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[This story contains spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home.]
Spider-Man: No Way Home was an extraordinary emotional rollercoaster ride that, even with the leaks before it arrived in theaters, audiences could never have anticipated. And there is a unique trio to thank for the experience.
It was Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man (along with 2000’s X-Men) that ignited the superhero film genre into a worldwide, multi-billion-dollar phenomenon. And in that 2002 film, fans fell in love with the first big-screen iteration of Peter Parker, played by a 26-year-old Tobey Maguire. The actor (along with Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson) then outdid himself in the sequel, Spider-Man 2 (2004) which introduced Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius. Then Spider-Man 3 (2007) happened; the severe misfire would put a disappointing and unfulfilling end to Maguire’s Spidey tenure.
Enter 28-year-old Andrew Garfield as the web-slinger in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man. And thus began the debate over who was the “better” Spider-Man. Garfield would only get two bites at the Spider-Man apple before the character would again be recast to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe for 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. A 19-year-old Tom Holland was introduced to the world as he took over the Spider-Man mantle. And with that, the “best” Spider-Man debate was in overdrive as Holland made the character his own in two solo films: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019).
Then something astounding took place. No Way Home swung into theaters and gave fans something that previously they could only theorize: What if Maguire’s, Garfield’s and Holland’s Spider-Men met? The result is a film that has several, instant-classic, equally hilarious and devastating moments. But each individual Spider-Man star had their own emotional scene immediately seared into fans’ minds and ultimately begged the question: Was it even necessary to have that “best” debate? After all, the three actors are perfect as the superhero in their own unique way.
It is Holland’s film and his franchise now, so it makes sense to begin with his most impactful Parker No Way Home moment. It is (arguably) obvious: the shocking, heartbreaking death of Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Holland’s performance is especially phenomenal, as Parker is begging his Aunt to “look at me, May, please” while he realizes what has occurred. His shock and devastation match the total bewilderment of the audience. Tied to this is the look Holland has on his face when his Parker is ready to face off with the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) telling the villain he is going to kill him. That was, by far, the darkest portrayal yet of Holland’s otherwise sweet, goofy Parker. (The final moment in the film of him swinging in the classic Spider-Man suit was also goosebumps-inducing.)
Garfield’s most impactful Parker No Way Home moment is also (arguably) obvious: When he saves the MCU’s MJ (Zendaya) as she is falling to her possible death, the exact feat he failed with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). The look Garfield has on his face, both of accomplishment and past regret, made clear his Parker greatly needed this successful act of redemption. The moment is made absolutely perfect by MJ asking if he is OK after he asked her the same question. He nods his head, assuring he is while holding back tears, which lets fans know perhaps he can finally forgive himself.
Maguire’s most impactful Parker No Way Home moment is nearly a razor-thin tie. Maguire returning to the character is the most rewarding, which is best exemplified by one scene in particular: When Peter and Otto finally reunite, as it speaks to the characters but also the audience (chef’s kiss to the Danny Elfman musical cue.) They begin by saying it is good to see one another. And fans agree, after nearly 18 years, it is good to see them back in those beloved character iterations. The profound moment happens immediately next: Otto tells Maguire’s Parker “You’re all grown up,” which he is — and so are the fans who experienced him as their first big-screen Spider-Man. Otto then asks him, “How are you?” to which Peter responds, “Trying to do better,” a nod to Otto telling him in Spider-Man 2 that he was “brilliant but lazy” as Otto did not know he was preoccupied being a superhero. Those grown-up fans are also “trying to do better” as many now have a career and family. The other exceptional moment was Maguire’s Parker stopping Holland’s Parker from impaling Green Goblin with his own glider; Maguire with the exact same look of determination to save the soul of Holland’s Parker as he had in Spider-Man when he was stopping the Goblin from impaling him with the glider.
The three actors together, naturally, had fantastic chemistry thanks to that bond (being a Hollywood Spider-Man) that only they could understand. From the hilarious banter of them talking about how Maguire’s Parker inexplicably secretes his web fluid, to Garfield’s Parker telling them he loves the two like brothers. And, of course, when there is the moment when they discuss the deaths of loved ones who helped shape them into the version of Spider-Man they became.
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