Movies

Spider-Man: No Way Home Is a Spider-Man Movie About How Much You Enjoyed All the Other Spider-Man Movies

It's the two Spider-Mans meme in $200 million movie form.

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There is something rather telling about the fact that so many of Marvel's superhero movies and shows now include what are essentially in-story recaps: the second act of Avengers: Endgame, a sort of season finale for the first decade and change of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), sent its heroes back in time to tromp through a selection of previous installments to relive their box office glories. The first act of last month's dismal Eternals added to the already bloated running time with a scene justifying the characters' lack of presence in previous Marvel movie affairs. (As if anyone would have wanted those bores around.) This summer's clever and largely amusing Loki TV series kicked off with an episode in which the title character was forced to watch a carefully curated highlight reel from his earlier adventures in the MCU, something Loki took as a kind of psychic torture. Pity, I suppose, the viewers who actually watched every installment in full. 

After dozens of movies and television episodes devoted to expanding this expanded universe, things are getting so complicated that even the characters themselves can't keep up. As for those of us in the audience, well, at least we have Wikipedia. 

If you haven't been taking notes on Spider-Man films for the last 20 years, you may need a refresher for his latest outing No Way Home. No Way Home is the third installment of the third iteration of the Spider-Man franchise since 2002. The first two iterations were solo affairs that took place outside the main Marvel movie universe. In the most recent set, however, the webslinger interacts with the rest of the Marvel movie cosmos—Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and so on, just like he does in the comic books 

To explain why all this matters will require some spoilers, some but not all of which have been teased in the trailers. You've been warned. 

The genius of this installment, and the knotty horror of it, is that in this film, the MCU Spidey interacts with a slew of villains from from the previous generations of Spider-Man films, and eventually, the earlier Spider-Men themselves, the ones who were never part of the MCU at all. 

Because of film development deals that date back to the 1990s (if not earlier), when the Marvel comics empire was collapsing into bankruptcy, Marvel has for decades not owned the film rights to Spider-Man or his associated cast of friends and villains. Instead, Spider-Man, though a Marvel character in paper comics, has been a Sony product on the big screen. Only after the mediocre performance of the two Andrew Garfield Spider-Man films during the early 2010s, and the simultaneous success of the part of the Marvel movie universe actually owned by Marvel, did Sony agree to a deal allowing Spider-Man to interact with the rest of the MCU. 

Sony, of course, still retained the rights to the previous, non-MCU movie adaptations of Spider-Man. So No Way Home is an attempt to integrate them all—the early Sony Spideys and their villains, plus the Sony/Marvel Spidey played by Tom Holland, plus the broader MCU, represented mostly by Dr. Strange (a droll Benedict Cumberbatch), who steps out of CGI portals at a few key moments to keep the story moving, wave his fingers in some magical gestures, and gently remind you that this not-fully-owned-by-Marvel movie is somehow connected to all those other Marvel movies that you liked. The precise details of that connection don't really matter; if you really need to know, you can always check Wikipedia. 

In truth, No Way Home is pretty good, as this sort of thing goes, especially if you are the sort of person who, like me, has been reading Spider-Man comics and watching Spider-Man movies for the majority of your life. As the animated, Sony-owned Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse showed, there is something inherently comforting about Spider-Man and his valiantly dorky alter ego, Peter Parker, in nearly all his iterations, from the pages of Todd McFarlane's dark-and-gritty (but in retrospect not that dark and gritty) adjectiveless Spider-Man in the early 1990s to Toby Maguire's lovelorn dweeb in Sam Raimi's initial movie trilogy to Andrew Garfield's wiry, hirsute loverboy in the early 2010s. 

Holland, who has played Spider-Man throughout his interactions with the Marvel universe, is probably the best of the bunch, owing both to his cartoon physicality and his screen charisma. It's a real pleasure to watch him in the movie's smaller-stakes scenes, like when he Facetimes his longtime love interest, M.J., who is played again by Zendaya, the franchise's other secret weapon. The two have a genuine on-screen chemistry that captures the uncertain mix of friendship and deeper attraction so common in high school. 

The interactions between Holland, Maguire, and Garfield in the film's final section capture the kaleidoscopic relatability of Spider-Man in all his forms, emphasizing the continuity between the versions as well as their subtle differences (Maguire's web shooters were organic to his body, which makes for an eyebrow-raising metaphor).

But even still, there's a point in which the trio start reminiscing about their various adventures that sounds an awful lot like a "last time on Spider-Man" recap. The idea is to connect with viewers who have seen all of these films, and also have fond memories of them. The whole thing feels like a $200 million version of that Spider-Man meme you see from time to time on social media, in which an animated Spidey is seen pointing at another Spider-Man.  

There's even a stinger sequence after the credits roll that teases a connection with the longtime Spider-Man nemesis Venom. Venom, of course, is a Spider-Man character from the comics, and thus owned for big-screen purposes by Sony, which forced him into the non-MCU Spider-Man 3 and more recently has made two terrible solo movies featuring a Tom Hardy version of character, neither of which were directly connected to the mainline Marvel movie universe. At least, that is, until a post-credits scene in this year's execrable Venom 2, in which he was mysteriously transported to a world in which Holland's Peter Parker/Spider-Man existed. And thus we see the Hardy version of the character sipping tropical drinks while trying to work out the in-world backstory of the superhero universe of which he is now part. He seems perplexed by the complexity and strangeness of it all. Perhaps you can sympathize.

