Note: This is not a full movie review. However, it does contain spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home. Readers who want to avoid spoilers should wait until they see the movie before reading this article.
Way back in 2015, when Kevin Feige first announced that Spider-Man was joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he promised us two things: The first was that Peter Parker would be a teenager as he begins the MCU. The second–and more important–promise was that we wouldn’t be getting an origin story. The second promise, in some ways, was true. However, after six MCU films involving the web-slinger, we get the origin story that fans have always loved–and Marvel outdid itself in the process.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is an Origin Story
Feige and fans were rightly concerned that we did not need yet another Spider-Man origin story. Everyone knows that he’s bitten by some type of radioactive or genetically modified spider and that his powers develop from there. Aside from the well-known comic, fans got three excellent on-screen renditions of the story in a two-decade span. We saw Peter bitten by a spider in the popular and acclaimed ’90s animated series, in Spider-Man with Tobey Maguire, and again in The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield. Then, of course, Peter Parker makes a tragic mistake that leads to his Uncle Ben’s death. The resultant trauma and how Peter deals with that is what turns Spider-Man into the hero we all know him as.
Feige and Marvel felt that we all know this. The MCU didn’t need to spend valuable screen time rehashing a story that has been told–and told well–several times in recent memory. And so it didn’t. Instead, the Peter Parker we first meet in Civil War was the classic, heroic Peter Parker we all know. Uncle Ben isn’t around, and Peter seems to have learned his lessons already. He’s a teenager, but he’s saying things like, “When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you,” and “I would love to play football, but I couldn’t then, so I shouldn’t now.” Sure, he’s still a kid and learning lessons about maturity in Homecoming, but we really think we’ve met the hero we all know from the beginning.
Instead, No Way Home proved that we hadn’t. Yes, Peter had control of his powers when we met him, and he showed incredible maturity. But he still hadn’t learned the lessons that make heroes heroes. He hadn’t grappled with loss, or fully realized the travails of living both a personal life and a hero life. He wanted it all, and was youthfully naive enough to think he could have it.
No Way Home finally makes Peter Parker confront a true loss, and the feelings that come with it. He finally understands the true lesson of the great responsibility that must come with great power. Peter said similar words before, but he had never showed that he truly understand them. He understands them now. Similarly, he had told us before that he couldn’t fully be a normal kid. But he never acted like he meant it. Now, finally, the events of No Way Home taught him what that really means.
And because we learn these lessons with Peter Parker–because we have been well-acquainted with him already, and it took the final movie of a trilogy for him to truly find the hero inside him–No Way Home makes for the most compelling Spider-Man origin story yet. Peter began as a mature kid with powers, and he was gifted all the tools, gadgets, and fancy suits to be an Avenger. Now he’s living on his own, making rent, and sewing his own costumes. Usually, Spider-Man jumps from being super-powered Peter Parker to being a hero through tragedy. In the MCU, Peter’s path is stronger because it is longer. He goes from super-powered teenager to Thanos-fighting Avenger, and only through tragedy does he learn what it means to be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
What’s Next for Spider-Man
Far be it from me to guess what Marvel and Sony will do with Peter Parker’s character. I won’t even try. We leave the movie with Peter having no friends, no family, and nothing but a few mementos to call his own. No one alive even knows who he is.
Ironically enough, this is incredibly similar to the place Matt Murdock found himself in the beginning of Season 3 of Daredevil. In the Netflix show, Murdock learned to find a sensible balance, and that he’s a better hero when he has his select group of friends to help him. It’s possible Spider-Man will eventually find a way to learn the same. For now, though, he’s the hero we all know as Spider-Man all along. His identity is a secret, he’s struggling for cash, and he’s just doing his best to help people however he can.
Will Spider-Man find his way back to the upper echelon of MCU heroes? Will he find the right people to share his identity with again? Perhaps. But we now know that if he does, it won’t be with the impetuousness of a teenager. He will do it with care and forethought, as a hero should.