‘No One Dies’: Why Spider-Man’s No Way Home Mission Matters to the MCU – IGN
With the new Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer out in the wild, Marvel fans around the world now have a much better idea of what Peter Parker’s latest MCU adventure will involve. Although we had already seen Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus, we’ve now been reintroduced to a veritable sampler platter of previous Spider-Man foes who will confront our favourite wall-crawler, including Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, Jamie Foxx’s Electro, Rhys Ifans’ Lizard and Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman.
However, what is perhaps even more interesting than the return of these old enemies is that the trailer also reveals what appears to be the trilogy closer’s main conflict: Tom Holland’s Peter isn’t just trying to stop the multiverse bad guys, he’s also trying to save their lives. By doing this, No Way Home isn’t just giving Spider-Man his toughest challenge yet, it’s also challenging what it means to be a hero in the MCU.
We Don’t Trade Lives… or Do We?
As discussed previously on IGN, the MCU has kind of a bad habit of killing off their antagonists at the end of their films. However, the more pressing concern here is that with most previous MCU heroes, particularly the Avengers, being a hero more often than not includes killing the villains who are threatening the world. For example, before the final battle with Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, Thor says, “Let’s kill him properly this time,” and Iron Man explicitly does so when he performs his own Snap with the Infinity Stones.
That may be an extreme example given that Thanos wiped out half of all life in the universe, but it falls into a pattern of the MCU heroes willfully enacting plans that kill their foes. All of Iron Man’s solo films end with their villains being killed in combat with him (or Pepper, in the case of Killian in Iron Man 3), Malekith and Hela are both wiped out by actions Thor and his allies take, Alexander Pierce is shot by Nick Fury, Ultron is destroyed by Vision, Killmonger is stabbed by T’Challa, and Dreykov is blown up by Yelena Belova. Even the Guardians make it clear that they are trying to kill Ronan and Ego in their respective films, and they succeed on both counts.
Now, whether or not murdering people who are threatening others or the world (or the universe) at large is considered “heroic” by any individual audience member is a subjective moral question. But the pertinent issue here is that it is being presented as heroic in the context of the narrative of these films. Ending the lives of villains in order to save the lives of others is part of the moral framework of this franchise. However, there are exceptions, and Spider-Man is the most obvious one. Not only does Spider-Man not kill his enemies (aside from some poor mindless Outriders in the Endgame finale), he is one of the only heroes to put his own life at risk to save them. (In the comics, “No one dies” was even his motto for a while.) But judging by the new trailer, No Way Home looks to take this a step further, one that may be a massive change for the MCU.
It’s Their Fate… or Is It?
In the new trailer, Doctor Strange says that the arrival of villains from across the multiverse is a result of the botched spell that was supposed to make the world forget that Peter is Spider-Man. He also learns from both Strange and Doctor Octopus (who appears to possibly be an ally?) that the villains were all supposed to perish in battle with their own Spider-Men from their home dimensions. According to Strange, they need to be sent back because they are “a danger to our universe.” This causes Peter to turn against Strange, clearly in an attempt to save their lives and come up with a new solution to fix the multiverse damage without sending all the villains to their supposedly inevitable deaths.
Going by the trailer, the central dramatic conflict of the film is Peter needing to put his own reality in danger in order to save the lives of people who would otherwise be his enemies. This isn’t just going out of his way not to kill his foes; Peter is actively putting himself and possibly his own world in jeopardy because he cares for the mortality of those who want to do him harm. It’s a profoundly Spider-Man problem to have, and shows him taking responsibility for the way he’s upended the natural order of the universe by asking Strange to erase the world’s knowledge of his secret identity, despite the fact that the only reason his identity was exposed in the first place was because Mysterio lied to the world and framed Peter for a murder he didn’t commit. However, it also stands in stark opposition to how most MCU heroes approach things.
In the previous MCU Spider-Man films, Peter established a throughline of caring for the lives of his enemies. He nearly got himself killed trying to save the Vulture in their final battle on the beach in Homecoming. And while Mysterio did “die” (or did he?) in Far From Home, it was a result of the villain making a mistake, not Peter intentionally causing his demise. By making the entire moral dilemma of No Way Home about saving the lives of the villains, Peter (and by extension, the film) is rejecting the previous moral framework the MCU has established, and meaningfully distinguishes what Spider-Man’s definition of heroism actually is in this universe.
While we don’t yet know how this idea will be followed through in the finished film, that it’s being presented as such a major part of the movie at all is a clear indication that Peter may have the power to change how the MCU operates. If he succeeds in No Way Home and continues to be one of the flagship characters of this franchise, who knows? Perhaps future MCU heroes will follow in his footsteps in the same way Peter once followed in those of the Avengers.
Carlos Morales writes novels, articles and Mass Effect essays. You can follow his fixations on Twitter.