I don't mean to complain, exactly. No Way Home is a top-notch blockbuster and a superior Marvel film, filled with heart and action and familiar faces and all the trappings you want from a zillion-dollar superhero extravaganza. But it is also a strange product of our intricately connected superhero-movie era, in which stories sometimes feel as if they were first negotiated by I.P. lawyers, and plots are dependent on viewers having done a fair amount of cinematic homework before coming to the theater.

So much of the appeal of No Way Home is predicated on the audience fondly recalling twenty years worth of not-quite-connected Spider-Man films. It is a Spider-Man movie about how much you enjoyed other Spider-Man movies, in which the hero's quest is, in a very real sense, to learn about and retroactively rescue the various earlier Spider-Man films. It's enough to make you wonder: Doesn't Spider-Man have Wikipedia? 

NEXT: The Study That Convinced the CDC To Support Mask Mandates in Schools Is Junk Science

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  1. It's a real pleasure to watch him in the movie's smaller-stakes scenes, like when he Facetimes his longtime love interest, M.J., who is played again by Zendaya, the franchise's other secret weapon. The two have a genuine on-screen chemistry that captures the uncertain mix of friendship and deeper attraction so common in high school.

    If that is your definition of pleasure, I can only conclude that you have no life and have never done drugs, or had sex.

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    2. If my only definition for pleasure was shallow stimulation, I wouldn't brag about it on the internet.

    3. I think he’s just admitted to playing with himself while watching Spider-Man.

    4. If that is your definition of pleasure, I can only conclude that you have no life and have never done drugs, or had sex.

      Yeah. Holland and Zendaya's on-screen performance thus far has been the opposite of chemistry. The little girl picking on the nerdy boy and getting cunt punted in Daddy's Home had better chemistry.

  2. I feel like with a little effort you could have ended every paragraph with some variation on "with Wikipedia"...

    1. He was going for the classic three-times trope, with bookends and a high point in the middle.

  3. I’ve been hoping for a Spider-Man film where he battles some of his lesser known antagonists, like Paste Pot Pete, or maybe The Walrus.

    1. I expect beetles and spiders are natural enemies.

    2. Please. Pete's been going as The Trapster for decades. His film rights are probably tied to the The Fantastic Four, anyway.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trapster

  4. let me know if Kirsten Dunst shows.

    1. Does emo Spiderman have to join her?

      1. cool by me if she's that kind of chick.

  5. It's the two Spider-Mans meme in $200 million movie form.

    Peter Suderman | 12.17.2021 9:59 AM

    *sigh*

    The 'two spiderman' meme is about hypocrisy. Its one Spiderman pointing at the other Spiderman who is the same as him. Its the picture version of the pot calling the kettle black.

    So unless this movie is like the other movies - which the whole article is about how its not, its about nostalgia for the other movies - its not applicable.

    This is your Meming 010 lesson of the day.

    1. Thank you for correcting the obviously wrong author.

      I knew when I saw that, they were using it like the "hello fellow children" meme. Totally disconnected from the intended audience.

    2. SudermanAgammamonpointing.jpg

  6. In theaters or will this be a web exclusive?

    1. That’s kind of a sticky subject.

      1. No, it isn't sticky. It is in theaters. Looking to have the biggest opening weekend of all time, or at least make the short list. They are saying 300 million worldwide.

        And that is in a pandemic world where people can't go to theaters. So the floors are not sticky. Because they have had plenty of time to clean them.

        1. They are saying 300 million worldwide.

          What about in your friendly neighborhood?

  7. I don't get when people complain about how the MCU movies are hard to understand and appreciate if you haven't seen the other ones. It's like reading a chapter in the middle of a book without reading the earlier chapters first, complaining that you can't understand what's happening, and then finally insisting that authors need to stop writing novels and only focus on short stories.

    Many people enjoy large, elaborate narratives that take place over multiple installments. Film makers have a right to try to appeal to those people. Casual moviegoers who don't pay attention to anything other than the movie right in front of them are not the only people that you're allowed to make movies for.

    1. You are an idiot.

      People go to the theater to enjoy that film, not be annoyed that the producers intentionally snubbed the casual viewer with references to seventeen prior films.

    2. It's like reading a chapter in the middle of a book without reading the earlier chapters first, complaining that you can't understand what's happening, and then finally insisting that authors need to stop writing novels and only focus on short stories.

      I can agree a bit. Fiction writers and moviemakers tend to, you know, write/show, rather than just vaguely alluding to prior events. It's how non- and mult-linear plots are meant to function. It's also a bit of an arcane method of watching movies. It's not like a math textbook where they say "Just factor and find the solution." assuming you learned what factor means. Agreed that they shouldn't alienate the newcomers to the franchise but, by the third movie?

