Spider-Man: No Way Home opens in Cineworld cinemas on 15th December, and is set to continue the journey of Tom Holland's high-flying Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
In anticipation of this massive movie event, we wanted to recap the journey of Tom Holland's Spider-Man so far.
1. Peter Parker is recruited by Tony Stark to join Team Iron Man
It all began with a derisory reference to Peter being 'Spider-Boy'. Who would have thought that a long-lasting master/pupil relationship would arise from the mismatched duo of smart-alec billionaire Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and aspiring Avenger Peter Parker? In 2016's Captain America: Civil War, Tony has split from Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) owing to a disagreement over the Sokovia Accords, which seek to hold the Avengers accountable for their actions.
Knowing that a battle is coming, Tony seeks to draw more people to his cause – and this involves a visit to an unassuming young kid in Manhattan. Holland's naive innocence and energy immediately struck a chord with audiences, as he name-checks an apparently obscure movie named The Empire Strikes Back during the conflict between Team Iron Man and Team Cap. Interestingly, we begin with Peter having already absorbed his Spidey powers – neither Civil War nor the ensuing Spider-Man: Homecoming feels the need to crowbar in an awkward expository flashback. After all, we had the origin story in both the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield movies. The MCU iteration of Spidey pleasingly gets on with it and drops the web-slinger into the heart of the action very swiftly.
2. Peter falls head over heels for Liz
Let's jump forward to Spider-Man: Homecoming, the first movie where Holland shouldered the weight of the Spider-Man franchise. Director Jon Watts intentionally styled the film as a John Hughes-style high school comedy with superheroes in it, and this becomes evident during the amusing scenes between Peter and his best friend Ned (the scene-stealing Jacob Batalon). Most importantly, the high school scenes help establish Peter's crush on Liz (Laura Harrier), which becomes important to the progression of the story. It also allows Zendaya's sarcastic MJ to remain subtly in the background, even though we know that her and Peter's relationship will eventually become significant.
3. Peter learns about power and responsibility from Tony
Spider-Man: Homecoming also developed the character of Iron Man in emotionally substantive ways. Given Tony is the proto-father figure to Peter Parker, he must also wise up and learn how to play the game. After all, he got Peter involved in the Avengers in the first place, and he feels personally responsible for his safety. Hence why, at the beginning of Homecoming, Tony attempts to dissuade Peter from engaging in any world-saving; rather, he wants him to go back to school while acting as the signature friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man on the side.
It's a fascinating turnaround from the somewhat selfish and impulsive Tony as seen in the early Iron Man movies. One can sense how Downey Jr. has matured along with the role, particularly when Tony steps out of his Iron Man suit to scold Peter for his involvement in the New York ferry attack. It's a fine piece of acting from both Downey Jr. and Holland as Peter learns that a superhero is not defined by his or her suit; Stark, meanwhile, finally begins to grapple with the legacy of his own late father, a relationship that was deeply troubled (and which pays off in 2019's Avengers: Endgame).
4. Spider-Man defeats Vulture
It has to be one of the best hero/villain twists in the MCU: Peter realising that his prom date's father is the deadly Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) aka The Vulture. Keaton's blue-collar villain is a refreshing change of pace for the franchise: no rampaging ego-maniac or planet-destroying demi-god, Toomes is instead a man trying to do right by his family. It's the means by which he gets there that make him a bad guy.
Toomes is able to profit from the wreckage of the Chitauri attack on New York that ensued in Avengers Assemble (2012), and he subsequently develops his own tech. He wants to level the playing field with apparent capitalist exploiter Tony Stark – only for Peter to get in the way. The moment where Toomes realises Peter is Spider-Man is one of the most understated yet chilling in the MCU, and Keaton again gets to exert that barely contained menace evinced in the likes of Pacific Heights (1990). The moment where the traffic light shifts from red to green, signalling Toomes' realisation, is as quietly impactful as the inevitable climactic battle is noisy and explosion-led. Nevertheless, it's the first substantial collar made by Holland's Spider-Man, and leads to Toomes being incarcerated. It's also the catalyst for Tony Stark finally accepting Peter as an Avenger.
5. Spider-Man meets Doctor Strange and helps fight Thanos
Avengers: Infinity War (2018) was the apocalyptic first chapter in the two-part 'Infinity Saga'. The stakes were raised, and then some, as the Avengers realised they had to grapple with the 'Mad Titan' known as Thanos (a chillingly brilliant Josh Brolin), a lunatic in search of all six Infinity Stones, with which he could obliterate 50% of all life in the universe.
Quite apart from the film's grippingly urgent tone (further emphasised by the bleak ending that left everyone awestruck), there's plenty to enjoy in the disparate Avengers members getting back together. Infinity War gathers its huge ensemble cast together in various clusters, the only way to realise the gargantuan, universe-spanning nature of the conflict against Thanos. One of the most entertaining strands is Peter Parker falling in with his old mentor Tony Stark and the rogueish Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), with whom Stark immediately butts heads. However, Peter's most important and lasting relationship forged in the fires of this particular conflict was with Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), which sets up the connection in Spider-Man: No Way Home.
