By Samuel Goodale
I used to go to this day camp in the summer. It had tube slide, but I never slid down: I climbed up. I would climb and climb, pretending I was Spider-Man. I was so impressed with myself I swore I was Spider-Man. I took it for granted, and when I told my mom I was Spider-Man when she came and picked me up at the end of the day, I believed it was true.
Going into this movie, my expectations were low. Honestly, I am not the biggest fan of the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies. They are bursting with bombast, but they lack the breathing room allowed by the quiet introspection of Raimi’s films.
Fortunately, I was wrong. No Way Home deftly combines the vivacity and visual spectacle expected of Marvel films with the unapologetically heartfelt moments rife within Raimi’s trilogy. Although the plot is sometimes overshadowed by an overstuffed cast of characters, this misstep can easily be forgiven for the film’s thematic brilliance in what is a joyous ode to Peter Parker.
I suppose it should be Peter Parkers, as there are three.
Although it could easily have been heavy-handed pandering fan service, the inclusion of three Peters was thematically pertinent and engaging. As MCU Peter struggles to figure out who he is, his identity being torn between his life with MJ and Spider-Man, three other hims pop out from portals to join the action. It’s engrossing, and it sets up my big takeaway from this movie: the power of memory.
Spider-Man is inexorably linked to my memories, to my conception of who I was as a child. When I see Tobey Maguire appear onscreen, I don’t just see 40-year-old Peter Parker; I see myself climbing up the tube slide; I see the time when I still was Spider-Man.
The inclusion of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield isn’t gratuitous fan service: it implicates the audience in the act of remembering.
Watching Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin struggle once again with a torn identity is both beautiful and terrifying. It suggests that we can be forgotten not only by others but by ourselves, but we can be redeemed if we remember.
When Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man catches MJ and breaks down, the audience is forced to remember Peter’s loss of Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. That’s why this movie was so good: amidst these frantic fight scenes, these quiet moments remain.
This all builds to the conclusion of the film, and it’s devastating. It’s honestly harder to live with someone who forgets who you are than merely live without them.
Remembering is religious, a personal meditation undertook at a moment’s notice yet possessing effects spanning a lifetime. It is astounding, really, that memories, these nonphysical moments, can inspire such intense feeling within us. Like the memory of Gwen or Aunt May, they affect us deeply, forcing us to act like no physical impetus possibly could.
I don’t know where memories live. I don’t know what they look like, either. But I cherish them far more than anything else I can hold. I would lose my life before I lost my memories. This film beautifully synthesizes the memories of audiences, young and old, into a visual menagerie, expounding not only our mutual love of Spider-Man but the love that is borne for each one of us ourselves.
When I saw this film, I sat beside a little boy with his dad. They were eating popcorn together, and the boy was dressed up as Spider-Man. I know that, when that kid watches this movie again, he won’t just see Tom and Zendaya on the screen. He won’t see Norman fighting to remember who he is. The boy will see himself with his dad on a Saturday night, back when he still was Spider-Man.
That’s why this movie is so good: it puts on screen the deep human yearning to return to a time when we knew we were loved. It takes us, if only for a fleeting two hours, home.