Spider-Man No Way Home was an epic movie that oozed emotion, stakes, and fan service. The cameos – especially the appearances of Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire – took us all the way back to the beginning. It felt gratifying, satisfying, and like a warm blanket to the current cold world. However, going into this movie a question could be posited. Was Tom Holland’s Peter Parker given a proper story arc in this nostalgia-driven spectacle?
The ending of Far From Home was the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers. Peter Parker’s identity was exposed by Mysterio to the world and he’s left dealing with the consequences. A story like that could’ve gone so many directions. They even had plans at one point to make this about him being hunted by Kraven the Hunter. They could’ve had a rematch with the Vulture, as Scorpion joins the fray. Those would’ve been fun to see, and Peter’s story could be told in a much more straightforward manner. Make no mistake, No Way Home is a yeoman’s effort. It massages our curiosity but when it’s all said and done the mission is to remind us why we love Spider-Man.
This trilogy has been about Peter Parker understanding what it means to be a superhero. In Homecoming, it’s about wanting it all too quickly after tussling with the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War. He causes a calamity and realizes he’s better off staying close to home. In Far From Home, he wants to take a break. It’s certainly understandable after fighting Thanos and losing his mentor figure with the death of Tony Stark. He skirts his responsibility and pays the price as Quentin Beck betrays him. It’s those words though. The price. Peter Parker pays the ultimate price in No Way Home.
The distress of seeing what his identity reveals does to the people around him, specifically MJ and Ned, drives Peter to find a quick fix. He goes to Dr. Strange who’s all too happy to help. The young hero believes that everyone should forget he’s Spider-Man. Of course, then realizing that it shouldn’t be everyone. In trying to tweak the spell, Peter and Strange end up breaking the multiverse wide open. This isn’t some simple mistake, in fact it’s the mistake that turns out to be the final journey of the Peter we’ve come to know and love across his journey in the MCU.
In trying to hastily fix things instead of facing them head-on Peter loses. It’s such a Peter Parker story, and it’s why we relate to the character. He is us. It’s totally human to want a life with the girl he loves and his best friend. Yet, at the same time, he’s more than that. He is Spider-Man.
Later, as all the villains from Spider-Man’s cinematic past come through, it almost feels like a ghosts from Christmas past story. These villains are here to show him the way in a metaphorical sense. His first instinct, and the one echoed by Strange, is the logical thing to do, send them back to their world. In dealing with Norman Osborn, Aunt May contends that Peter must help them. What then ensues is the push and pull between doing the right thing and the practical thing. Especially once reality sinks in that their fate’s back at home isn’t going to end nicely.
When Peter attempts to heal the villains, it does feel like the right thing to do, especially in how it stands in contrast to Dr. Strange’s view on the matter. We live in a world where there are plenty of people who end up on a dark path but there’s always a reason for it. Circumstances dictate things sometimes as much if not even more than a person’s nature. That nuance gets lost in the conversation. Yet, Peter sees exactly that but ends up paying the ultimate price.
Green Goblin turns on him as Norman succumbs to his dark passenger. Tragically, Aunt May dies as she has lived, trying to help people and do the right thing. It is in this lesson for Peter that he receives the words the character is most famous for: “With great power comes great responsibility.” There is no easy answer, but you have to try. At this moment Peter gains wisdom and knowledge but he loses his innocence. It is gone, and he’ll never be the same.
By the end of the film, we see that price. The attempt to kill Norman Osborn will stick with him. This time around, he’s not to one giving help but receiving it. He’s pulled out of the darkness to embrace the right choice. Yet, he once again has to pay a price and unlike before, this time it is by choice. Peter convinces Strange to make the world forget he ever existed, even if it means he’ll lose everything and everyone. MJ and Ned will forget him. Happy forgets him. Aunt May is gone. His ties to the Avengers and kindred spirits will be severed. The anguish on Peter’s face when he decides not to reveal himself again to MJ or Ned is heartbreaking. There is no turning back here. It is a cold lesson, and one he must learn alone.
Now that this price has been paid, Peter must live on. He must move on. It is the bridge that he must cross alone. As he goes forward, there will be a better understanding of the choices previously made. Peter Parker is one of us, but he’s not. He’s Spider-Man, and with being Spider-Man, it comes with a price. May the payments for Peter Parker going forward be more peaceful.