So, Spider-Man: No Way Home, yeah? I, an insatiable fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, saw it last night. This may come as a shock to hear, I know, but it’s good—like, really good. And beyond just being a wonderfully inventive blockbuster with a lot of heart, it also features some of the most jaw-dropping credits stingers of the MCU.
Like every movie (and some TV shows) in MCU canon, Spider-Man: No Way Home features clips after the credits: one immediately after the stylized credit crawl, and one at the very end, after the soundtrack and copyright notices roll. If you were simply wondering whether or not it’s worth sticking around for the harsh glow of theater lights to kick back on, yes, it very much is. But for those who’ve already seen the film, here’s what its post-credits scenes mean for MCU’s future.
Massive spoilers for the movie Spider-Man: No Way Home, plus some milder ones for the video game Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, exist beyond here. You’ve been warned!
Since day one, Marvel’s primary M.O. has been all about getting viewers to watch every film in the canon, or else risk missing out on references and lacking full understanding of the MCU continuity. In light of Spider-Man: No Way Home, having a subscription to the Disney+ streaming service (or, uh, knowing a friend who can text their partner’s cousin’s roommate for a login) is all but mandatory for keeping up with this stuff. Going purely by the box office numbers, it’s a fair bet that many of you have already seen Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and both prior MCU Spider-Man films. But be honest: Have you kept up with the increasingly numerous TV series? No Way Home’s end credits footage incorporates the shows exclusive to Disney+ to a degree prior MCU films have not.
We see Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock sitting at a beachside bar, pounding drinks as any interdimensionally teleported journalist would. He’s chatting with the bartender about all the patently ridiculous events of the MCU’s past few years, questioning the believability of a rich man who flies around and invents stuff (Iron Man), a purple alien hellbent on eliminating half of all sentient life (Thanos), and a giant green guy who likes to punch things (Hulk). Brock stands up and announces his plans to go find “this Peter Parker” fella (Spider-Man) before getting teleported back to his own universe, a result of Doctor Strange’s multiverse-repairing spell apparently succeeding. After Brock disappears, the camera pans to a drop of black goo left on the bartop. Dun dun dun!
Obviously, this suggests Venom can technically exist in the MCU in some capacity. Less clear is in what capacity that might be, and whether or not Tom Hardy (who played Brock in the non-MCU Venom films) will reprise the character or if Marvel bigwigs will want a different actor for the role. Now that multiple timelines are part and parcel of the MCU—formally established via Loki, yes, but also now with a crossover from, ahem, a non-Disney corporate entity—the door is open for anything.
Required viewing as a result: Venom, Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Venom possibly existing in the MCU is a big deal. A bigger deal is the future of Doctor Strange, who’s next up at bat for a tentpole showing. Rather than a brief clip, as is usual for such end-credits stingers, No Way Home wraps with what amounts to a full-blown trailer for the forthcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, out next May. (Fun fact: That’s to be helmed by Sam Raimi, who directed the mid-2000s Spider-Man trilogy, leaving an indelible mark on our friendly neighborhood hero’s cultural iconography.) It’s a whole, whole lot. Let’s break it down:
- Doctor Strange meets up with Scarlet Witch, whose status and location was left pointedly vague following the finale of WandaVision. Turns out, she’s hanging out on a farm. Strange needs her help with magic spells involving branching timelines from the multiverse.
- During one fight scene, there’s a brief glimpse of a giant tentacle monster. To me, it bore a strong resemblance to the Dweller-in-Darkness—not the nightmarish dragon-inspired take on the villain from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings but rather the one you fight as an early-game boss in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (the video game). CNET suggests it could possibly be the sea monster Gargantos, an archival villain from the comics. I’m not totally sure I see it, but the glimpse in the stinger was too fleeting to say anything determinative one way or another.
- Mordo, the wizard-gone-bad from Doctor Strange, fights Strange in some sort of dimension-anomalous chamber. He’s got a lot of voiceovers. Still seems pissed about…whatever illogical thing he was pissed about in the 2016 movie.
- At the end, Strange Supreme, an alternative-timeline version of Doctor Strange, walks out of a portal. In other words, yeah, you’re gonna have to check out What If…, the Disney+ anthology series of alternate-timeline vignettes about MCU characters. (Short version for those who don’t wanna: That version of Strange is all-consumingly obsessed with resurrecting his wife, Christine, who died in that universe. The not-a-trailer shows snippets of Rachel McAdams, who played Christine in Doctor Strange, wearing a wedding dress.)
There’s one glaring lingering thread in all of this, which will likely be answered in Multiverse of Madness. At one point, Mordo, in a voiceover, chastises Strange for messing with the multiverse. In No Way Home, Strange did that whole “messing with the multiverse” thing on behalf of Spider-Man. And if you’ll recall, Strange specifically casts a spell that’ll make everyone, including himself, forget who Spider-Man is. So he’s just supposed to grapple with the fact that he tampered with the universe for…why, exactly? On whose behalf?
The way I see it, there aren’t 14,000,065 possible outcomes here but, rather, two. One: Strange just goes along with the notion that he shattered and un-shattered the multiverse for the heck of it. Two: He learns the truth, either reversing, weakening, or otherwise screwing with the illusion he created to collectively wipe Peter Parker from existence. (It sure seems like Tom Holland will reprise his role as Peter Parker for three more films.) Tom Holland isn’t billed for Multiverse of Madness, but No Way Home cemented that actors cast in significant roles can show up in an MCU film without showing up on its corresponding IMDb page.
Required viewing as a result: Doctor Strange, WandaVision, Loki, What If… episode four
Prior to Avengers: Endgame, the plot points of these films were so meticulously thought out. The MCU production apparatus, after all, is the same fastidious machine that in 2014 planned its storylines through 2028. Say what you will about their merits and themes, but the continuities of MCU films were by and large airtight.
Now that interdimensional space magic is irrevocably in the mix, all bets are off. Recent MCU productions have been rife with moments to scrutinize, with everything from Loki to Eternals showing plot holes under even moderate levels of pedantry. Mind, I don’t say this as a critique. The entire canon is still a blast, and we’re still talking about adaptations based on thousands of characters spread over decades of literature. These storylines are bound to get rocky.
This massive and unmistakable push into multiple timelines isn’t limited to just the films and TV shows. It’s also present in the blockbuster games. For instance, there’s one moment partway through Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (which is excellent, by the way) where Peter Quill and company travel through a pocket dimension with portals to incalculable alternate realities. As you pass by one, you can hear Hulk smash some stuff, followed by Captain America shouting something about this team called “the Avengers” assembling. Quill and company, for their part, tease the team’s name. It’s a neat moment that punctuates an otherwise tense sequence of events.
I’m not sure if the dialogue is from the widely panned 2020 Marvel’s Avengers video game or from the widely not-panned slate of films or just an Easter egg that was recorded in development explicitly for the purpose of making players go, “Hey, wait a second…” But that’s the thing: Once again, for the first time in a long, long while, it feels like anything is possible in the MCU. To hell with the formula. There’s no way back now.