The following contains major spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Since its releases, the thing that most everybody is talking about regarding Spider-Man: No Way Home is the fact the movie actually did the thing that had been rumored from almost the beginning. To be fair, that was pretty cool. But the big plot twist moment that struck me while watching the movie was the way the film put a new, and much needed, spin on a classic element of Peter Parker’s origin story. It turns out, three solo films and an entire MCU franchise in, we actually just finished Peter Parker’s origin story.
When we first met the MCU’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, he’d already been bitten by the spider. Those elements that we’d already seen twice before -- and fairly recently -- on the big screen had already been dealt with. Marvel likely made this decision for exactly that reason; it was unclear how excited movie fans would be for yet another Spider-Man origin. However, while Peter Parker may have had the powers for years now, he only just learned the most important lesson about them.
With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility
About two-thirds of the way through the story of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Peter Parker has lost his faith. He tried to do the right thing, but things only got worse. He’s ready to just do what needs to be done to end it all, sacrificing the sinister five to their fate in their own universe, but Aunt May says no.
Even after being seriously injured, May tells Peter that he made the right choice by trying to help. Peter says it’s not his responsibility to try and help these people, but May assures him that it is. He has the power to help, and that means he also has the responsibility to use that power. This time around it’s not Uncle Ben, but Aunt May, who tells Peter that with great power, comes great responsibility.
This moment ends up being key to the plot of No Way Home. It’s not just that it checks the box in the Spider-Man origin, but it comes up when he meets the other Spider-Mans. He received the message from a different place than the others, but it’s something they all know and understand, and it’s the thing that truly unites them to work together.
Uncle Ben Was Simply Never Important To The MCU
When we first meet Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War he tells Tony Stark in an offhand way that he’s trying to be a hero because he believes that if you have the powers that he has, but you don’t try and help, then you’re the reason bad things happen. This is seemingly meant to be our “great power” moment for this version of Spider-Man, and we all likely assume, because we’ve seen the origin story before, that this lesson was something he learned from his Uncle Ben.
The thing is, we don’t really know anything about Ben Parker in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The character is referenced, but more as an Easter egg than anything else. Peter never talks about how Ben Parker died or what that event meant to him and it’s not even clear the two were particularly close. We don’t actually know what happened to Ben Parker in the MCU.
For the entirety of Spider-Man’s MCU run this could be seen as a flaw. Ben Parker and his death has always been the key to making Peter Parker the sort of Spider-Man that he is, but Spider-Man: No Way Home turned the bug into a feature. The reason that Ben Parker, even in death, hasn’t been a major presence in the MCU is that he’s not the one that gave Peter those words of wisdom that he holds so dear.
The Moment Is Stronger Coming From Aunt May
Even in the comic books, Ben Parker is a character we don’t know well. His only real purpose is to die in order to motivate the hero, but Aunt May as a character is somebody who really knows and understands Peter Parker. Not only is May the one who raises Peter, we see her doing it.
I’m not going to pretend that the MCU’s Aunt May has been at his side teaching him these lessons from the beginning. Marissa Tomei’s role in the franchise has been minor in previous films and often used for comedic relief. We see her doing far more in No Way Home specifically because the movie wants to build to this moment. Yer Aunt May has been a constant in her nephew's life and has cared for Peter through his Marvel run, the words mean more because she’s the one who says them.
Aunt May’s death ultimately serves the same purpose that Ben Parker’s usually does, but she’s had value to Peter, and to the story prior to that. Her death is not all she is, and that makes the moment of her death hit harder too. And in the decades of Spider-Man stories, it’s nice to see Aunt May, this character that everybody knows and everybody loves, get this important moment in Spider-Man’s story this one time.
Spider-Man: No Way Home May Be Peter Parker’s True Origin Story
I don't mean to imply this was the plan all along. I don't think anybody had been waiting for three whole movies to kill off Aunt May and create this moment. It's far more likely that as the story progressed, it made sense for it to go in this direction, and because nobody had said these iconic words previously, they had the chance to do it here. It works remarkably well.
For better or worse, Spider-Man No Way Home sort of wipes the slate clear for Spider-Man. He has no friends, he has no home. His only family is dead. Literally nobody knows who he is.
It’s one hell of a place for this trilogy of movies to end. We’re not even back at the beginning, we’re before the beginning. From here, Spider-Man can really go anywhere and do anything. And the one person who has all the knowledge of the past, who knows what really happened, is Peter himself. He can take these new lessons that he learned and be a better Spider-Man because of them. This is where Spider-Man’s journey truly begins. It is his origin story.
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