No Way Home: The Power of Nostalgia
By now, you’ve probably heard of the extremely positive reception to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest big screen entry, Spider-Man: No Way Home. With a worldwide gross of over 1.7 billion USD and counting, the web-slinging superhero has crawled his way up to headlining the 6th highest grossing film of all time.
While the film was solid and undoubtedly had its cinematographic merits, one of its major selling points was the return of various actors and the reprisal of their roles from older Spider-Man films. In short, the filmmakers played to audiences’ sense of nostalgia. But what does “nostalgia” really mean, and how did it contribute to No Way Home’s critical and commercial success? Let’s take a look.
Disclaimer: there will be MASSIVE spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home from here on out, so if you haven't watched it, I strongly suggest that you do so first before returning to this tab. If not, let's get started.
What is “nostalgia”?
“[The] sentimental longing [for] or regretful memory of a period of the past, [especially] one in an individual's own lifetime; (also) sentimental imagining or evocation of a period of the past”. Capable of blinding people to flaws in a product, nostalgia is more than just a powerful marketing technique. It can also behave as a comfort mechanism in times of crisis or distress, providing people with a sense of stability supplemented by memories of a time long since past.
This is extremely important and a big part of why No Way Home was so well received. In these trying times caused by the pandemic, people all over the world wanted something familiar to grab on to. This film ticked all the right boxes in those aspects, flooding audiences with waves of nostalgia and reminding us of better times.
Beyond making you feel warm and fuzzy inside though, nostalgia serves a deeper purpose. It appeals to two aspects of the human psyche, both of which will help you emerge with a newfound perspective on life. The first aspect is:
Most of you are probably in your early to mid-20s, meaning that, much like myself, the Spider-Man you grew up with was portrayed by Tobey Maguire. I recall sitting enraptured as I watched my childhood hero face off against villains like Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus and Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman.
2007’s Spider-Man 3 was the last time we saw Maguire in the red-and-blue spandex. Even after 2 reboots, people still looked back fondly on their memories from a simpler time. So when it was revealed that Dafoe, Molina and Church would be reprising their villainous roles in No Way Home, fans got mighty excited. After more than a decade, we would finally be seeing these beloved characters again.
Just two words and fans lost their minds.
Even then, fans wanted more. They wanted to see the return of the OG wallcrawler himself, and when the film finally released, theaters all over the world erupted in applause when Maguire reappeared and donned the suit once again. This time, he appears as the Spider-Man that has gotten his happy ending, an older version of the character who’s all grown up.
Even though he’s past his prime, Maguire still believes that there’s a better future out there and he’ll keep “trying to do better”. Seeing Maguire having such hope and optimism for what’s to come inspires us to reflect on the challenges we have faced and will face in life. Our sense of nostalgia boosts our self-esteem and makes us want to believe in our hero. If he can rise above adversity and still press on, so can we.
Our stories are far from over and Maguire’s Spider-Man gives us hope for a better future.
While nostalgia can illuminate a path forward for us, a more immediate function is letting us look back on events from our past and allowing us to gain:
2012 brought with it the release of The Amazing Spider-Man, a reboot with Andrew Garfield as the titular superhero that ground to a halt two years later. As much as we try to forget, the sickening snap of Gwen Stacy’s neck in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has etched itself into our minds, and similarly, Garfield’s Spider-Man would never really move on from this tragedy.
Unfortunately, unlike Maguire, Garfield’s Spider-Man never got to see his story come full circle and have his happy ending, with his series abruptly cancelled after poor reception to the sequel. Thankfully, that all changed with No Way Home.
No problem Garfield.
In the film’s climax, MJ falls from the Statue of Liberty, and when Tom Holland’s Spider-Man gets intercepted by the Goblin while attempting to rescue her, all seems lost. But in a moment that can only be described as pure catharsis, Garfield manages to save MJ from plummeting to certain death, only to break down in tears afterwards. Despite losing his way after his greatest failure, Garfield’s Spider-Man found the closure he needed by saving MJ, a person who is to his younger counterpart what Gwen was to him.
Just like with Garfield, there are many things in our lives that we need closure for. Maybe you had an argument with a friend that never got resolved, or perhaps you never understood why you went through a certain breakup. Our sense of nostalgia gives us a chance to look back and realise that sometimes, we need to acknowledge when something has run its course. We reminisce on these events and when we’re ready, we move on, having closed the door on that part of our lives.
Much like with Garfield’s version of Spider-Man, nostalgia can provide us with much-needed closure.
Just like this film’s title, we know there’s “No Way” for us to turn back the clock. For better or worse, we can only propel ourselves forward to a brighter future. Time marches on, and just like our webbed warriors above, we’ll look back at the stories we've created through the lens of nostalgia. How will your story look like? That’s for you to decide.
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