Spider-Man: No Way Home has a dark ending when compared to most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Peter Parker gives Doctor Strange permission to cast a spell to prevent the multiverse from spilling over into the main MCU, but it comes with a hefty price: his relationships. By forcing everyone to forget that Peter Parker ever existed, he is now on his own without the support of friends, family, or fancy technology. They’ll remember Spider-Man, but not the kid behind the mask.
It’s an ending that leaves the door wide open for a fresh start in the next MCU Spider-Man movie — which will presumably be directed by someone other than Jon Watts as he has Fantastic 4 as his next Marvel project — and one which has longtime Spider-Man fans enthused for his next chapter in the franchise. But it also feels like it may be Marvel Studios’ way of trying to ensure Spidey’s previous appearances in the MCU no longer “matter” moving forward, which goes against the kind of connective tissue the MCU takes pride in.
This connective tissue of tying every project together with ramifications felt across the universe is not only an innovative way of onscreen storytelling but a brilliant marketing scheme on the part of Marvel Studios. Granted, this isn’t new for a franchise, but for one as sprawling and vast as the MCU, it truly is a remarkable feat. It’s resulted in a fairly cohesive fanbase for Marvel movies; while the MCU is made up of various sub-franchises and many fans have their own personal favorites, most seem to consider themselves fans of the franchise as a whole first. Sure, there are Iron Man fans, Guardians fans, Thor fans, and the like, but it seems most people who are Marvel fans have a relatively equal investment in each of the franchises.
Spider-Man has always been the prime exception to this rule of sorts, considering he’s been the most popular Marvel hero since long before the MCU was even a thought. Even for non-comic book fans, the character had five live-action movies over two franchises so by the time his MCU debut rolled around, there was already a sizable fanbase for his adventures on the big screen.
This has meant that any Spider-Man content made by Marvel Studios has been faced with the tricky task of serving both the character’s core fanbase and the MCU crowd. What resulted was a new take on the web-slinger that was very fitting for the MCU but didn’t always line up with the “comic accuracy” a lot of the hardcore Spidey fans wanted. But unfortunately for the latter, the MCU was already a well-established franchise by the time Spider-Man came on the scene; since he was appearing not just in his own films but also Captain America: Civil War and the third and fourth Avengers movies, his story needed to fit with the overall arc that had already been established.
But Spider-Man: No Way Home has significantly fewer Iron Man references or Avengers name-dropping than the previous two — a common complaint among the hardcore Spidey fan crowd throughout his time in the MCU — and even though Doctor Strange is in it, the story is focused squarely on Peter’s life and future. Spidey is finally getting his own corner of the MCU to play in with his own problems to face and villains to fight. So ending the movie with erasing of Peter from everyone’s memories feels like a step too far in making him his own hero — he’s already achieved it, so why the unnecessary stripping away of his world?
Yes, getting rid of the high-tech elements that have played a big role in his MCU journey was probably a key step in pleasing hardcore Spidey fans. And yes, his identity being revealed is another thing that bothered a lot of that crowd, but that’s something they probably could have found a way to either make work for the MCU or erase in a manner that didn’t involve going to such extreme measures for the franchise. Because not only does this decision affect the Spider-Man movies, it affects how several past MCU installments are going to be viewed, and puts a damper on them.
So while No Way Home may have given many fans the Spider-Man they always wanted to see in the MCU, in doing so it might have tainted the story that came before it. This route is especially surprising considering how far the MCU usually goes to make sure everything matters. The five-year period between the Thanos’ snap and the Blip is not only something that everyone in the universe remembers but is something that is still playing an important role in MCU stories as it moves forward. Potential seeds that are planted in one project often come to fruition years later in surprising and satisfying ways. And if a project like Loki — which centers on a past version of a character who has had an arc in the MCU — can still make that arc matter, Spider-Man’s trajectory in the franchise thus far shouldn’t just be wiped away.
If the goal was for Spider-Man to be distanced from the rest of the MCU, this movie probably should have moved him to another universe like Sony’s with him appearing to have died to the MCU characters à la Steve Rogers after the Blip. This would still have had his MCU arc serve as his “origin story” of sorts, but without the caveat of his involvement in other projects essentially being waved away and changing the stories of other characters.
Ultimately, Spider-Man: No Way Home, like all of the MCU’s Spider-Man movies so far, is about course correction. If Spider-Man: Homecoming was determined to distinguish itself from previous Spidey franchises (this is obviously why Uncle Ben was never mentioned nor seen) and Spider-Man Far From Home wanted to make sure audiences knew Peter wasn’t going to be “the next Iron Man,” this movie is about working to make the former point somewhat moot while hammering the latter, likely to an unnecessary level.
Like many Marvel projects, how Spider-Man: No Way Home will be judged is going to depend on what happens after it. They could very well find a way to bring characters like MJ and Ned (and their memories) back into the fold someday, while still having elements that the Spidey hardcore fans have been asking for. But this is what we have to judge for now, and at this point, it’s disappointing that Marvel and Sony appear to feel like it had to be one way or the other. We may now have a soft reboot of Spidey in the main MCU, but it feels like all of his appearances up to this point don’t really matter to the overall story anymore.
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