On the 15th of December 2021, ‘Spider-Man No Way Home’, the third film in the latest series starring Tom Holland premiered in Indonesian theatres and ended the trilogy. The movie has earned over $1.05 billion since its release, making it one of the most grossing films during COVID-19.

Now entering 2022, this Spider-Man trilogy ends 20 years after another began, the Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man trilogy which first released in 2002 starring Tobey Maguire.

The two trilogies tell the same story of Peter Parker balancing his personal and superhero lives, yet are starkly different. Both trilogies were made on the opposite ends of 20 years, so we can see how the differences between them and their reception reflect how we as movie-goers have also changed.

The most noticeable differences between the two trilogies are the changing appeal of superheroes, as well as the role of female characters in their stories.

The Appeal of Superheroes

Spider-Man (2002) brought superhero movies to the mainstream of pop-culture. It was a pioneer, but had to adjust towards an audience with less interest in superheroes. Its popularity brought popularity to the superhero film industry, which today dominates theatres.

Twenty years later, the ‘Spider-Man Home Trilogy’ released when much more people were fans of superhero fiction and enjoyed wilder superhero stories. By comparison, Spider-Man (2002) deviates from its comic origins, but there is a reason behind this.

Firstly, superhero fiction has existed for a long time, since the 1930s in American comics. However, its appeal was more obscure back then due to their audience mostly targeting young boys. Superhero media is consumed by wider demographics today, it was ‘nerd culture’ in the past.

Secondly, comic stories rapidly change. Characters come and go, and the plot can change retroactively. This format made superheroes even less accessible to the public, especially in the past without internet. Today, comic media is more common, crossing into more diverse genres and being accessible online.

Hence, in 2002 superheroes were a niche genre within a niche medium even in America. So, film adaptations of superheroes to also be adjusted for wider audiences. They were translated into fantasy stories or even children’s adventures, and deviated further from comics.

Women in Superhero Movies

Movies also transformed to reflect realities in our world, including women playing larger roles in society and fiction. Today there are more superheroines or prominent women in comics and film. However, there was a time when women were relegated to damsels in distress in the superhero genre. Here Spider-Man (2002) differs greatly from ‘Spider-Man No Way Home’, as seen in their depictions of one character: MJ, Spider-Man’s love interest.

MJ is depicted by actresses Kirsten Dunst and Zendaya in the first and latest films, yet are wildly different iterations. Zendaya’s MJ is a unique case of Spider-Man’s love interest being a person of colour. However, the main difference is their agency to the movies’ story.

Kirsten Dunst’s MJ in the 2000s mainly served as a damsel in distress and the object of desire within a love-triangle. Dunst as MJ was reduced to being Spider-Man’s partner who gets kidnapped, and that he must constantly save at the climax of all 3 films. This makes sense, considering her movies premiered when superhero films were still finding their footing.

Zendaya’s MJ in the latest Spider-Man movies has more agency. She is not even Spider-Man’s love interest in her first film. Neither does MJ immediately fall in love with him after discovering his identity. Instead, Zendaya’s MJ develops over 3 movies from comedic relief, love interest, and even Spider-Man’s ally in the main conflict. MJ is depicted as more competent and contributive to the story.

While the characters in the Spider-Man mythos remain constant, the movie-goers have changed. The reception of superhero movies and their content have transformed to match how we perceive cinema and how we want it to reflect reality.

A Review of ‘No Way Home’ [SPOILERS]

‘Spider-Man No Way Home’ is great for fans who appreciate the previous films. The film impressively gathers actors like Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, Willem Dafoe, and Alfred Moline to reprise their roles as spider-men and villains in this big crossover, the MCU’s specialty.

No Way Home’s casting is fantastic and allows the film to use several classic Spider-Man icons. It is exciting to see Spider-man battle against Dr. Octopus, The Green Goblin and more in one film.

This movie functions best as a love-letter to previous spider-man movies, better than it does as a stand-alone story. It uses fanservice in a way that elevates the plot.

The movie is best when it recalls previous Spider-Man stories. We hear ‘Tobey Spider-man’ lives a happy married life and even see ‘Andrew Spider-man’ save MJ, since he could not save his lover in his own story. Hearing these two encourage Tom Holland to continue fighting is inspiring.

Though the story is compelling, the amount of fanservice is distracting and its conclusion is unsatisfying. Jokes in Marvel movies are common, but too much screen-time dedicated to ‘quipping’ and its timing was awkward. The same night Spider-man’s aunt dies, there are 15 minutes of three spider-men joking about their wacky adventures, which we hear again in the final battle.

The film’s biggest weakness is its ending. In an effort to ‘bring Spider-man back to basics’ the movie concludes with the world forgetting Peter Parker, including his girlfriend and best-friend, in a cosmic wish-away so he can be Spider-man full time. This is framed as a chance for Peter to start anew and ‘really be Spider-man’ without constraints or outside help.

This is redundant. Holland’s Spider-man has shown self-reliance as well as having great power with great responsibility in his two previous movies. It is repetitive, and an ‘origin story’ in the final movie that is too late.

3/7 [overall not good but with several good qualities], but 7/7 as a spider-man fan. I would recommend it to see the fun crossover Spider-man moments.