Movies

The Casual Marvel Fan’s Guide to Spider-Man: No Way Home

The movie’s many, many cameos, its post-credits scenes, and more, explained.

Spider-Man in Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Sony Pictures.

This article contains spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home.

There are a lot of characters in this movie. Can you just run through all the villains and tell me who’s who?

OK! The short version is that No Way Home pulls in most (but not all) of the main antagonists from the previous two series of Spider-Man movies: the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) from 2002’s Spider-Man, Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) from 2004’s Spider-Man 2, Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) from 2007’s Spider-Man 3, the Lizard (Rhys Ifans) from 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, and Electro (Jamie Foxx) from 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

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Is anyone missing? What about James Franco? And why doesn’t this have any of Spider-Verse’s Spider-Men, -Women, and -Pigs?

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There are lots of people missing! Neither the original trilogy’s Harry Osborn, played by James Franco, or ASM’s version, played by Dane DeHaan, were roped in by Doctor Strange’s spell, and Topher Grace’s Eddie Brock/Venom stays out of the loop as well, presumably to leave the ground clear for the midcredits scene. There’s also a fleeting reference to a “Russian guy in a rhino suit,” i.e., Paul Giamatti’s character from ASM 2.

As for why they’re not in this movie, you know that Simpsons episode where they explain that if anything seems like it doesn’t make sense, “a wizard did it”? In this case, a wizard literally did it. Any rigid in-universe explanation for why the spell pulled in some characters but not others seems to fall apart under any scrutiny. After all, at least some of these other people, such as James Franco’s and Dane DeHaan’s takes on the Green Goblin, also figured out that Peter Parker was Spider-Man, and also died in those movies, and also have superpowers, and yet they don’t appear here.

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The most likely, least fun explanations are more practical. Some of these actors might have been difficult to schedule, or perhaps their inclusion (in the case of Franco) would have invited unwanted controversy, or perhaps juggling five villains in one movie is difficult enough. Other characters were also, frankly, animated and would be difficult to stitch into this live-action movie (even if it would definitely have been cool to see a Roger Rabbit–style crossing of the media streams). And in the case of Giamatti’s Rhino, perhaps his facial expressions were just more than this movie could handle.

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Most of No Way Home’s villains died in their movies, but the spell pulls them in from a time before that? But Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parkers have definitely aged. Why didn’t the spell grab them at the same time as the villains?

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This is another one of those things where you just have to accept that a wizard did it. There’s no in-universe rationale, but Marvel’s de-aging still looks weird, and anyway, part of the point is for the various Peters to represent different kinds of futures for Tom Holland’s character: Maguire’s, in which he eventually works things out with his version of MJ and settles down, and Garfield’s, in which he’s consumed with rage and guilt over Gwen Stacy’s death and never fully recovers.

Speaking of which, why does Tobey Maguire’s Peter say things are “complicated” with Mary Jane?

In the original trilogy, Peter wrestles with whether to tell Mary Jane whether he’s Spider-Man, and once he does, well, there’s no easy way to be married to a superhero. But it’s also a reference to the comic-book Peter’s relationship with MJ, which has been through a lot of changes over the decades: They’ve been married, split up, forced to forget each other by a demon, and she once died when her plane exploded midflight. It’s a lot.

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Is the Department of Damage Control a real department?

Not in our world, but in the Marvel comics, and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is. The department also made a minor appearance in Spider-Man: Homecoming and almost got its own TV show, but this is the first appearance of Arian Moayed, aka Stewy from Succession, as one of its agents. As the name suggests, its job is to sweep up the wreckage left behind by the superheroes—though as we see here, sometimes our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is nice enough to clean up his own messes.

What’s the deal with Peter’s lawyer?

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When Aunt May brings in a lawyer to advise Peter Parker on his alleged crimes, that lawyer happens to be Hell’s Kitchen’s very own Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), whom some may know better by a different name: Daredevil. We’ve seen this version of Daredevil before, albeit not on the big screen. Cox starred as the blind vigilante in Netflix’s Daredevil series, which ran for three seasons from 2015 to 2018. Since Marvel and Netflix have since ended their relationship, the fate of the streaming service’s Marvel universe has hung in the balance. But with Cox’s cameo here, it appears that the MCU is welcoming the Netflix heroes in with open arms—meaning we may just see more of the famous vigilante again one day.

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Why doesn’t Electro look as stupid as he did in The Amazing Spider-Man 2?

A great question! There’s a good joke about this in the movie, when the Lizard—who once worked with Jamie Foxx’s character, Max (aka Electro), back in Andrew Garfield Peter’s timeline—asks Max what’s up with his new look. He used to have buck teeth, glasses, a comb-over … but the conversation is interrupted before Max explains why he’s much hotter now. Maybe Tom Holland Peter’s universe is one where someone like Jamie Foxx is forbidden from being anything less than hot, and that’s why he gets to walk around in Timberlands and a cool puffy vest now. Or maybe Jamie Foxx refused to do the movie if he had to wear that awful wig again.

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What are Green Goblin’s powers again? He seemed to be holding his own against Spider-Man even without his gadgets.

