The MCU Spider-Man movies get a lot of things right. Romance is not one of them. Take for example the end of Spider-Man: No Way Home, in which Tom Holland’s Peter Parker says goodbye to MJ (Zendaya) before magic erases her memory of him. MJ stares into Peter’s battered face and says, “I love you.” Before Peter can respond in kind, MJ interrupts him. “Just wait,” she says behind tears. “Wait and tell me when you see me again.”
The strings in Michael Giacchino’s score begin to rise, and the two come together in a passionate kiss, their faces eclipsing the sun and bathing in the haze of a digital golden hour. The scene genuinely moves us, but only for a moment. Because then, the camera cuts away to Doctor Strange casting a spell and reaction shots from the various multiversal characters, taking the emphasis away from the kiss and putting it instead on Willem Dafoe and Jamie Foxx.
For viewers like me, it’s frustrating that Marvel Studios wouldn’t even give Peter and MJ this one moment. Holland and Zendaya have chemistry, and Kevin Feige and director Jon Watts built tension between the two in the previous films. This half-hearted bit of romance falls far too short of some of the most iconic moments in the original Spider-Man trilogy, in which Tobey Maguire’s Spidey and Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane smooched upside-down in the rain or snuggled in a giant web.
But even those iconic moments are topped by Holland and Maguire’s No Way Home co-star, Andrew Garfield. The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 may be the least loved of the three live-action Spider-Man adaptations, but they outdo the others in one regard: the undeniable chemistry between Garfield’s Peter Parker and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy.