Breaking Down That Heartbreaking Spider-Man: No Way Home Moment (Yes, That One)

Warning: major spoilers ahead for "Spider-Man: No Way Home."

"Spider-Man: No Way Home" is a movie that made me cry several times. It's also a movie that, at its core, all about the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Peter Parker growing up and realizing what it truly means to be a hero. Throughout the film, we see Peter struggling to deal with the reality of his situation and the concept of accountability because he believes he can fix everything without any true repercussions ... until the tragic death of Aunt May.

The Death of Aunt May

The way the scene itself plays out is particularly brutal because, for a moment, it seems that Aunt May will be alright. Somehow, even after being knocked on her ass by the Green Goblin's glider, and then immediately being in the vicinity of one of the Green Goblin's explosives, she's still able to stand up. She even verbally reassures Peter that she's alright, and delivers the famous "With great power there must also come great responsibility" line. 

It really seems like they'll both be able to walk away from this destruction relatively unscathed. Once again, Peter is in a world of trouble, but he suffers no major loss ... until Aunt May collapses, the severity of her wounds is discovered, and she dies. It's a cruel trick, but an effective one.

What Does It Mean?

While Aunt May's death definitely made my tear ducts work overtime, it was necessary and even expected to some extent. In delivering her own variation of the "With great power, comes great responsibility" line, Aunt May's fate was sealed. In past (non-MCU) Spider-Man movies, it is Uncle Ben who imparts this wisdom upon Peter, to die a short time after. His death serves to greater amplify the impact of the words, making Uncle Ben a sort of posthumous moral compass. 

Since Uncle Ben isn't present in the MCU's Spider-Man movies, it makes sense for Aunt May to take up the mantle and become the guiding light in shaping Peter Parker as Spider-Man. Her influence on Peter's moral and ethical decisions is already on full display in "Spider-Man: No Way Home" even before her death, so her loss ultimately serves to strengthen his resolve to do the right thing and take responsibility for the protecting the lives of those around him.

In the grand scheme of things, Peter hadn't truly lost anything meaningful until May's heroic demise. Sure, there's the loss of anonymity that he suffers at the start of the film, but MJ, Ned, and Aunt May are all still with him despite his newfound celebrity (and infamy). The charges against him for his role in the death of Mysterio are dropped, so there's no loss of freedom. He even manages to smooth things over with MIT so that he and his friends will still be able to move forward with their plans of being together at their dream school. We see him trying to play the role of a hero without having to truly sacrifice anything. It's not until Aunt May dies that he finally suffers a major loss that shapes him in the same way that the losses his counterparts suffered in their respective universes.

In dealing with the loss of Aunt May, Peter learns what it really means to live with the consequences of his actions beyond a point of return. He can't bring her back, but he can finish what they started and make sure that her death wasn't in vain. In doing so, he eventually makes a sacrifice in an act of selflessness that mirrors May's own. May didn't back down from doing the right thing and protecting Peter in the face of superpowered multiverse villains, even though she paid the price for her heroism with her own life. Similarly, Peter doesn't back down from saving the universe by asking Dr. Strange to perform the forgetting spell again, even though it means he will be forgotten by everyone, including those he loves and values most. While it doesn't literally kill him, he understands that he will lose the life he's known and tried so hard to hold together throughout the film. 

No longer weighed down by self-serving desires, he finally realizes that this time, there is no magic, no smooth talking, no luck that can save him from having to live with what it really means to be Spider-Man. A hero.

"Spider-Man: No Way Home" is in theaters now.