The following article contains an in-depth discussion of Spider-Man: No Way Home and its plot, including spoilers
To say Spider-Man: No Way Home is a success is an understatement. Not only is it breaking box office records, but it also manages to be a successful ending to Jon Watts’ Spider-Man film trilogy and a celebration of nearly 20 years of Spider-Man films. Part of this is due to incorporating elements from the web-slinger’s previous film incarnations, including villains who cross over from the multiverse due to a magical mishap. But it’s how Tom Holland’s Peter Parker interacts with these villains—as well as his predecessors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, who appear in the film’s second half—that serves as the most interesting part of the film, particularly in how it tackles the concept of second chances.
Spider-Man: No Way Home kicks off with Peter’s life in shambles. At the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, Mysterio revealed his secret identity to the world which not only turns public opinion against the young web-slinger but also affects his Aunt May, girlfriend MJ, and best friend Ned Leeds. Due to the media circus, Peter and May have to move into the house of Harold “Happy” Hogan. Peter is hounded by critics outside his school (and even one of his teachers turns out to be pro-Mysterio). The final straw comes when MIT declines his college application along with MJ and Ned’s due to “recent controversy,” which leads Peter to approach Doctor Strange for the film’s first stab at a “second chance:” casting a spell that will wipe the memory of his identity from the entire world.
The spell ends up pulling a quintet of villains into the MCU, leading to a conflict between Peter and Strange—especially when Peter learns that the villains are fated to die in battle with their respective Spider-Men. Though Strange is willing to send the villains back to face their fate, Peter wants to try and cure them using the MCU’s highly advanced technology to fix their genetic abnormalities. This is a wonderful story development, especially as it pertains to Peter’s code of “With great power comes great responsibility.” He has the power to save these men, and he takes that responsibility upon himself; especially since it’s because of him that they’re in this predicament. That same drive led Peter to save Adrian Toomes from death in Spider-Man: Homecoming, despite the fact that Toomes wanted to kill him. It’s also a staple of Spidey’s character in the comics that he tries to help everyone no matter how society labels them.
Peter’s desire to help the villains also springs from sharing similar circumstances with them. He never asked to be bitten by a radioactive spider, and none of the villains asked to have their powers. Norman Osborn, Otto Octavius, and Curt Conners were legitimately trying to change the world through science until their experiments went haywire and transformed them into their villainous alter egos. Flint Marko and Max Dillon wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time and were transformed into Sandman and Electro respectively. Peter curing the villains not only serves as a way to avert their grim fate, but it also gives them a second chance at life. When Octavius receives his cure, for example, he immediately shifts to the thoughtful scientist he was before his accident. He even helps with the other villains’ cures, showing his desire to make the world a better place.
Holland also gets some much-needed help in the form of Maguire and Garfield’s Spider-Men. The interaction between the three Peter Parkers is a joy to watch as they discuss their web-shooters (and how Maguire can generate organic webs) and the various villains they’ve fought. But it also serves as a larger metanarrative for Maguire and Garfield, as both men saw their tenure as Spider-Man end with mixed results; Sam Raimi’s third Spider-Man film jammed a trio of villains along with some absurd plot twists into its runtime, and Garfield’s second outing with director Marc Webb was a muddled mess that failed to serve as a launching pad for Sony’s own Spider-Man cinematic universe. Spider-Man: No Way Home serves as a chance for both of them to find some form of closure.
Maguire gets his second chance when he stops Holland’s Peter from impaling the Green Goblin with his own glider, as Osborn had killed his Aunt May. In the first Raimi film, he had simply dodged the glider, leaving it to impale Osborn-and forever breaking his friendship with Osborn’s son Harry, who eventually took up his father’s mantle (and fate). He also comes up with the cure for Osborn, which Holland’s Peter is successful in administering. By saving Osborn, Maguire’s Peter is able to forgive himself for the Osborns’ death.
Redemption is also in the cards for Garfield’s Peter, who saves Holland’s MJ from a fatal fall. He previously said that he never forgave himself for failing to save Gwen Stacy, who was the love of his life. This eventually led to him becoming Spider-Man full-time. However, after saving MJ he breaks down sobbing in relief. Saving her allows him to finally forgive himself for not saving Gwen, and lifts the weight of guilt off of his shoulders. He also has a heart-to-heart with Electro, showing that Peter Parker’s empathy is a constant in every universe.
Peter not only manages to cure the villains, but he also gets a second chance of his own as Strange casts a spell that wipes the knowledge of Peter Parker from the world’s memories. However, this includes MJ and Ned-and with their memories wiped, Peter is effectively alone in this world. Not only does this have major ramifications for Peter’s future as Spider-Man, it essentially gives him and his friends a second chance at living their lives. Every character involved in No Way Home, whether hero or villain, has been given a fresh slate and the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, and I think that’s beautiful.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is currently playing in movie theaters.
Collier “CJ” Jennings is a freelance reporter and film critic living in Seattle. He uses his love of comics and film/TV to craft reviews and essays on genre projects. He is also a host on Into the Spider-Cast.