As a part of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) most ambitious venture post-Infinity War/ Endgame slate, last Christmas, we saw ‘spider-men’ of three generations coming together to save the day in “Spider-Man: No Way Home!” Needless to say, it was an exhilarating experience for older fans who have grown up with the character; idolizing Tobey Maguire’s Spidey during their younger days, shouldering the responsibility with Andrew Garfield’s version of the web-slinger in their teenage days, and stepping into adulthood to welcome the youngest member of the live-action spider-family, Tom Holland’s version of MCU Spider-man. The way the story connects and uses three generations of Spider-Man to create a distinct arc for each of them while retaining the definitive essence that characterizes our titular hero, goes beyond mere fan experience.
Premise Of ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’
The plot of the movie furthers as a continuation of “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” where Spidey’s secret identity as Peter Parker was exposed to the entire world, thanks to Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio’s manipulation. As a result, not only Peter’s but also his close ones’ lives got messed up! To resolve the situation, Peter goes to Doctor Strange for help, but his continuous interference during the spell worsens the situation. Uncontained, the spell causes a multiversal breach. As a result, spider-man and his villains from different earths start appearing in MCU Earth 616. We get to meet both versions of pre-MCU Spider-Man; Tobey Maguire’s version of the character from Sam Raimi’s trilogy and Andrew Garfield’s version of the web-slinger from Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man duology. With the three spider-men interacting with each other and the progression of the plot, fans get to see how very distinctively different versions are handled as if to form a commentary on the character itself!
The First Web-Bender
It should be noted that being variations of a singular character from different earths, all the three spider people retain their distinctiveness in a number of ways. We meet Tobey’s spider-man in this movie, grizzled around the edges. Through Sam Raimi’s trilogy, we have charted his progression, starting off as a shy, almost socially outcast, nerdy teenager, a brilliant student juggling his career and responsibilities. Also struggling with real-world problems like maintaining relationships, going through a financial crisis, and doing multiple odd jobs to survive at times. He fails miserably at the trials of life, loses people who are close to him, relationships fall apart, his failures and anxiety in life as Peter Parker creeps inside his Spider-man persona, and as a result, his dual life suffers from existential dread. Yet, after all this, he bounces back harder, gaining strength from the lessons he learns along the way, with the help of his loved ones. Being a self-made man struggling through life yet choosing to become an inspiration for others, being a people’s champion makes the character of Spider-man so relatable, and Tobey’s version captures this essence perfectly!
Andrew Garfield’s version of Spider-man departs from the traditional Spider-man characterization in a number of ways while keeping the basic characterization faithful to comics’ counterpart. While he was still endowed with brilliant intellect, he was in no way the shy, bullied, outcast Peter Parker comics and Raimi movies had accustomed us with. Like the Ultimate Spider-man, the version from which Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-man franchise was inspired, Andrew’s version of Peter was more confident, and had a cool demeanor; repressed childhood memories of parents abandoning him made him both arrogant and curious at the same time, occasionally border-lining edgy. As a Spider-man, however, the duality between the two personas is very much on point. We see more of a quipping, humorous, inspiring version of spidey in Andrew’s portrayal, someone who tries to reform his adversaries more than fighting. Andrew’s spidey connects with people directly too, as he stops a kid from getting bullied, exposes his identity without hesitation to win a kid’s trust while rescuing, and reassures commoners by conversing with them. Garfield’s version of Spider-man is closer to his comic counterpart. Search for identity remains a recurring theme in both the movies. He struggles a bit more to handle his dual life, and some of his decisions regarding his identity come to haunt him back when he loses his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. The inability to save her almost makes Andrew’s Peter abandon his spidey persona until he gets motivated enough from Gwen’s recorded speech to once again swing through to help the ones in need!
A Legacy For Spider-Boy?
With Tom Holland’s Spider-Man of the MCU, we arrive at a strange juncture while assessing the characterization of this version. While he acts and talks perfectly as a teenage Spider-man would, he also struggles with a secret identity and personal problems, learns from his mistakes, and tries to ‘look out for the little guy’ His association with the larger Marvel Universe alters much of Spidey’s known traits. He is still a science wiz geek. He makes his own suits like Tobey and Andrew’s versions and web-shooters like Andrew did, but his homemade suit quickly gets substituted by one of Tony Stark’s advanced suits. For a character who was known as the first teenage superhero of his own, not a sidekick, the MCU’s version of Peter, however, plays almost a second fiddle in his own movie! His origin and motivation of his adversaries are associated with Tony Stark. He himself gets “mentored” by Stark, Nick Fury, Mysterio, and even Doctor Strange at times and is hardly given a chance to have a self-contained world or even a decision of his own. Most importantly, though, up until No Way Home, it never feels like Tom’s Peter can go through many tangible problems or suffer dire consequences. He made mistakes but hardly had to pay for them, thanks to the security he got from being a part of a larger universe. The eagerness to impress Mr. Stark or wish to become an avenger comes as a direct contrast to what Spider-man is supposed to be, a self-motivated hero, common man’s champion.
