Andrew Garfield Is the Unexpected MVP of 'Spider-Man: No Way Home'

The rumors were true.

andrew garfield spider-man
Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

This post contains spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home. For a spoiler-free review, go here.

Of all the recent Spider-Men, Andrew Garfield is certainly the awkward middle child version of Peter Parker. Tobey Maguire was the OG and Tom Holland is the young upstart connected to the biggest franchise of all time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That leaves Garfield stranded in the middle. His movies, directed by Marc Webb, were middlingly received, looked at as a stale attempt to do the exact same thing Sam Raimi had done a decade prior. (We even had to see Uncle Ben die again. Sorry, Martin Sheen.)

Garfield himself has not looked fondly on his time in the suit. Just this year, in promoting his Oscar-buzzy role in tick, tick…Boom! he bemoaned how capitalism ruined the experience for him. "Suddenly the focus is less on the soul of it and more on ensuring we make as much money as possible," he told The Guardian in an interview. "And I found that—find that—heartbreaking in all matters of the culture." At the same time he was talking about how being Spider-Man disappointed him, Garfield was dodging questions and denying rumors about whether he would be appearing in the latest Spider-Man movie, Spider-Man: No Way Home. Despite his protestations, Garfield is in No Way Home, reprising his role as Peter Parker, and, not only that, he actually steals the show away from Holland and Maguire who are also both there.

As everyone expected, the spell Doctor Strange uses to erase the knowledge that Peter Parker is Spider-Man not only brings in a bunch of villains from other universes (aka other Spider-Man movie franchises), it also brings in a bunch of Spider-Men. Holland's Peter goes on the lam after his attempt to rehabilitate the bad guys goes awry and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is caught in the crossfire and dies. Searching for Holland's Peter, his friends Ned (Jacob Batalon) and MJ (Zendaya)—using some of Strange's magic—try to portal their way to their pal. Instead, they find the other Peter Parkers: Garfield's and Maguire's.

andrew garfield, emma stone, spider-man
Sony Pictures

Garfield pops in first, his hair sky high, and his energy through the roof. Of all the Spider-Men on screen, he's the most kinetic and wired, propelling through the action with a buzzy eagerness that is utterly endearing. The script plays with the fact that his version of Peter Parker never really hit in the same way as the others. When Maguire and Holland talk about fighting aliens—in Maguire's case, Venom in Spider-Man 3 and in Holland's case, Thanos—Garfield quips about his battles with Paul Giamatti's Russian Rhino, an enemy who was so lame even he didn't make the cut in No Way Home's supervillain pandemonium.

And yet, at the same time, Garfield somehow manages to lend emotional weight to what would have otherwise been just a fun cameo. In the big final battle, he rescues Zendaya's MJ when she falls off the Statue of Liberty and Holland's Peter is pushed off course. Director Jon Watts stages the scene as an homage to the moment Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy plummets to her death in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Garfield exudes a palpable sorrow and relief when he catches her. It's a bit that should seem corny—and it is—but Garfield sells it.

Garfield's time as Spidey always felt slightly doomed. The Amazing Spider-Man debuted just five years after Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy starring Maguire ended, and the attempt to reboot the character as a young adult hero in the wake of the Twilight-slash-Hunger Games was labored to say the least. In a notorious email unearthed in the Sony hack, one MTV executive pitched producer Amy Pascal that Spidey should be into EDM and doing Tough Mudder competitions because that's apparently what the kids were into those days. Webb didn't exactly go in that direction, but Garfield's Peter does skateboard and wears a Thrasher t-shirt. Whatever Garfield was trying to do was muddled by his movies' lack of direction and a generally maudlin tone. The bright spots in the mess were the scenes where he and Stone, dating at the time, got to play off one another, and Garfield manages to funnel that into his big MJ bit in No Way Home.

It's not as if Garfield isn't the only former Spidey who executes himself well in No Way Home. It's a pleasure to see Maguire, who hasn't appeared in a feature since 2014's Pawn Sacrifice, back on the big screen. Still, Garfield had the most to lose if his return to Peter Parker had gone poorly. After his turn as Spidey came to a close, he shifted away from franchise material. He got an Oscar nomination for his work on Hacksaw Ridge and won a Tony for Angels in America on Broadway. This year, he's considered a frontrunner for an Oscar nomination for tick, tick…Boom! where plays Rent creator Jonathan Larson and sings in the process. Revisiting a gig that ended relatively poorly for him could have been a blight on his recent rise, instead it only strengthens his case. He's a bona fide movie star: he can act, he can sing, and he’s a heartthrob superhero again. It's all coming up Andrew.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.