chronologically, it would be odd if Peter’s career as an Avenger is behind him at the point in his story where we usually first meet him, providing a soft reboot while keeping the lead actor.
Then again, Sony also has a whole bunch of Spider-Man Universe movies on the way. If Morbius can be moved from before No Way Home’s release to afterwards, we doubt it leads too much off of the MCU series, but we do know that Michael Keaton’s Vulture from Homecoming makes a cameo appearance in that one, which hits cinemas next month.
The studio also has Kraven The Hunter coming in January 2023 and assorted other movies in various stages of development. Holland might wind up in any one of them, the way things are going. But there are already sequels to Into The Spider-Verse on the way in 2022 and 2023, so that avenue is already pretty well covered.
And then there’s Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock, brought into our universe for a mid-credits skit where he catches up on the events of the last decade of MCU films in a bar before being unceremoniously returned to his own universe. It directly follows the credits tag from last month’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which alludes that the symbiote knows Peter Parker is Spider-Man because it has a hive mind with versions of itself in alternate timelines, but ahh, this is getting convoluted, let’s just say “A Thing Happened” and briefly, there was Eddie.
Significantly though, the disappearing Brock unwittingly leaves a bit of black goo behind. We’re probably going to see Venom squaring up with one Peter Parker or another in a sequel to either his franchise or this one before too long, but for all the aforementioned reasons, it seems a really terrible time to get into a symbiote story with Holland, after we’ve just had a film about the darker side of being Spider-Man.
If the next one of these sees him bond with the symbiote as happens in the comics and 2007’s Spider-Man 3, a whole new trilogy is gonna start with Peter once again supplementing his own already fantastical powers with something else, then having to fight that thing when it falls into the wrong hands.
That would be on brand and on formula, but hopefully, it’s not where the ending of No Way Home is leading us. We’ve seen enough of Spider-Man tackling global, galactic, and multiversal threats, and the promise of a return to basics is far more welcome. But audiences do seem to like the Venom movies and if the weekend box-office tells us anything, it’s that fan service pays…
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