Norman Osborn is not just an Iron Man or Batman type of superhuman, whose abilities come from his suit: The Green Goblin is an alternate personality born when Osborn experiments upon himself with a super soldier serum, which splits his personality into two halves. The Green Goblin side of him is ultra-strong and murderously power hungry. So while his infamous glider and bombs are all extremely dangerous accessories, Osborn can certainly hold his own even without them, which is why he’s always been one of Spider-Man’s most menacing foes.

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Is Ned a hero now? Or a sorcerer? Or can anyone do magic with those rings?

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After Peter subdues Doctor Strange in order to enact his plan of freeing all five captured villains and cure them, he walks away with a parting gift: Strange’s sling ring, which allows him to create dimensional portals to other locations or timelines. Peter decides to hand off this extremely powerful, special object to … his best friend, Ned, who’s best known as a kind of dopey but very loyal hacker. He asks Ned to use it in order to protect both himself and MJ while Peter goes off to another location with the villains. What’s cool is that it’s not like just anybody can go ahead and use the sling ring and make it work—so there’s gotta be something just magical enough within Ned that lets him tap into Strange’s unique mystical powers, as he’s able to conjure a handful of portals while the ring is in his possession.

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Chances seem slim that Ned will get a chance to play around with Strange’s sling ring again, but maybe he’ll get his own one day. (Or maybe, like his comic-book inspiration, he’ll turn into the Hobgoblin instead.)

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What’s up with Tobey Maguire’s back?

Of the many memes inspired by Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man movies, a few get little nods in No Way Home. Not only does the movie bring back Norman Osborn’s beloved “I’m something of a scientist myself” line from Spider-Man, but Tobey Maguire Peter is still feeling that back pain he’s had since Spider-Man 2. A frequently memed scene in that movie sees Peter, whose powers have disappeared due to a punishing existential crisis, trying to get his mojo back by … jumping off a building. He ends up falling onto a clothesline and swinging hard against a wall. His reaction: “My back … my back!” He then ambles away very slowly, in a hilariously long shot. After that, no wonder my dude’s back still hurts! No matter how powerful Spider-Man is by nature, not even he is able to escape the inevitable trip to the chiropractor.

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When did the Statue of Liberty turn gold, and what is she doing with Captain America’s shield?

J. Jonah Jameson mentions in passing, in one of his Alex Jones–like videos for the Daily Bugle, that the city has recently installed an ode to Captain America on its most famous landmark. Lady Liberty now bears the shield of the First Avenger, a fallen hero. We saw the world post-blip in Spider-Man: Far From Home, Eternals, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, but that detail is proof that the world continues to find new ways to remember that harrowing five-year period—and thank the Avengers for undoing the damage.

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That moment near the end when MJ falls off the Statue of Liberty and Andrew Garfield’s Spidey catches her seems like a pretty big deal. What’s going on there?

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As Garfield’s Peter explains, his life went off the rails when he failed to save his girlfriend Gwen Stacy’s life. As in the comic-book storyline “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” (spoilers!), he spun a web to catch her after she was knocked off a bell tower by one of Spider-Man’s enemies, but the web failed to prevent her from breaking her neck. No Way Home gives him a second chance, and this time he pulls it off.

Why does Peter have to sew a new Spidey suit for himself at the end?

After everyone who’s ever known Peter forgets about him, Peter has to start from scratch. That includes, apparently, rebuilding his life as Spider-Man, even if Spider-Man himself hasn’t been erased from memory. But he’s robbed of his high-tech Stark Industries suit as a result of everyone forgetting about him, just as he is robbed of his home and family. Without that fancy, nanotechnology-laden suit, Peter’s got to go back to basics and come up with his own—just like his multiverse compadres did when they were starting out.

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What was up with the midcredits sequence? And is that drop of black goo important?

That’s Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock, from Venom and Venom: Let There Be Carnage—the Spider-Verse franchise that Sony started up when it looked like they might lose the rights to the character of Spider-Man. Last seen getting zapped out of their own Peter Parker–less world in Carnage’s post-credits scene, Eddie and his symbiote pal wind up at a bar in Mexico. (In case you have trouble placing him when he’s not saying “Football is life,” the bartender is Ted Lasso’s Cristo Fernández.) Unfortunately, Hardy’s tenure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe proves to be short-lived: No sooner have Eddie and Venom gotten wind of Spider-Man’s existence than they’re magicked back to their own universe, where Hardy can bathe in lobster tanks to his heart’s content. But a little piece of the alien symbiote—that blob of goo on the bar—remains behind, which is enough to allow Venom, if not Eddie, entry into the MCU any time it needs it.

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What is the “Mirror Dimension”? And does that have anything to do with what looks like a Bizarro Doctor Strange in the trailer for Doctor Strange 2 at the end of the movie?

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The Mirror Dimension is effectively Doctor Strange’s own private sandbox, a place outside of our own reality where he can practice and train others and fight people on his own home turf. As Strange says, it’s where “I’m in control.”

As for that trailer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it’s hard to say for sure what’s going on there, but your idea of an Evil Doctor Strange probably isn’t far off. As some are already speculating, this could be the darker, more powerful, alternate-universe “Strange Supreme” version of the character that was introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Marvel’s TV series What If?, but that will have to be a subject for another Casual Marvel Fan’s Guide.

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