The title says it all.
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” was not a movie I saw on release. I saw it at home, months later. And in truth, it made me mad. It made me mad not because it was bad. It made me mad because it was really, really good. It was exactly as good as everyone said it was.
All of my issues with the previous two MCU Spider-Man films were just…gone. They weren’t there anymore. Did you absolutely despise this new look version of MJ who had absolutely nothing in common with the character she was named after? I did. I loathed her. She and Peter had no chemistry, she was boring, she was drab, she was unlikable.
So what did NWH do? Cut her?
No. Even better. They fixed her.
I still can’t quite believe how invested I was in MJ and Peter’s relationship in this film. And it was so simple! It didn’t require any massive character rewrites or major retcons.
All they had to do – literally, all they had to do – was have MJ be supportive.
That’s it. That’s all. Peter is struggling, MJ is there for him. Peter is grieving, MJ is a shoulder to cry on. Peter is in trouble, MJ does her best to help. She gets along with his friend and isn’t unpleasant. When Peter’s hero work gets in the way of their relationship she’s understanding.
That’s the only change they make to her character. And it works. It works brilliantly. At the end of the film, MJ, his girlfriend, and Ned, his friend, are the last people in the world he has any real connection to. They’re the last people he loves. And he has to give up his relationship with them. He has to make that sacrifice to put things right and to fix his mistakes.
And dammit, it meant something. The sacrifice was real, it mattered. I felt it, because by the end of the movie I was rooting for Peter and MJ.
Considering how I felt about this relationship after the second film, that’s a remarkable change.
And there was more. There was a very distinct feeling in the previous MCU Spider-Man films of pulled punches. I’m thinking particularly of the end of “Far From Home”. Peter’s mistakes have probably led to the deaths of hundreds or even thousands of people, and sure, it was the villain’s fault more than him, and sure, his identity is revealed, but ultimately this was barely acknowledged if at all in order to maintain the light tone. Peter never grapples with the enormity of his mistakes, instead chalking it up to being tricked by Mysterio.
And sure, he was, and sure, he was a kid, but the whole point of Spider-Man is that he has great power and that gives him great responsibility, kid or not, and it never really felt like Peter ever took on the full weight of that responsibility.
That isn’t the case by the end of NWH. Peter feels like he’s sacrificed as much and more than he deserves. He’s not only lost people in the film, he voluntarily gives up virtually everything he has left by the time it ends.
This is partially to atone for his mistakes, sure, but to even get to this point Peter had to be actively trying to do good throughout the film, to help these villains from the previous movies in ways that they previously couldn’t be helped.
Because he can. He has the power. Thus he has the responsibility.
And this is to say nothing of the absolutely masterful way that the characters from the previous Spider-Man films were used. The restraint is really what I appreciate. They really only show up in the final third of the movie, and they give very limited details about what they’ve been up to.
But man, what they do give us is gold. It’s exactly what we DIDN’T get with Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in the Mouse Wars films. Tobey Maguire is a warm, comforting presence whose history informs his advice and his actions – and in one of the only tidbits we get about his life after the Raimi films we learn that he and MJ made it work.
Can you imagine? Presenting a beloved legacy character entirely positively, living a successful life?
And how about Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man, and in the film’s best scene, having him resolve his primary bit of trauma, but without telegraphing it, without using flashbacks or having him explain it – just a scene of Garfield’s Spider-Man rescuing MJ then nearly breaking down? It’s very difficult for people who know about the ending of Amazing Spider-Man 2 not to be moved by this, and it’s done with remarkably little dialogue.
Look, the film isn’t perfect. You can argue, and I’d probably agree, that turning all of the flaws of the previous Spider-Man villains into literally curable diseases weakens them significantly as characters. The spell that kicks off the plot then ends the story is ridiculously powerful and raises questions about the world that the movie is not equipped to solve. While Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May was a very strong character it was missing that background of Christianity that guided her morals in the Raimi films.
But these are all nitpicks, minor things. The truth is this was a fantastic movie, a classic of the genre, somehow the best live action Spider-Man even over the terrific Spider-Man 2 and I would argue better than Spider-Verse as well. It’s simply a great superhero movie, well-written, well-acted, great action scenes, real weight and stakes…it’s as good as everyone said it was.
And THIS is what makes me so angry. They knew! They knew how to make a great Spider-Man movie all along!
They knew that MJ was an unlikable harpy, but they kept her anyway. They knew how to make Peter really suffer and sacrifice, but they didn’t include it anyway. They knew exactly how to add legacy characters to a new story while still respecting those stories, but they – and by “they” I just mean Hollywood writers – still utterly humiliated Luke and Han and Leia.
In short, they knew exactly how to make a good movie, and they just…didn’t. They just…don’t. When push comes to shove and the shareholders say they have to care about profit over ideology, they are absolutely capable of doing it.
Remember that when you see what Hollywood is putting out. They know exactly what they’re doing. They can be better than this.
They just don’t want to be.
Stop watching cape-shit, full stop.