Unpacking all the ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ spoilers we couldn’t put in the review

A man crouching in a superhero suit
Tom Holland as Peter Parker in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
(Matt Kennedy / Sony Pictures)

SPOILERS: The following conversation discusses the entirety of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and is intended to be read after you’ve seen the film. We’re breaking down the movie’s surprises and key moments, and reading this before you see the movie would spoil the fun. If you haven’t seen the movie, check out our review, this spoiler-light breakdown or this story about how Sony wanted to keep the film’s villains a secret instead and come back later.

[Insert Spider-Man pointing meme]

Spider-Man balancing on top of a street lamp
Spider-Man in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
(Matt Kennedy / Sony Pictures)

Tracy Brown: It’s been well established that Peter Parker has an impressive array of superpowers, including superhuman strength and reflexes, the ability to cling to surfaces, Spidey sense — and that’s not even counting his affinity for science. But in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” he gets to show off how being part of multiple franchises is one of his gifts too.

Before seeing this third installment of the Jon Watts-helmed trilogy, I wouldn’t have considered that last factoid anything worth bragging about. The charm of Tom Holland’s two previous solo “Spider-Man” outings has been how they’ve really leaned into high-school milestones and the coming-of-age side of being a teenage superhero. So as fun as it was to see Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock pop up for his “Hello, Peter” in the “No Way Home” trailer, busting open the multiverse felt so far out of the realm of the usual “charmingly low stakes.” Not to mention, aside from 2018’s fantastic “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” I’m a bit multiverse averse.

But that skepticism didn’t last once I got a glimpse of a certain Spider-Man silhouette through Ned’s magical gateway. Even though their appearances felt like the movie’s worst-kept secret, seeing Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker again, at the same time, comparing Spider-Man notes with Holland’s MCU Peter was delightful. And as much as the spoiler police might want to argue, I don’t think my lack of surprise negatively affected my experience of the film.

Michael, what did you think of Garfield and Maguire’s return? Were you surprised?

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Dec. 14, 2021

Michael Ordoña: Well, first, I’m with you in the multiverse-aversitude. I was quite down on the “What If ...?” TV show (much less so than I was for the comic); I felt it badly lowered the stakes for the MCU. If, as they demonstrate in that animated series, dead characters in this universe can simply be replaced by live versions from another, do their deaths matter? Neat marketing device; dangerous dramatic device IMHO.

Where I’m not with you is on the spoiler police thing (maybe I’m an undercover cop): I really wish I hadn’t known any of those things — the villains or the Spideys. I think the experience of the film would have been soooo much more fun without those leaks. Even though I’m confessedly anti-multi, I imagine I would have been delightedly thrown for a loop in the moment, seeing those worlds collide. Afterward I would have gone on my “What If ...?” rant again, but dang it, I would have had that moment!

Probably the most fun of the movie (apart from the combat scenes with Green Goblin — Willem Dafoe comes out of nowhere to steal the movie, I think) is in those Spidey compare-and-contrast moments. Yes, the meme has come to life! Though I did miss Miles Morales.

A man in a green suit surrounded by a vortex of dust
Green Goblin in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
(Sony Pictures)

I thought it was a good choice that the filmmakers leaned into the actors’ different interpretations of Peter Parker; those contrasts were amusing and enriching. Maguire’s Peter always seemed a bit deer-in-the-headlights to me, and does so here. Garfield’s smacks of a serious actor plumbing Peter’s emotional depths — and lo and behold! Meanwhile, Holland’s confirms why I like his best: Yes, he’s the youngest-feeling of the three, as in the comics, but more than anything, he’s a kid dealing with the crushing weight of responsibility — and that’s why he’s a hero. The pure MCU version feels like the most heroic of the Spideys.

But the thing I wasn’t clear on, that I hope someone smart (hello, Sonaiya and Tracy) might be able to clear up for me was this whole “curing the villains” gag. Specifically: how is that supposed to save their lives in their universes?

