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No Way Home’s ending finally fixes the MCU’s Spider-Man — what took so long?

Is the amazing ending of Spider-Man: No Way Home too little, too late?

Sony Pictures

Against all odds, they remembered to make a Spider-Man movie.

Somewhere between satisfying hardcore fans and raking in giant piles of money, director Jon Watts caps off this era’s Spider-Man trilogy — but not Spider-Man’s story — in No Way Home. The end result is pretty spectacular. Amazing, even.

But the invigorating feeling of bearing witness to a pure, spandex Spider-Man swinging through a New York Christmas also raises a nagging question: What took so long? And how will this influence Spider-Man’s direction for years to come?

Warning: Spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home ahead.

A few weeks ago, I criticized the Marvel Cinematic Universe for its wobbly interpretation of Spider-Man. I still stand by most of what I said. A Spider-Man who’s chummy with a billionaire superstar weapon’s mogul is a far cry from a Spider-Man who’s struggling to pay the bills, and the results show in how comfortable Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is with lethal violence. He remains a fun character, but the foundations the MCU built its version of Spider-Man on are as sturdy as an inflatable tube man swaying in the wind.

This is not a slight on Tom Holland, a fine actor who delivers a powerful performance in Spider-Man: No Way Home. But five years after his debut in 2016, it’s clear Marvel realized it needed to circle back rather than swing forward with the character. As the movie’s ending demonstrates by the end credits, MCU has finally told Spider-Man’s origin story — If only if hadn’t taken so long.

The problem with MCU Spider-Man

Tom Holland’s Spider-Man finally feels like a real Spider-Man by the end of Spider-Man: No Way Home.Sony Pictures

During the making of the third Captain America, which introduced Tom Holland to the universe as Peter Parker, the MCU was in a pickle. Through unparalleled cooperation at the corporate level, Marvel Studios finally had space to introduce Spider-Man, a character moviegoers desperately wanted to see hang with the Avengers. But to make sure audiences didn’t roll their eyes at yet another reboot, the franchise zapped him of the fundamentals. So off Spider-Man went into the big wide MCU without Uncle Ben, spider bites, pro wrestling matches, or harsh lessons about the nature of violence.

It was a wise change at the time. It allowed Holland, and audiences, to mercifully thwip past tired origin beats. But like a pro athlete walking onto the field without practice, it became impossible to overlook a distinct absence in the essentials.

“It’s still bothersome he keeps a suit that sports an instant kill perk.”

Spider-Man had all the power (including nanotech suits and a sentient A.I.) but a lopsided sense of responsibility. Though the whole point of films like Spider-Man: Homecoming was for Peter Parker to be a hero without “the suit” — a gift from ex-warmonger Tony Stark — it’s still bothersome he keeps a suit that sports an “instant kill” perk at all (even if he only uses it on CGI alien monsters).

In a misguided effort to stand out from other Spider-Men, namely the masterworks of Sam Raimi (even Spider-Man 3, a cornball classic whose crime is having fun), the MCU drafted a Spidey far removed from who the character is supposed to be. Spider-Man should be uncomfortable with the kind of power Stark and the other Avengers routinely handle. Instead, this version embraces it.

How No Way Home “fixes” Spider-Man

Don’t mistake it for nostalgia. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy wisely established the essentials of Spider-Man.Columbia

No Way Home is the third in a trilogy and the ninth(!) Spider-Man film by Sony, and it took us this long to arrive back at a place Spider-Man is meant to be. In the MCU, Peter Parker is now a broke nobody. The simplified costume he dons is something these films have been too shy to ever try, and seeing it in action is a wonderful thing — as if the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15 were magically given motion. It’s an embrace of the source material that’s not been seen since, well, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.

But should we applaud the MCU for taking three entire movies (plus two Avengers) to understand Spider-Man? Why did it take this long to make him understand the responsibilities that come with the spandex? Surely they could have crammed in a lesson or two in earlier films without resorting to Uncle Ben. And what purpose does elongating Spider-Man’s origins serve? We won’t get a glimpse of those answers until the next thing fans are waiting for with feverish glee: The trailer for Spider-Man 4, already in development.

For now, the MCU’s Spider-Man is caught up with his predecessors. We’ve seen a Spider-Man who has suffered loss, and we’ve heard the all-important and terribly overdue mantra, “With great power comes great responsibility” that will fuel his next adventure. It’s just weird how it all happened backwards; how he only learned to be responsible for his power after fending off an alien invasion. It’s a bit like a graying Batman forming the Justice League shortly before his Bat-retirement.

Spider-Man finally grows up

After five years, the MCU’s Spider-Man has officially become Spider-Man. What did we miss out on waiting for it to happen?Sony Pictures

Despite its needless complexity and the laborious effort needed to explain its multiverse premise, what Spider-Man: No Way Home pulled off is a miracle. Look past the reissued action figures of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield and you’ll see a seismic impact that will direct Tom Holland’s Peter Parker for the MCU’s fifth phase. Now that Peter is growing up, he’s learning the world won’t always reward his good deeds. Sometimes, it will punish him.

This has been Spider-Man’s story for decades. In the defining comics arc that ends with the death of his girlfriend Gwen Stacy, Peter learned the hard way that his powers won’t only save those he loves, but can destroy them too. In the MCU, Peter finds that his best intentions, and the powers to carry them out, come with a steep price that costs him everything.

Peter Parker has a gift, but some might call it a curse. Finally, the MCU gets it.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is now playing in theaters.