However, the worst disservice MCU did earlier to Marvel’s flagship hero is substituting Tony Stark with Uncle Ben, the one person who contributed to Peter Parker’s transformation to Spider-man. Uncle Ben’s death is mentioned a couple of times, but whether he was an integral part of Peter’s life and how so and in what way his death impacted Peter has never been shown, highlighted, or even explicitly discussed much by those closest to him, Peter and Aunt May. In omitting the original story of this version of wallcrawler, MCU went a step ahead unnecessarily and almost erased Uncle Ben’s importance from Peter’s life. Instead, the influence of Tony Stark looms much larger in MCU Peter’s life, and how his death affects Peter is also shown. For a movie franchise that most of the time gets its characters’ core right, it surely was an unforeseeable mishap.
Power and Responsibility
With “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” not only is the oneness of the three spidey accentuated but also a course correction arc of Tom Holland’s MCU spidey is made. Three of them meet each other in the plot right after Aunt May’s death has shaken Tom’s Peter to the core. This tragic moment proves to be the perfect backdrop for his introduction to the former spider-men, as they too share the similar burden of guilt and grief with them and can relate to what MCU’s Peter is going through. Both Tobey and Andrew’s Peter had blamed themselves for their negligence, which caused Uncle Ben’s death on their respective earth. They bear their share of guilt for not paying heed to the words which shaped their course of life. With Great Power – Comes Great Responsibility! The exact same words which Aunt May shares with MCU’s Peter as her final piece of advice. It becomes apparent that MCU’s Peter didn’t get that piece of advice from Uncle Ben as he says he wants to leave the villains to their fate on their respective earth, even though he himself has brought them to his earth by mistake; reforming them was Aunt May’s idea, and with this, MCU substitutes Peter’s one guardian’s role with another one. By their own admission, both Tobey and Andrew’s Peter acknowledge that they got vengeful after losing uncle Ben, and Gwen Stacy( in Andrew’s case), so they can relate to the rage and despair that engulfed MCU’s Peter when he says he wants to kill Green Goblin who is responsible for Aunt May’s death. They know that doesn’t make things any better, and the only way to deal with grief and regret is to help others.
The sibling dynamic between the three of them was the major highlight of the movie, as all the three sparkled brightly together and on their own! Andrew’s Spidey acted as a lovable younger middle brother, radiating the positive vibe Spidey is associated with, quickest to form bonds with people and other spider brothers, yet wrecked with feelings of self-doubt and loneliness. Again, after Max, aka Electro, gets cured, he reminds him that he is always special! Tobey’s Peter is the oldest sibling, the wisest of them all, battle-hardened, humble, and always ‘trying to do better’. He knows being Spider-man takes a toll, but he’s ready to pay the price for not acting out on instincts. He quickly reassures Andrew’s Peter when he calls himself lame, saying that he is amazing. He has gone through the ordeal, so he has an idea about what self-doubt and anxiety can do to the best of people. It is only befitting that he stands up to MCU’s Peter when the latter, blinded by rage, almost kills Goblin, and as a responsible elder brother, Tobey’s Peter helps him to overcome this destructive rage. The movie also does a fantastic job of bringing some form of closure for both the former spideys. By helping Otto and Norman to regain their original selves, Tobey’s Peter, in his own way, makes amends. Similarly, Andrew’s Peter gets his own redemption in a way when he manages to save Michelle, something he had failed to do when Gwen Stacy fell to her demise in a heartbreakingly similar manner. In the incessant blows of misery and repentance dealt by life, they found some solace.
Spider-Man Wins, But Peter Parker Loses.
In a way, the movie establishes itself as the origin of MCU Spider-Man. This is where he earns the moniker in a true sense. In restoring everything to its former self, he trades his identity for that of a restorer. In the process, no one remembers Peter Parker anymore. He loses his family, friends, identity, and home. Basically, everything so the title of the movie becomes significant. No way home, indeed. Yet, at the same time, he has grown to be a wiser, more responsible person. As Goblin had said earlier, Peter was trying to have everything as the world made him choose. Now, almost as poetic justice, by losing everything, he has emerged as a better self. He no longer acts on his instincts. By choosing not to reveal his identity to his friends, prioritizing their happiness and security, he sacrifices himself for the happiness he deserves. A broken, lonely Peter gets inside his new, dimly lit apartment, akin to Tobey’s apartment in the Raimi movies, a far cry from his luxurious Avengers status or Stark grants. Suppressing the grief and guilt, he once again makes a suit of his own and jumps out of the window to swing through Christmas-charmed New York, and we recall Andrew’s Peter, who in a similar way bottled up his trauma and pain of Gwen’s death by donning the mask and sarcastic one-liners, a hero soaring above the crowd to save the day, inspiring millions! The movie ends with a promise that we will see Tom’s Spider-Man as a more self-reliant, mature, and down-to-earth version of the web-slinger we all knew and love.
A Friendly Neighborhood
As Spidey approaches his 60th anniversary this year, No Way Home celebrates the character of Spider-man by showcasing what made his appeal timeless through generations. An everyman behind the mask bearing all the liabilities and vulnerabilities. A working class hero having a healthy moral compass to guide him, quips to ease the nervousness and fear, also powers, thrust upon him with the choice to do the right thing, all of which aren’t always enough to save the day. Fans cherished the long-awaited moment of three Spider-man hugging and bidding each other farewell on screen with glistening eyes. Not only did their childhood nostalgia play a part in creating an ecstatic feeling, but they could also relate to humanity, which is an integral part of all three of them, and in turn, saw a compressed flashback of their own life flashing in front of them.