There are plenty of plot holes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some of them are small in scale, like Thor destroying the Bifrost, Stephen Strange being a Project Insight target years before he became the Sorcerer Supreme, and the strong possibility that Sebastian Stan the actor exists in the same universe as Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan).
Other plot holes are substantially larger to the point that resolving them would change the storytelling makeup of the entire MCU. Thanos could have doubled the universe’s resources instead of halving the population, but that would have negated the entire Infinity Saga. Nick Fury had contact with Captain Marvel for decades and didn’t bring her in for any of the series’ variety of extinction-level threats. If he had, the Avengers would have been too mighty against Loki and Ultron, and we wouldn’t have made it to the third act. After the events on Iron Man 3, Tony Stark conveniently forgets the culmination of his own character arc and keeps making suits. Had he remained suitless, he wouldn’t have been present to save the universe in Avengers: Endgame.
With the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, we can add another huge plot hole to the MCU’s Swiss Cheese Hall of Fame: the fact that nearly every event in the movie didn’t have to happen. At all.
Spider-Man: No Way Home has a beautiful, poignant ending. Doctor Strange’s final spell wipes Peter Parker from everyone’s memories in a move that lets Peter sacrifice his own identity to preserve the structure of the multiverse. He starts his life over without his friends, who don’t remember him. His educational record no longer exists, and he’s lost the support that came with being Tony Stark’s hero protege. Peter’s ending is bittersweet, wholly earned, and it’s a potential spinoff goldmine for both Disney and Sony. So, it definitely had to happen from a storytelling standpoint. From a logical standpoint, it’s a mess.
For example, If the spell wiped Peter’s high school record, it probably also wiped his birth certificate, passport, and other identifying documents. He couldn’t open a bank account, apply for a credit card, or otherwise function as a documented citizen of Earth. And yet in the final scene of No Way Home, he’s managed to rent an apartment in midtown Manhattan. Even if we assume he’s renting from a slumlord, it doesn’t make sense.
The unintentional effects of the spell are another issue, since the point of the spell was to wipe Peter Parker from the memories of all who know him — regardless of their multiversal origins. If that spell works as it is spoken, then people who know the other two Peters Parker will forget them too. Thus all of them are doomed to the stateless fate that MCU Peter intended only for himself. Not great!
Those two plot holes stem from No Way Home‘s first and biggest lapse in logic, which occurs fairly early in the movie. Peter initially asks Doctor Strange to make people forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Then, he course-corrects to make sure the people he loves retain their memories. He didn’t have to do that. There was already a precise and alterable point in time that, if removed from Peter’s universe, would have solved all of his problems. He could have asked Doctor Strange to make everyone forget Mysterio.
One cannot go around un-spidering alternate universe men without facing consequences.
If a Strange spell to erase Mysterio worked the same way as the one he used to erase Peter, then no one would remember the bubble-headed villain or anything he ever said. No memory of Mysterio, no common public memory that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Bam, problem solved. It’s even a victimless erasure since Mysterio is already dead. If there’s anything that real-life identity theft has taught us, it’s that dead people aren’t using their social security numbers.
Admittedly, Peter’s overdeveloped sense of personal responsibility might have kept him from thinking clearly when he asked for the first spell. It’s entirely possible and plot compliant that he wouldn’t think of this solution. Doctor Strange, however, is an adult wizard/brain surgeon, who really ought to have known better. A standout line from the Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness trailer says that Strange’s “crimes against reality will not go unpunished.” Quite frankly they shouldn’t! One cannot go around un-spidering alternate universe men without facing consequences.
As huge as this multiverse-sized plothole is, there is a simple fix that would sew the No Way Home Mysterio plot hole up nice and tight and therefore eliminate the cascade of issues that come from it. Magic is nebulous enough that the MCU can make up whatever rules they want for it. So a throwaway line about this spell not working on dead people is all No Way Home needed. Without it, MCU Peter Parker’s new life as a butt-kicking identity criminal is an unnecessary and unforced choice instead of a noble and unique sacrifice. Thanks for nothing, Stephen.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is now in theaters.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opens in theaters May 6.