Peter Parker is a character defined by his relationships. But at the end of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Tom Holland’s Peter has been stripped of everything and everyone. “Who is Peter Parker in a vacuum?”* is the main question posed at the end of this movie. I am so excited to see the answer, even if I am a little nervous.
[This article contains major spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home, currently in theaters. Please proceed with caution.]
Peter is a different character in isolation than he is in a community. At the end of No Way Home, Peter makes an active choice to avoid close relationships because of the damage they can cause to those around him, but how long can he be a lone wolf? We know Spider-Man is set to return in the future of the MCU, so at some point he’ll have to reconnect with the Avengers. And every Peter Parker story is defined by the choices and sacrifices he has to make for the people he loves. I don’t think you can even have a true Peter Parker story if he doesn’t love anyone. It’s just not who the character is.
Peter can’t be so afraid of loss that he’s afraid of love, otherwise, he’d end up like Andrew Garfield’s Peter-Three, who has apparently been paralyzed by that struggle for the 10 years since Gwen’s death (mostly because he never got the resolution TASM 3 likely would have offered). Tom Holland’s next movie will have to address this, either with his Peter learning to open up to new people (exciting story potential), or finding a way to come back to his original friends (less likely and less interesting in my opinion).
I think No Way Home already makes a decision in its title – this is the end of the Home trilogy, and there is “no way” back. Its ending intentionally leaves this first trilogy as a self-contained set, with the next film launching a new story with a new supporting cast. I would love to see Peter struggle to make friends in his first days at college and watch him slowly build up a group of all-new friends and foes in a new trilogy that can stand alone meaningfully while also continuing Peter’s growth from the Home films.
Part of this new roster would likely be some kind of mentor-partner. Peter has been searching for a father figure in every movie in the Home trilogy, but as he has grown up, these relationships have naturally evolved from “Mr. Stark, sir” to “Call me Stephen.” His emotional immaturity is why he gravitates to guidance from older parental figures**, so after Peter’s development in No Way Home, I think he might finally feel ready to be independent, leading to a more equal relationship with a new teammate.
I think it would be refreshing to see Peter have a strong friendship with a female superhero. With that in mind, Jessica Drew and Black Cat would be great additions to the next saga. Of course, I would also love to see a Spider-Man/Daredevil team-up soon, especially in connection with the Kingpin storyline happening in Hawkeye and Echo. If they go with the black suit arc, then I think Matt Murdock could bring an interesting perspective to Peter’s struggle with his darker emotions, because I sure think he has them.
Following the tragedy of May’s death, I don’t think Peter has fully understood the restraint and responsibility that must come with his power. I don’t think he even understood the cautionary tales from the other Peters, even though they warned him precisely against being rageful. I say this because at the end of No Way Home, Peter tries to kill the Green Goblin, and he tries to do it even more viciously than Tobey Maguire’s Black Suit Peter-Two tried to kill Flint Marko in Spider-Man 3. In the comics, Spider-Man can get angry and even aggressive to protect his family, but for the cherubic version in the MCU, this felt like a huge character failure to me.
Instead of dedicating the movie time to recover from his darkness, or even showing shock/regret about what he almost did, Peter only gets a look from Peter-Two. It’s a powerful look, but I don’t think it’s enough to satisfy his need for vengeance. When Peter was a second away from actually killing the Goblin, and absolutely would have if no one interfered, I don’t think it’s enough for all his lessons to click into place in the literal blink of an eye and suddenly change who he is.
With great power, there must also come great responsibility. But based on his sudden character whiplash at the end of this movie, I don’t feel confident that this Peter has truly internalized that on a deep enough level yet. After such a dark moment, I would argue that we need a whole arc of story development for Peter to fully learn the responsibility of his powers before he could become the bright, triumphant new hero we glimpse in the final frames of the movie. But because it’s at the end of the movie, then the struggle for restraint and control should still be a part of his future journey.
Despite the bright, iconic swinging in the final shots of the movie, I think the film ends on an extremely dark, lonely note for Peter Parker. He is alone. No one loves him, no one knows him, the media still hates him***. An insane man killed his aunt and escaped to another universe so he couldn’t get revenge. And somewhere in a bar is a little black symbiote. I think a sharp storyteller could pick up on Peter’s lingering emotions from No Way Home and craft a powerful multi-movie black suit Spider-Man arc to launch the next Spider-Man trilogy, progress Peter’s arc, and set up the ultimate Venom story we’ve been waiting for.
***From the scene with Happy, we know that even if everyone has forgotten about “Peter Parker,” they still remember Spider-Man. To me this means that he must still have his Avengers connections, but also some of the population, including J.K. Simmons’ J. Jonah Jameson, should still think that Spider-Man killed Mysterio. Spider-Man being a publicly controversial figure would make for an interesting status quo going into Spider-Man 4, especially if they’re going to use the dark isolation of his character to fuel the black suit arc.