Spider-Man was in danger of getting stuck in a tangled web. Swinging into No Way Home, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker had been lumbered with a serious amount of baggage: an ultra-dependency on Tony Stark, a tech-heavy setup that betrays the character’s humble origins, and Marvel initially hitting fast-forward on Spidey’s origins. He was fast tracked into the Avengers, died after fighting Thanos in space, was resurrected, and had his secret identity revealed – all within the space of four-and-a-bit movies.
But Spider-Man should be simple. He quips, he thwips, and he catches thieves just like flies. The multiverse-heavy No Way Home may not seem like the obvious spot to hit restart on the character, but its final act twist liberates the webhead, setting Spider-Man up for an exciting future without any baggage.
** Major spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home ahead. Turn back now if you have not seen the latest instalment in the MCU**
By the end of No Way Home, Spider-Man has lost everything. Everyone – including MJ, Ned, and Happy – has forgotten that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Aunt May is dead. And Peter’s been reduced to cobbling together a new suit and working out of a dingy apartment. Yet, that cuts to the very heart of what makes Spider-Man such an endearing hero: no matter how many times Spider-Man wins, Peter Parker must lose.
The ending instantly enriches a character who, if we’re being charitable, was edging towards feeling like a spoiled rich kid with too many playthings from Tony Stark at his disposal. Now, the Big Apple – not the world – is the webcrawler’s oyster. Things have been scaled down, so a street-level movie with, say, Scorpion can work just as well as an epic tussle with Kraven the Hunter or Venom’s leftover symbiote. It’s the perfect cooling-off period after battles with Thanos and the epic scope of the multiverse.
More importantly, however, Spider-Man finally feels like Spider-Man again. Peter is a geeky kid, studying for his GED – no longer one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. It’s reminiscent of Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker. By scaling things back, there’s greater potential for Holland’s version’s character and personality to shine through. It’s no coincidence that some of the most emotional beats and loudest cheers during No Way Home came from Maguire’s Parker talking about Uncle Ben and Andrew Garfield turning into a wreck by saving Zendaya’s MJ after previously failing to save Gwen Stacy.
Holland’s Spider-Man has failed in one respect: he’s been saving the universe more than he’s been saving Manhattan. Lowering the stakes and (Aunt May aside) introducing some more personal obstacles for Holland’s version to overcome would only strengthen Spider-Man. No Way Home’s finale helps set that up in a big way.
It is, in effect, a soft reboot for Spider-Man. No Way Home’s reset-to-zero is the best thing that could have happened to Holland’s iteration of the webhead. The MCU Spider-Man was, after all, someone who was rapidly in danger of reaching critical mass in terms of what he could achieve without going beyond what the character stands for.
Yet, the movie’s clean slate approach extends to more than just Holland’s Spidey. Prior to No Way Home, Garfield’s Spider-Man felt like a rare bright spot in a franchise fumbled by Sony. Thanks to his MVP performance here, there have been renewed calls for an Amazing Spider-Man 3. If anyone deserves a second chance – and a fresh start away from the weight of two middling movies – it’s his Peter Parker. Sony now has the option to start again or explore how Garfield’s Spider-Man has dealt with the fallout of both No Way Home and Gwen Stacy’s death. Both are enticing propositions.
No Way Home leaving both multiverse Spider-Men to disappear in a flash of white light could also act as a roundabout way for Maguire to suit up again for a Spider-Man 4. Director Sam Raimi’s attempts at making a follow-up to 2007’s Spider-Man 3 have been largely documented. The narrative space afforded by the years since then – and an older Maguire – again throws the doors wide open for a new beginning-of-sorts. Even Tom Hardy’s character Eddie Brock’s Sony-verse situation has been cleared up, giving Venom the space he needs to wreak havoc in his own universe away from the long shadow of Holland’s Spider-Man – for as long as Sony needs them to be separate.
It doesn’t end there. Netflix’s collection of characters, from Daredevil to Luke Cage, Jessica Jones to Kingpin, has long been a thorn in the MCU’s side. The question of what is/isn’t canon has become so murky, yet it’s almost immediately cleared up in Charlie Cox’s quick scene at Matt Murdock giving legal advice to Peter, May, and Happy.
Are the Netflix shows canon? No Way Home’s non-answer is refreshing: Who cares? This is Daredevil as you remember him, now fully integrated into the MCU. With Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin appearing in Hawkeye, too, there’s now the possibility they continue their long-running feud or to bypass it entirely, letting them go their own way. Like Holland’s Spider-Man, No Way Home only keeps the essentials (in this case, the actor, the look, and Matt Murdock’s profession). Everything else beyond that is a sandbox for Marvel to gleefully play around in. Daredevil may be the first, but his quick No Way Home cameo open the door for other Defenders to make the leap to the MCU in future with minimal fuss. Job done.
Spider-Man: No Way Home was meant to end a trilogy. In a movie filled with spoilers, its biggest secret was one that we never saw coming: its ability to set up several new beginnings instead. In one fell swoop, multiple Spider-Men and an entire roster of Netflix characters have been given a new lease of life. We can’t wait to see where it all leads next.
For more on Spidey's big-screen adventure, swing on over to our Spider-Man: No Way Home ending explained guide. And be sure to check out the sheer amount of Spider-Man: No Way Home Easter eggs hiding throughout the movie.