Like many people my age, I’ve grown up with Marvel movies. When Iron Man was released in May 2008, I had turned eight not three months earlier. As such, I’m barely conscious of a world without the MCU. I remember the final fight scene in Iron Man 2 playing on our living room TV when one of my uncles came over to watch it with us; where I was when I saw Thor: The Dark World, and crying my eyes out at Avengers: Endgame after having spent over half my life devoted to its characters and skipping out on study time for my freshman spring finals to see it again the next day. (I do not regret that choice.)
One thing that sticks out to me most about my years as a Marvel devotee is how skeptical I was about the introduction of a new Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. My love for Andrew Garfield’s iteration of the character is where I diverge from many Marvel viewers, who have long held up Tobey Maguire as the end-all, be-all of Spider-Man portrayals. Yes, contrary to current belief, some The Amazing Spider-Man (TASM) fans existed 10 long years before 2022.
At the age of 12, inspired by my love for TASM, I made a poster for my bedroom wall. It consisted of a large brown square of construction paper with two printed photos of Andrew Garfield glued on diagonally. I wrote his name in silver Sharpie down one side and taped it up, where it watched over my bottom bunk sleeping space until I switched rooms halfway through high school. My masterpiece may have curled up at the edges and ripped with time, but my love never did; so the decision to replace Andrew Garfield with a new Spider-Man less than two years after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was released did not sit right with me.
Tom Holland proved me wrong as soon as he came on the screen. I instantly enjoyed him as Peter Parker and looked forward to seeing what else he would do (despite Marvel’s irritating inability to write a teen character who doesn’t refer to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back as “that really old movie”). However, even as those around me were convinced they were terrible, the two TASM films never left their special place in my heart. I continue to go back to them again and again. Along with Captain America: The First Avenger (another least favorite of many diehard Marvel consumers, which I will never understand), The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel are definitely my most re-watched superhero films.
I had invested years in the Tom Holland Spider-Man films when rumors about which actors might be reprising their roles in Spider-Man: No Way Home took full flight. After a year of what felt, to me, like underwhelming Marvel content (Black Widow’s ending tarnished what I thought was mostly a great movie. I never truly disliked a Marvel movie until Eternals. I found Loki underwhelming, and I gave up on What If…), I worried for the December release. Would they be able to pull off the fans’ seemingly impossible vision and expectations? Would the movie feel like a cheap gimmick or turn out to be a complete disappointment even if they were able to get Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield back? There’s no way Andrew Garfield would come back, right? But he’d definitely be back, right? Right?
Having finished my final English essay, I walked into a packed theater with my family on December 17, 2021, with expectations that were somehow both sky-high and rock-bottom. I told myself and others that I would laugh if Andrew Garfield really wasn’t in the movie, as he’d been trying to tell people all along. Not too deep down— I still really wanted the multiverse to both happen and work.
The only seats left when we had bought our tickets were in the very front row. The seating was not ideal by any means, but this is a family that would do anything for Spider-Man. I could feel myself getting a headache before the movie even started, and the pain from the odd positioning of my neck was intense. Given the burgeoning rise of Omicron, I was a bit nervous about being in a movie theater, even fully vaccinated and masked as I was.
That fear slipped away as the movie began. It was weird, funny, and emotional. There were fabulous interactions between Peter (Tom Holland) and pretty much everyone. This included the usual characters, like his teachers (Martin Starr, JB Smoove, Hannibal Buress), MJ (Zendaya), Ned (Jacob Batalon), Flash (Tony Revolori), Aunt May (Marissa Tomei), and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), but also Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the villains of the other Peters’ universes— my personal favorite being Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock. There was a heightened amount of the zany high school stuff that I’ve come to love from these films, followed by the devastating and unexpected death of Aunt May. (I think that the film’s secretive multiverse marketing easily distracted from this death, which would have been a quickly leaked plot point otherwise. If that was on purpose, good on Marvel. I was certainly shocked.)
Then, a glimmer on the screen. A portal opened. I found my heart racing. The man in that Spider-Man costume wasn’t Tom Holland. That was someone else. Someone who talked Prada and ownership shares in The Social Network. Someone who inspired my musical theater soul in Tick, Tick…Boom! Someone who graced my bedroom wall on a ripping piece of construction paper. That someone was Andrew Garfield.
When he bounced into the frame, I screamed. My little sister and I simultaneously slid forward in the AMC recliners so far that they tipped forward, causing us to fall onto the ground. I thought I hadn’t let my hopes get up completely, but the sheer adrenaline of that moment made me realize just how disappointed I would have been if he hadn’t appeared— or if I’d known for certain before I saw the movie that he would.
Dreams really do come true once in a while because the movie just got better from there. I was thrilled to an unexpected degree when Tobey Maguire appeared in typical street clothing, and I joined in on the ecstatic cheers around me. Seeing Peters one, two, and three together blew my mind. Watching them all do science experiments, give each other advice, and support each other like brothers was a magical experience. Though I predicted that Andrew’s Peter would catch MJ when I saw her falling from the Statue of Liberty in the film’s trailer, I was knocked out by the emotional punch the scene packed and burst into tears.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is far from a perfect movie, but the parts that worked the most worked so well that I don’t see the point in drawing out the negatives. I didn’t want to expect too much, but I was so happy to see what could be accomplished by placing the three Peters Parker together, where they stayed for a third of the film! Whatever issues I may have with it do not compare to the fact that I haven’t been able to stop thinking, reading, or talking about No Way Home since I saw it six weeks ago.
I have to admit, I’m slightly irritated that many viewers are suddenly starting to appreciate Andrew Garfield’s performance as Spider-Man now, when he was great in the role, to begin with. In my perpetual 12-year-old eyes, he has always been worthy of acclaim! This brief bout of gatekeeping aside, though, I suppose it’s better late than never, and he certainly has earned every bit of praise he is finally receiving.
People like to say that movie theaters will soon die out— not if I can help it— but that’s hard to believe given the electric energy of the crowd in my theater and those around the world. This movie was something that people needed right now, and I feel lucky to have been healthy and well-prepared enough to experience it in its rightful glory. Call No Way Home fan service if you want to, but what’s the problem with that? I, a fan, have no doubt I’ll be turning to it again and again.