“Spider-Man: No Way Home” has, in its various marketing materials, promised a kind of ultimate Spider-Man saga, one in which the latest iteration of Peter Parker (played by Tom Holland) would face off against villains from the character’s past (and from other versions of the franchise). And as such some if does play like a kind of greatest hits compendium, where a new version of the character deals with bad guys we’ve already seen. And if that’s all the movie was, chances are that it’d be pretty unsatisfying. Thankfully, there’s much more to “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” including the ending, which changes the character in a fundamental way and sets the series down a potentially very different path.
Of course, to get into all of this we’re going to have to talk about the way the film concludes. Consider this a MAJOR SPOILER WARNING.
The Spider-Man Story So Far
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is set directly after the events of “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” with Peter Parker outed by J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), sending his relationship with MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) into chaos. He’s summarily rejected from MIT and besieged by reporters, citizens who feel that he’s a danger, and the office of Damage Control, now a more militarized, SHIELD-style organization. In a fit of desperation, Peter visits Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who he knows from the events of “Infinity War” and “Endgame.” He asks Strange to cast a spell – one that will make it so that most of the world has forgotten that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Before he casts the spell, though, Peter keeps changing his mind, forcing Strange to contain the spell inside a magical crystal.
Of course, he didn’t contain all of the spell. Soon enough, villains from other dimensions start pouring into our world. Peter is faced with a dilemma: send them back to their realities (and thus kill a majority of them), or work to “cure” them before another spell can be cast, leaving them in a better position than before. (There is some interesting wrestling with the moral implications of the earlier Spider-Man iterations.) Villains, though, have a tendency to be villainous, and soon a number of them escape and start wreaking havoc. Casualties are incurred (RIP Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May) and in order to save his universe, Peter Parker must team up with the Spider-Men from other dimensions – yes, the rumors are true: Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield reprise their own Peter Parker roles in the third act of this movie.
Eventually there is a very elaborate battle on the Statue of Liberty (just like the climax of “X-Men” in 2000), which is being retrofitted with a giant Captain America shield. All of the villains are cured and the other Spider-Men get to have their moment in the spotlight (including an especially touching moment when Andrew Garfield’s version rescues Zendaya to make amends for failing to save Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy at the end of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”). Equilibrium is finally being restored.
Or is it?
A New Spell
There is, however, a problem. Doctor Strange can’t keep it together; the multiverse is coming through and threatening Holland’s world in a major way. Jagged cracks of purple-y lightning crisscross the sky, and shadowy figures are making their way through (did we spot a more comics-accurate Rhino?). We were half expecting Loki to pop on through. Things are dire.
But Holland’s Peter Parker comes up with a foolproof plan. Almost. He suggests to Doctor Strange (who, by the way, has been imprisoned in some kind of mirror-verse for most of the movie thanks to Peter’s meddling), that they should go back to the original spell that Strange wanted to cast with one alteration: everyone would forget that Peter Parker ever existed. It buttons up many issues – it would send the various Spider-Men (and their respective villains) back to their own timelines. And it would cause all of that scary purple lightning to go away.
This plan, however, is absolute. That means that MJ and Ned and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. That leads to an emotional scene of Peter saying goodbye to his best friend and his girlfriend. And then assuming the great responsibility that comes with great power. This was his dumb wish in the first place. Now he has to own it.
How the “Spider-Man: No Way Home” Ending Sets Up a New Beginning for Peter Parker
Of course, the final section of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is sort of a bummer. Peter goes to the donut shop where MJ works and watches as Ned walks past him, totally oblivious. He has a speech written for MJ explaining who he is and how they know each other, and chickens out at the last minute. (Still, MJ seems to recognize something in the young lad. Let the speculation/interpretation begin!) Most crushingly, Peter visits May’s grave. Happy is there too. He looks down at Peter. “How’d you know her?” Brutal.
Towards the end of the movie we see Peter reclaiming his life and starting anew; he moves into a crummy New York apartment. One of the moving boxes has a book about taking your GED. (Can you believe all of this stuff he’s gone through, including going to space and getting blipped, and he still hasn’t graduated high school?) It feels like the beginning of a more traditional Peter Parker narrative, and one that many have moaned about not getting from this last cycle of films. Gone is the happy-go-lucky teen from “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Holland’s Peter Parker is now an adult, living on his own. But it seems like this is what had to happen; Peter had to go through these trials, had to have these mentors (Tony Stark, Mysterio, Nick Fury, Doctor Strange, the other Spider-Men) to get him here.
At the very end of the movie, Peter Parker has constructed his own Spider-Man costume; there’s no Stark tech here, no gizmos or gadgets hidden in the seams. The blue of the costume sparkles. It looks handmade but still handsome. This is a new era of Peter Parker, one of greater understanding and deeper confidence. Peter is ready to take on the responsibility now.
Will Spider-Man Continue to Be Part of the MCU?
What’s interesting is how much storytelling sense the end of the movie makes while also serving a higher function – to effectively diversify the Spider-Man films (which will forever be made by Sony) from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (owned and controlled by Disney). Nobody in the MCU knows Peter Parker (or presumably Spider-Man). Happy doesn’t recognize him, Nick Fury won’t be checking in. It’s unclear what, if anything, Strange retains. His old suits, the ones associated with those characters and situations, are gone. He’s got a new suit, a new life, and if Marvel Studios and Sony never speak to one another again (which is a very real possibility), both entities are protected. It might be a good time to pause and remember that talks had broken down before “Spider-Man: No Way Home” started shooting. At the last true San Diego Comic Con in 2019, Holland had to assure the crowd that he was doing what he could. Later he drunkenly called Bob Iger and made it all happen.
And maybe this should be the end of Tom Holland being a part of the MCU. It was a deal made out of financial desperation, but the character is in a much better place now and even the off-brand tangential movies Sony has made (like “Venom”) are doing well. Maybe Sony doesn’t need Marvel Studios anymore. It would be a shame. But it’s a resolution everyone could live with.
Although we should note that on the heels of producer Amy Pascal’s comments that she wants to make a new trilogy of Spider-Man movies with Holland and Kevin Feige, sources close to the situation affirmed that Sony Pictures values its relationship with the duo. So more Spider-Man will come, likely with Holland, but the possibilities of how it’ll come to fruition are endless.