  8. Tom Holland is a terrible fit for the role of Spider-Man. Plus he's British. What's up with the cultural appropriation of an American character?

    1. He’s hot and personable. There doesn’t need to be another reason.

  9. "The whole thing feels like a $200 million version of that Spider-Man meme you see from time to time on social media, in which an animated Spidey is seen pointing at another Spider-Man."

    Im something of a meme enthusiast myself

  10. From what I have seen of internet comic book fandom, they like this movie... And partly for what it is not.

    For the last several years, at least since endgame in the Marvel universe, but it started earlier elsewhere, there has been a sort of deconstructionist movement in franchise films. Heroes have to be dethroned and heroines put in their place.

    Star Wars... Luke is no longer a hero,but a detached hermit. A new female character is the hero.. And she is so good she doesn't have a heroes journey or even an arc. She is the best without even trying! She is the best lightsaber due list the first time she picks one up. She has the strongest force powers the first time she tries them. She is better at flying and fixing the Millennium Falcon than Han Solo the first time she sets foot in it.

    Captain Marvel is so overpowered that her training consists of learning not to use her powers.. And she is still stronger than a man who is a professional warrior and twice her size.

    Loki is converted from malevolent prankster to the butt of all jokes in his own series.. Where he literally gets kicked in the balls over and over.. And he is replaced by a female Loki who is better than him in every way..

    They have a long list of all the new properties who have been following this ruleset... And a label. They say "go woke and go broke"... because nobody wants to see that.

    They have been excited for this movie because Spiderman has avoided the trend. Their exploration beyond the story was Into The Spiderverse, which was a love letter to the comic book artform, and while it played with elements that resemble their complaints, Spiderman is still spiderman.. He is still the hero of his own movie. He follows the proper character development and earns his achievements.

    And people who are better than him are better because they have reason to be.. Not just because their character is somewhere on the totem pole of oppression and can therefore kick his butt.

    All of which is why they are saying they like this movie. It is pure fan service at a time when fans are feeling not just neglected, but abused.

    1. "All of which is why they are saying they like this movie. It is pure fan service at a time when fans are feeling not just neglected, but abused."

      From everything I have read, you hit it right on the head. Giving actual comic book fans what they want, a mix of the hero they want plus some fan-service / nostalgia. Not replacing the heroes everyone wants to see with a woman, and then patronizingly make her magically better in every way despite the fact that everyone knows it wouldn't actually be that way.

      Cpt Marvel, Rey, were good examples. Add to that female Thor is in the making with the same trend. The new He-Man on netflix was a massive bomb because of the same: taking away the hero everyone showed up for, replace with a female woke version, then call your fans bigots when they complain. These people are trying to please <10% of the population that are active on twitter, to get attaboys from the wokies while completely alienating their actual fan base.

      I dont know how people arent so turned off by the patronizing either. I would feel weird and gross if everyone told me I can do everything better than the best of the best if I in no way had those abilities and knew it. Like telling your kid they can be an astronaut or president or nuclear physicist when they are a C+ student at best. Its weird gross patronizing. Same with Black Panther. Oh the Wakandans (Africans) are better in every way shape and form, basically almost an advanced alien species that are better, stronger, and most importantly extremely technologically advanced/intelligent (while also having more deep rooted culture) compared to the rest of the world...this kind of patronizing would make me cringe if it were applied to my ethnic background. Some kind of weird take on the noble savage trope on steroids.

      Anyways, there is clearly a trend of choosing woke garbage over what the fans truly want. The massive success of this movie with the juxtaposition of the massive failure of new He-man, eternals and so on might just show them that if they want the almighty dollar from their fans, they have to actually give them movies they want and not woke indoctrination.

    2. The fact that corporations that supported BLM are being robbed nightly, that Salvation Army has had crushing fundraiser failure this year, that all kinds of movies had failed box office results in the US, and this…. this movie is blowing out expectations… this might get the corporate world to realize that WOKE is not profitable. FUN is profitable.

    3. Comic books are just the microcosm:
      Star Wars
      Captain Marvel
      Thor
      Loki
      He-Man
      Arcane
      Santa, Inc.
      ...

      Classic Writing: Avoid tropes, necessary evil.
      Woke Writing: Enjoy our tropes, or else.

  11. The movie was slow, plodding and contrived. As the author notes, it spent more time rehashing old films and trying to bring in old characters than it did telling an actual story. The writing was so bad that even the characters in the movie REPEATEDLY note that nothing in the movie actually makes sense. (That painful scene where each villian remembers the other's dying, and then wonders why they are back from the time right before they died....which is never explained...is a perfect example.)

    This movie was inferior in every way to either of the Venoms....but it gets better reviews. Whereas the author looked for reasons to hate Venom 2, he explains how the infinite flaws with this movie should be overlooked. Terrible review.

  12. GAA PEG GAA
    https://peg.bocsci.com/catcs/763/gaa-peg-gaa/
    GAA-PEG-GAA is a linear molecule containing carboxyl groups at both ends of the molecule, which is a PEG derivative. Between the PEG and the carboxyl group,

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