6. Spider-Man dies
Now, this was a shocking first in any of the live-action Spider-Man movies. The climax of Avengers: Infinity War was remarkably audacious, allowing the bad guy to win and leaving us with a windswept air of total desolation. The moment where Spidey, terrified, crumbles into dust in front of Tony's eyes reinforces the sense that Peter, at this stage, is still a young kid and in way over his head. Tom Holland's improvised line, "Mr Stark, I don't feel so good", demonstrates how brilliantly in tune he is with Spider-Man's essential vulnerability and fallibility, qualities that have helped the character to endure across decades.
By allowing Spider-Man (and others) to die in front of us, directors the Russo brothers immediately escalate the sense of threat, and make us anticipate what is coming in the next chapter. We see these archetypal Marvel heroes not as costumed icons but as human beings, characters with everything to lose – and subsequently everything to gain.
7. Peter loses his mentor Tony Stark
The climax of Avengers: Endgame (2019) was wrenching on so many levels. With multiple characters and storylines rippling across a vast tapestry, we need to shrink it down to that heartbreaking moment where a restored Spider-Man must tragically say goodbye to his substitute father figure. The notion of fathers and sons is evident throughout Endgame, as the 1970s-set scene between Tony Stark and his father Howard (John Slattery) demonstrates. But it finds its most explicit outlet when Peter comforts a dying Tony, the latter having made the ultimate sacrifice to defeat Thanos.
Peter is not just saying goodbye to the man who made him his various suits, but the man who instilled in him the essential qualities of being an Avenger. Holland's Spider-Man, like his predecessors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, is informed as much by his losses as he is by his triumphs; it's this relatable human quality that's key to the success of the Spider-Man character, as he rises above the sense of grief to become stronger in the long-term.
8. Spider-Man is betrayed by Quentin Beck/Mysterio
What were we saying about Holland's Spider-Man being informed by his tragic experiences? In Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019), Peter Parker discovers that apparently close allegiances can turn on a dime to shocking effect. While on school vacation in Europe, Peter becomes embroiled in a battle against beings named the Elementals, teaming up with the armoured Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the process. Ah, but it's all a ruse: Mysterio's real name is Quentin Beck, and he's a former employee of the deceased Tony Stark.
The 'Elementals' are in fact projections combined with drone strikes, designed to make the public believe that Mysterio is in a battle to protect the human race, when in fact he's venal and utterly ruthless, out to discredit the name of his former employer. The only thing Beck needs to complete his plan is 'EDITH', a set of glasses designed by Tony that acts as an A.I., capable of accessing all-powerful weaponry. And EDITH has been entrusted to... Peter Parker. When the latter hands the glasses over to the man whom he considers his ally, it twists a magnanimous act into an escalating story of betrayal, and in the process helps inform Peter about the importance of trust.
9. Peter asks MJ out on a date
Amidst Far From Home's world-saving shenanigans, it's important we locate a tender, human sense of intimacy. This arises in the sweet sequence where Peter finally, finally plucks up the courage to ask MJ to go on a date with him. The fact it occurs in picture-perfect Prague doesn't hurt – their nighttime stroll showcases the sort of delicate chemistry that helps remind Peter of who he is behind the Spider-Man mask. And yet, deep down we know that MJ becoming Peter's other half is naturally fraught with a sense of danger – she can be potentially be used by any villains to get to Peter.
This doesn't exactly happen in Far From Home – but what about the events of No Way Home? In the trailer, we see MJ falling from a structure, a sequence that appears to mirror the death of Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) in the Andrew Garfield movie The Amazing Spider-Man 2. We're wondering a) if MJ will survive that particular scene and b) if it portends the arrival of Garfield's Spider-Man to save the day and atone for his past tragedies.
10. Peter's identity is leaked to the wider world
Quentin Beck really is one of the most repulsive and cowardly villains to have appeared in any comic book movie, and Jake Gyllenhaal embodies the character's calculating spinelessness to the hilt. Just when we thought that the theft of EDITH and threatening the world wasn't bad enough, he then initiates the most appalling act of revenge against Peter. During the climactic Tower Bridge fight in London, Peter successfully rumbles the last of Beck's eerily convincing illusions, another important step on his growth to becoming a more perceptive and successful Avenger.
Beck then dies – but he has a diabolical insurance policy up his sleeve. Upon his return to New York, Peter discovers that Beck has outed Spider-Man's real identity to Manhattan tabloid rag The Daily Bugle, embodied by a returning J.K. Simmons as loudmouthed editor J. Jonah Jameson. Cue the outrage in Times Square as Peter has to get himself and MJ to safety. This sets up the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home as a discredited and ostracised Peter looks to reverse the consequences of Beck's actions with the help of Doctor Strange. However, Peter's desire to restore the order of things opens up the multiverse – and with it a host of villains who were long considered dead.
Where will Peter Parker's journey take him next? And how will the multiverse shape the future of the MCU? Click here to book your tickets for Spider-Man: No Way Home and discover the answers on 15th December.