Let’s get the important bit out of the way: Spider-Man: No Way Home doesn’t crack my top three Spider-Man movies and is well outside my top five superhero movies list. It’s a poor man’s version of Into the Spider-Verse and if you were truly honest with yourself, you’d agree with everything I just wrote.
A Spider-Man movie released before Christmas is always going to be a smash, so please miss me with the “But the box office records” arguments. Also, vaccinations, a milder dominant COVID variant and general pandemic fatigue was always going to drive numbers to the cinemas.
But if you’ve been a faithful TOG reader (thank you, btw) then none of this contrarian opining should come as a shock, it’s totally on brand.
But, sat in the darkened cinema and forced to contemplate my life choices with each, ever-worsening Peter Parker (Tom Holland) decision, I had somewhat of an epiphany. Well, less of a revelation and more a crystalising of an opinion I’ve subconsciously been dwelling on for years.
The Spider-Man of the Home trilogy is the social media influencer of so-called comic book heroes.
When I first fell in love with the webslinger it was through the monthly unfolding of an epic saga presented through the meticulous pen of Mark Bagley. Bagley’s artistry was the foundation of the coolest Spider-Man visuals: Carnage, Scarlet Spider and Miles Morales.
This was years before Sam Raimi brought the webslinger to the silver screen with his practically minded cinema craft. And a few technological lifetimes away from the CGI mukbang of the modern MCU.
Which brings us, neatly, to my problem with the contemporary portrayal of my beloved Spider-Man.
I have nothing against Kevin Feige and Co.’s more commercially minded interpretation of the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. This version served an important purpose as an emotional plot point to drive Tony Stark to his – and that universe’s – ultimate redemption.
Any way you slice it, the Avengers don’t defeat Thanos without Spidey’s charm.
Those MCU outings have never sat well with me and many other Spider-Man comic book fans, though. And that made Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse even more special because it wasn’t just another continuation of a problematic storyline. It was fresh and, importantly, visually unique and meticulously crafted. Also, free from Feige’s unwieldy grand vision.
Spider-Man: No Way Home by contrast is a movie designed with the single intent of giving the MCU audience a reason to care about Peter Parker as an individual. This movie cuts the Iron Man umbilical cord and all we are left with is a screaming baby.
To have a version of Spider-Man who only learns that there are real-life consequences to his decisions actions in his sixth cinema appearance betrays the image of a hero I fell in love with as a child growing up without the regular presence of a father figure.
And yet, even while teaching the MCU Peter a solid life lesson about good intentions not always resulting in being helpful by killing off Aunt May, the Feige machine generates another get out of jail card. Only this time it’s delivered by the equally dapper Dr Strange and not everyone’s favourite billionaire playboy.
How does “curing/fixing/saving” villians from the original Spider-Man and Amazing Spider-Man cinematic universes solve the problems that they created at back home? Unclear.
In fact, I’m left with the overwhelming sentiment that May and Peter’s selfish desire to fix everyone’s problems without actually demonstrating any empathy, or even gaining the slightest understanding of their individual situation should have been punished further.
I’m bitter because another spoilt kid got away with his selfish actions with nothing more than a mild reprimand.
What makes it worse is the hidden truth of the movie’s box office triumph: while I learnt the value of sacrifice an empathy from Spider-Man, the kids who saw No Way Home are only emboldened in the modern ideas of misguided intervention.
Three Christmases ago I cheered when Miles Morales rose to the challenge of being that universe’s version of Spider-Man, strengthened by the knowledge that he was not alone in his arachnid affliction.
No Way Home left a sour taste in my mouth because I’m supposed to be emotionally moved that the MCU Peter Parker finally knows loss and must now *checks notes* live within his means and rely only on himself.