It's been long enough since the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home that I think I can talk about it without a spoiler warning, but what the hell, spoilers follow for Spider-Man: No Way Home. The movie's big 'twist' is that the heroes and villains from the previous Spider-Man movies return, with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield both back as the webslinger for one final outing – although since then, rumours have swirled that one or both of the stars could be back for real.
This always seemed to me a stupid idea. On the one hand, it made a lot of money, so it was very smart. While Tom Holland et al proclaim the artistic merits of the MCU, money is the name of the game. That was the reason to bring these heroes back, but it remains a stupid idea once you think about it for even a moment. The premise is that all the people who knew Peter Parker was Spider-Man were brought to the MCU's universe, but it just so happens that the only two universes in existence where that is true are the ones that we've already seen the movies from. It's the worst kind of pandering, and the most insidious part is the MCU doesn't even need to do it.
Right now, Star Wars is desperately trying to rehash the glory days. The Mandalorian was an attempt to cash-in on how much the fans loved Boba Fett, only to then bring Boba back anyway and give him his own show. Luke Skywalker then shows up in both, de-aged in a way that's either magical or creepy, depending on your point of view. Ahsoka is getting her own show. Obi-Wan is getting his own show. The recent trilogy was constructed to give a movie each for the original trilogy's stars to shine, only for the final movie to be retooled after Carrie Fisher's death. Everything is about reliving past successes. The MCU is the biggest media universe in the world right now. It is in its glory days, nothing needs to be relived.
Your personal favourite Spidey may vary, but it's clear Holland's is the most successful. Maguire's is a key foundation of the superhero genre, but he only had three movies (and only two of them were good). Garfield had two movies which seem to be getting revisited now, but are in truth the only slightly better than Maguire's third outing – though it's true Garfield is the best thing in them. Holland, meanwhile, has three Spider-Man movies to his name, but also a leading role in a Captain America movie and two Avengers movies. He's an integral part of the MCU and set to lead whatever the Avengers looks like after the departures of Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye, as well as the real-life death of Chadwick Boseman. Spider-Man is on top of the world right now, and he doesn't need to look over his shoulder.
But he is. Holland's third movie would have made money anyway, though Maguire and Garfield's presence did bump it up a notch I'm sure. It feels like a reset by the end, at least, with Peter closest to the comic book Spidey than he even has been, but it takes a long journey to get there, and far too much of the movie is spent in service of other characters who are no longer connected to this story – and never were in the first place. Worse, there doesn't seem much reason for them to even be there. Dafoe is great once more, but he's done as Goblin. It ended. Why bring him back here to turn his character back and have him say the line from the meme?
This is where Garfield's catch comes into it. In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Garfield's Spidey attempts to save Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy, only to have her fall to her death. It's a tragic moment in a film not fully equipped to deal with a rare death of true consequence in the superhero genre, and easily the most memorable thing to happen to Andrew Garfield's character. In No Way Home, Zendaya's MJ almost suffers the safe fate when Tom Holland's Spidey swoops down for her, only to be knocked away. It's at this point that Garfield's Spidey zips downwards and catches MJ, landing safely. She thanks him in her usual disaffected way while he struggles to hold back tears. It matters to him, and as a result, it matters to us.
This is a real moment of closure for his character. While there were plans for Maguire to get a fourth movie, his story has been told. He never needed to come back. Garfield, on the other hand, had his trilogy cut short. He was supposed to meet MJ (to be played by Shailene Woodley) and work through his failure to protect Stacy, but this was never realised. While the return of the Spideys was a shameless cash grab – and it grabbed a lot, so expect more like it in the future – in this one moment, the movie justified its own existence. These days, maybe that’s enough.
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