“Spider-Man: No Way Home” finds Peter Parker (once again played by Tom Holland) in a bit of a predicament. As is dramatized in the trailers, a spell cast by Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) meant to partially erase the collective memory of Peter Parker being “outed” as Spider-Man inadvertently unleashes a level of multi-versal madness previously unseen in the MCU (or Sony’s MCU-adjacent Spider-Man universe). But with crisscrossing timelines and alternate versions of characters (“variants” if you will) streaming into Parker’s friendly neighborhood, it’s enough to wonder, in very plain terms, when this movie is set.
We try to investigate this, which initially seems pretty simple but is potentially way more confusing.
Medium-strength spoilers for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” follow. Proceed cautiously!
“No Way Home” Begins Immediately After “Far From Home” Ends
The last Spider-Man solo affair was “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” released in the summer of 2019 after the emotional whirlwind of “Avengers: Endgame.” In the closing moments of that film he’s back in New York City, swinging through town with his new girlfriend MJ (Zendaya). They come upon Times Square and stop. That’s when, on the giant jumbotron, they see J. Jonah Jameson (once again played by J.K. Simmons from the Sam Raimi series of films), now a pseudo-Alex Jones-type figure whose Daily Bugle is now a fringe website trafficking in conspiracy theories. (Why Mysterio chose to send him the footage raises other issues altogether.)
Jameson plays Mysterio’s message, which outs Peter Parker and implies that he (via Spider-Man) was instrumental in the death of civilians and the catastrophic drone attack on London. The fact that this was one of the post-credits scenes remains truly insane, so at the beginning of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” they essentially replay that scene. Only this time you see what happens after Parker has been outed; the crowd violently turns on him and he is pursued first by police and later by Damage Control, an organization from the comics tasked with cleaning up after superheroes that was first introduced in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” (They have since grown into a SHIELD-style organization, perhaps empowered by the blip?) Peter had it all – a new girlfriend, a great best friend, an adventure-filled trip to Europe – and in that one moment, it’s all taken from him. It’s enough to make Spider-Man do whatever a spider can to fix things.
A Definitive Answer
During a news footage roll, we get our answer: Spider-Man was outed one week after the drone attack in London (during the climax of “Spider-Man: Far From Home”). Later, Peter tells MJ that the only time he’s felt normal is the week when MJ, Ned, and May knew his secret, because those were the only people he wanted to know. There you have it. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” takes place a week after the main events of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and immediately after the film’s post-credits scene. Simple as that. Right?
But Wait, We Have Some Questions
There are a few things that have us questioning this timeline. First of all, the kids are starting their senior school year at the beginning of “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” It’s conceivable that the school scheduled a lengthy European trip two weeks before school started, but that’s something of a stretch. There are other things that complicate this timeline too.
One thing is that the kids are applying to college and hearing back. Even if you applied for early admission, you usually wouldn’t hear back until around Christmas. But all of the kids know where they’re going already (Flash even goes to an MIT mixer). More confusing: MJ’s boss at the donut shop (she works at a donut shop now) yells at her to take down the Halloween decorations, which would also put the setting closer to Christmas. Additionally (and perhaps more inconsequentially), when Peter is swinging through Times Square, there are billboards for “Rogers: The Musical,” the “Hamilton”-style musical that Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) watches in the first episode of “Hawkeye” on Disney+. Most musicals either debut in October/November or March/April. Also: it’s pretty amazing that there was a Captain America musical mere months after the events of “Endgame,” especially given the notoriously lengthy development period of most Broadway shows.
More Signs Point to Christmas
There are more signs that point to it being closer to Christmas (which, again, if it’s a week after they have ended their summer trip and school has just begun, makes no sense) – one, when Peter first enters the Sanctum Sanctorum, the mystical nexus where Doctor Strange protects the world from otherworldly forces, it is full of snow. This has to do with a portal being open and snow coming in from Everest (or something). But Peter says, “This all for the holiday party?”
Next: after the supervillains come through, Strange and Peter have a little tussle. Since this is Strange we’re talking about, he throws them both into the “mirror universe” that looks like that scene from “Inception” where the buildings fold in on each other but to the nth degree. At one point the two of them blast through a kaleidoscopic department store. Christmas decorations are up and Christmas music is playing. But considering this is a parallel dimension it might not necessarily be reflecting actual reality.
By the end of the movie we, like Jack Skellington before us, are solidly in Christmas-town. Spider-Man swings through the urban canyons of New York and the tree us up in Rockefeller Center, lights are everywhere, and the entire city is at its most photogenic and twinkly. It’s unclear how much later the end of the film is from the rest of the movie, especially since Doctor Strange, who has been trapped in another plane of existence for much of the movie, explicitly states he’s only been gone for 12 hours. But still: by the time the credits roll, Christmas is upon us.
Also worth noting: putting it at Christmas, combined with the “Rogers: The Musical” billboards, could mean that the timeline for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Hawkeye” are happening simultaneously. How about that?
Final Verdict: When Does “No Way Home” Take Place?
There is a lot of weird stuff, particularly involving the start of school and the filmmakers wedding themselves to this “one week after ‘Far From Home’” conceit, but if we had to say when most of the movie takes place we’d have to say … November? We can reasonably say the film begins pretty soon after “Far From Home” ends, so late August or early September of 2024, but then before those pesky villains come through the portal, a not insignificant amount of time passes during which Peter Parker tries to deal with being outed as Spider-Man.
So sure, November sounds good. In this dimension at least.
That makes it, along with “Hawkeye,” the most recent-set MCU story on the entire timeline and after the events of “Eternals” and “Shang-Chi.”