I mean, they seem to have come to Peter’s universe after dying, right? They refer to the moments of their deaths in their dialogue. So are they going back to moments before they die, when they’ll know to stop fighting Spidey? Or are they all coming back at the same time, resurrected? Some of them are in the same timelines, so ... how will that all work? And if they’re making timeline changes, isn’t that, like, really, really bad (asks The Ancient One)?

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Dec. 13, 2021

Sonaiya Kelley: Michael, I think that’s a good point. As Doctor Strange says, we know “shockingly little” about the mechanics of the multiverse and that seems to apply to both us viewers and the characters themselves. It was a bit confusing to me how several of the villains (Doc Ock, Goblin, Electro) died in their timelines while the Lizard, Sandman and Maguire‘s and Garfield’s Spideys were still alive, but visibly older. Doctor Strange’s spell looped in all of the people across universes who knew Peter Parker to be Spider-Man, so maybe they were plucked from different moments in time? Also, what’s the point in wearing a suit if all of your nemeses still manage to know your identity?!

Now that the multiversal timelines protected by the Time Variance Authority in “Loki” have been completely blown to shreds, there’s less distinction between variants and “main characters” on the now-defunct sacred timeline. Maybe all those Sony characters of yore are now variants who could technically go back home and create a branch timeline where they hang up the mantle of supervillain and contribute meaningfully to society (one would hope).

But I personally loved the collision of the Spidey worlds. As someone who grew up on the Maguire franchise and who deeply loves Garfield’s interpretation of the character, it was nice to see them find redemption by being grandfathered into the MCU — the most cohesive evolution of Parker’s journey. And it was so sweet to see Holland’s Spidey find his legs as a leader, drawing on his experience as an Avenger to teach Peter 2 and 3 how to work together as a team.

I too would’ve loved to have gone in blind and spoiler-free but there was no way that would’ve been possible — fan speculation began almost the moment the movie was announced. Also, Maguire and Garfield are introduced too late in the movie for me to not have anticipated they’d show up after their villains made their appearances. But perhaps there’s room for a future live-action crossover sequel, this time including Miles Morales? Electro sets up the possibility nicely and I think Shameik Moore is more than capable of playing the role.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange and Tom Holland as Spider-Man/Peter Parker in "Spider-Man: No Way Home."
(Sony Pictures)

Ordoña: Oh, don’t get me started speculating on the future of Sony’s Spider-Verse ... I have crazy ideas. Though I will say, they did us all a solid by leaving a ... blob of a chance that Venom will show up in the MCU for real in that first mid-credits scene. They even gave themselves an out to not cast Tom Hardy in the MCU if he’s unavailable, (say, because he’s in Bond-age with another role, perhaps? I warned you — crazy ideas).

It did feel a bit wacky, having a mid-credits scene directly following up another movie’s credits scene, and so soon after “Venom: Let There Be Carnage‘s” October release. I think that’s the first time the MCU has made that close of a connection between credits scenes, right?

As for the post-credits “scene,” which was more like a first-look trailer for “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” there’s less to talk about. I mean, I was happy to see Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s Mordo back — I was afraid the MCU had forgotten him — and we already knew Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda/Scarlet Witch was going to be a major player. Probably the most interesting thing I got from that pseudo-trailer was the apparent in-the-flesh manifestation of Strange Supreme from “What if ...?” Episode 4. And you guys know how I feel about that show.

Brown: Since there is no sacred timeline here I want to backtrack to the idea of Peter wanting to cure the villains because how often do we see superhero tentpoles veer away from a variation on the reductive, retributive “good” vs “evil” formula? I am with both of you in that I did not completely understand how being cured was supposed to save each villain from their deaths, but it was something I was willing to let slide with a “because multiverse” shrug for the sake of rehabilitation and do-overs.

And speaking of retributive justice, I can’t not talk about the one crossover cameo that actually surprised me. With so many characters from various “Spider-Man” universe already set to collide, I didn’t really expect to see Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock make his official MCU film debut in “No Way Home.” That was where I’d drawn my arbitrary “too much fan service” line. But it was short and sweet and just enough make me curious about what some of the others from Netflix’s series of street-level shows could be up to.

