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Psych Geeks: Why 'Spider-Man: No Way Home' is the perfect bridge to the multiverse

MJ (Zendaya) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in "Spider-Man: No Way Home."
Matt Kennedy/Sony/Columbia Pictures
MJ (Zendaya) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in "Spider-Man: No Way Home."

There's a lot of fighting and web-slinging in the new film “Spiderman: No Way Home.” But there's also a lot of complicated psychology at play as Peter Parker confronts the multiverse – this big narrative swing from Marvel that opens the door for multiple versions of the same character from different universes.

So to unpack what we can learn from a different version of ourselves, we called up the WGLT Psych Geeks, also known as ISU psychology professors Scott Jordan and Eric Wesselmann.

The Psych Geeks saw the film late Thursday night and liked it.

“Just watching it, it was very similar to ‘Avengers: Endgame’ in terms of audience fan participation,” Wesselmann said. “In ‘Endgame,’ there were these moments of payoff, like when the Avengers assemble, and Cap grabs the hammer, and you hear the audience go, ‘Yeah!’ There were moments in our theater when several people applauded,” Wesselman said.

“I was one of them,” chimed in Jordan.

Comic book movies and TV shows are at their best when they’re about something deeper. “The Dark Knight” famously commented on the U.S. national security state after 9/11. “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” focused on race and what it means to be an American and who gets to be a hero.

The multiverse (or “multiple universe”) arc opens a big door for meaningful character study, the Psych Geeks said. It allows—potentially—characters to see or interact with other versions of themselves, as what happened in the 2018 animated film “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

“We’ve had differences between people,” Jordan said. “Now what we’re seeing is differences within ourselves. We’re seeing what it’s like to be a person who examines himself. We all do it. We might not just talk about it all the time. So this phase of the (Marvel Cinematic Universe) is going to be more about coming to be at peace with the differences in yourself, and the different aspects of yourself. Our culture often tells you, ‘You have to be integrated. You have to be a single person. You have to have identity continuity.’ No, you don’t. There’s a certain life to be lived accepting yourself in terms of the differences within who are you.”

There have been a lot of Spider-Man movies since 2002, when the Tobey Maguire series began. Audiences keep returning to Spider-Man again and again. Why?

Spider-Man was created in what’s known as the Silver Age of Comic Books, from 1956 to circa 1970. Preceding that was the Golden Age, when superheroes were two-dimensional, good-versus-evil characters. Think Superman.

Stan Lee and other Silver Age creators rebooted comics with more emotionally complex heroes like Spider-Man, said Wesselman.

“What’s more complex than an emotional teenager?” Jordan said. “By making Spider-Man basically the first adolescent superhero, you get to take all the self-doubt they tried to imbue in adult characters like Batman and put that into an adolescent … it’s one of the most identity-rich working times in our life.”

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

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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