We will be talking about significant spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home. The movie has only been out two weeks, so we're going to keep trying to hide the spoilers the best we can. If you haven't seen the movie yet, consider this your spoiler warning not to go beyond the following image.
COVID-19 and the various delays it caused threw a lot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe into chaos. They were just about to really lean into an even more connected universe with television shows where the things that happen in the shows will impact some aspects of the movies and vice-versa. That means that the order that these shows and movies are released is becoming more and more critical to the larger story that Marvel is telling in phase 4 and beyond. One of the ways that the delays really kneecapped productions was the order in which the movies were getting released. Initially, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was supposed to come out before Spider-Man: No Way Home, which would have changed Strange's intentions of the spell and how many risks he was taking dramatically. In an interview with screenwriters Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna on Variety, they spoke about how changing that order forced them to change their script drastically.
"We were actually working off of things that were happening in 'Doctor Strange 2,' and trying to incorporate them into our script," McKenna says. "When we started writing, [Strange] knows firsthand the dangers of screwing with these things. Then we changed it so he was a person who doesn't know that much about the multiverse. But that makes it even more frightening, to start fooling around with these things, because it's the fear of the unknown. Either way, he was the voice of reason going, 'You don't mess with the fate of an individual' — and Peter Parker being naive enough to go, 'Why not? Why can't we save these people?'"
From a storytelling point of view, this actually makes better sense in terms of Strange's intentions in Spider-Man: No Way Home. If he did this spell after knowing the consequences, it turns him into a person with a massive ego and a god complex that could veer into unlikable very easily. With this order, the story becomes that Strange is just trying to help a kid that is getting screwed. It makes his intentions, misguided as they are, much nobler. Now he's going into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness still responsible, but not because of ego, but because of compassion.
Summary: For the first time in the cinematic history of Spider-Man, our friendly neighborhood hero is unmasked and no longer able to separate his normal life from the high-stakes of being a Super Hero. When he asks for help from Doctor Strange, the stakes become even more dangerous, forcing him to discover what it truly means to be Spider-Man.
Spider-Man: No Way Home, directed by Jon Watts, stars Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau with Marisa Tomei. It was released on December 17, 2021.