As excited as I am to see these Netflix Marvel characters make their way to the “MCU proper,” though, I admit I am also getting to a point where I’m overwhelmed by the rapidly expanding web of backstories I’m potentially going to be expected to be familiar with in order to keep up with the franchise. A multiverse of madness indeed.

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Dec. 22, 2021

Kelley: So far I’ve managed to consume all of the Marvel content the studio has churned out — from the Netflix shows to all 27(!) movies to the Disney+ series — along with all of the Maguire and Garfield Spidey films. I’ve enjoyed some more than others but all in all, I think I’m pretty much abreast of all of the backstories and happenings. That being said, I think it’s really interesting that the Netflix series are being acknowledged at this stage in the game. Besides Matt Murdock popping up in “No Way Home,” Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin was teased in this week’s episode of “Hawkeye” and I’m glad to see both perfectly cast actors again.

However, I agree with you Tracy that we’re getting into dangerous fan service territory. But how much is too much when you’ve asked fans to commit more than 50 hours of their lives? (And that’s just the movies alone.)

One of the tidbits I found interesting early on in the film is the reveal that MJ’s — Zendaya’s Michelle Jones — actual surname is Watson. Or at least hyphenated surname, Jones-Watson. I’m interested to see why she dropped the Watson and I felt like it was a nice full-circle moment to see her waitressing in the coffee shop á la Kirsten Dunst’s MJ circa “Spiderman” (2001).

Ordoña: I agree on the danger of filling it to the brim with fan service, which I did feel about “No Way Home” at times. And while I’m a big Daredevil fan, Matt Murdock’s appearance didn’t feel fully justified, or thought out. When he stopped that brick, my two thoughts were, “Well, now Peter knows he’s enhanced,” and “How the hell did someone out there launch a brick at that angle?” — not “How cool is it that Charlie Cox is in the MCU?”

Oh, and I want to shout-out the music supervision as well for opening with an obscure but perfectly hectic Talking Heads track (“I Zimbra”) and closing with a personal favorite, De La Soul’s “The Magic Number,” which is also perfect for its sample of Schoolhouse Rock’s “Three Is a Magic Number” in reference to the gathering of Spideys.

But all those bells and whistles eventually fall by the wayside for me, because above all, I regard this as the most emotional and consequential of the live-action Spidey movies so far — all, what, eight of them? It packs that savage one-two punch of Aunt May’s death and Peter’s heroic fate: The world forgetting Peter Parker. I’ll be sorry not to see the wonderful Marisa Tomei in the MCU anymore, but she certainly went out memorably. Her death ranks alongside Peggy Carter’s as the most affecting non-hero passings in the megafranchise so far.

As to Peter’s tabula rasa, it gets back to what I was saying earlier about how the MCU has done such a fine job of establishing him as a kid with a hero’s heart. It’s one of the MCU’s most noble sacrifices. And it sets him up beautifully to fill more of the loner role the character had in the ’60s comics, when it felt like Spidey against the world. After all, he can’t come of age forever. So despite all this multiverse monkeying, they managed to raise the dramatic stakes for Peter going forward, and I’m here for it.

Three people stare up toward the sky
Tom Holland, Zendaya and Jacob Batalon in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
(Matt Kennedy)

Kelley: Agreed, I appreciated the tonal shift as Holland’s first Spider-Man trilogy comes to a close. After watching the character’s tragic origin story in both the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb iterations (RIP Uncle Ben), I found it refreshing that Marvel didn’t go the same route with Holland’s introduction.

Tomei’s death, perhaps because her relationship with Peter has had time to be fleshed out over multiple movies, was particularly emotional for me. It’s a devastating prospect that this teenager is now completely alone in the world after losing his last living relative, his closest friends and his Avengers colleagues after the amnesia spell.

After Jon Watts’ uptempo, lighthearted triad of films, it’ll be interesting to see Peter (and Holland) move into a darker place. Someone on Twitter observed that this fourth phase of the MCU is about depression, and with the solemnity of “Endgame” and the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman, that feels apt both literally and energetically.