When it comes to movies like Spider-Man No Way Home, it’s a gamble. For starters, the filmmakers are making huge, huge promises to the audience that may or may not be fulfilled. Likewise, when such a film has such epic scope, you wonder whether the Powers-That-Be can pull it off in a satisfying way. However, I’m glad to say that director Jon Watts and co. have successfully achieved both.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is easily the best Spider-Man movie in years. It achieves the seemingly impossible. It delivers crowd-pleasing fan service while delivering a heartfelt and emotional story. But perhaps most importantly, Spider-Man: No Way Home feels like a Spider-Man movie for the ages.
His Spidey-Sense is Tingling
You know the set-up by now. No Way Home picks up immediately after Far From Home‘s mid-credits sequence. Peter has been outed as Spider-Man, which understandably makes life difficult. He can’t go to school without attracting crowds and the public still think he’s behind Mysterio’s death. By extension, Peter’s loved ones are affected – Peter’s controversial situation means that MJ and Ned’s college applications are rejected along with his.
The first half of the movie has the young Spider-Man attempt to right these wrongs. He does so by approaching Dr. Strange, leading to some great inter-hero banter. Tom Holland and Benedict Cumberbatch play off one another well as the naive kid-hero and the wise but cynical sorcerer supreme, making it hard not to chuckle throughout. However, if you’re worried Strange takes over the movie, don’t. Peter Parker takes center stage in this one, in the way MCU fans have wanted since day one.
No Way Home‘s Love of the Franchise
And center stage, he takes. Many have complained that MCU’s Peter Parker is too childish and dependent on others. He’s more Spider-Kid than Spider-Man, they say. It’s a fair criticism, but I predict doubters will be swayed by this latest adventure. No Way Home is truly the movie where Tom Holland’s Peter Parker learns what it means to be Spider-Man.
Without spoiling too much, Peter goes to hell and back in this movie. In fact, I’d go so far as to call Spider-Man: No Way Home Peter Parker’s darkest adventure yet. Luckily, Tom Holland’s acting is more than competent enough to do the story justice. This movie has the highest emotional stakes of the three MCU Spidey adventures – and when Tom Holland is in pain, you feel his pain. This may well be the best performance of Holland’s career so far and the film is worth watching for that fact alone.
But it’s not only Holland’s Peter who is done justice this time around. Zendaya thrives in her return as MJ, her acting chops highly evolved since Homecoming. The chemistry between Zendaya and Tom Holland has also evolved beautifully since Far From Home. While I never cared for their relationship in Far From Home, I really did this time around. We see a lot more of MJ’s compassionate side here, making it easier to connect to her character.
Speaking of connecting to characters, Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May has a lot more to do this time around. Armed with more screen-time, May acts as Peter’s moral conscience in a way not unlike Rosemary Harris’s iteration. But interestingly, she also helps Peter concoct ways to deal with the villains. When May is involved in her nephew’s Spider-Manning, it gives her so much more room to thrive. And Tomei owns her character’s compassion as well as she does her humor.
Doctor Octopus and the Sinister Five
However, what of the villains? Word on the street is that Marvel wanted to keep the baddies a secret. However, this is 2021 – the prominence of the camera phone, email exchanges, and an omniscient internet make this impossible. It got to the point where Alfred Molina – who plays Doc Ock – fully spilled the beans when he realized the secret was out. And sure enough, when the posters and trailer arrived, the villains were revealed in all their nostalgia-driven, CGI glory.
However, where the villains are concerned, Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe tower above the rest. Molina exudes the humanity that made Doc Ock so endearing in Spider-Man 2 and feels as though he came directly from said film. Meanwhile, Dafoe’s ability to be hammy, charismatic, and compelling as the Goblin remains unfettered. In fact, Dafoe shines greater in this film than in 2002’s Spider-Man – he spends most of the film without the Goblin mask. This allows him to fully express himself through his maniacal facial expressions (which make him look like a goblin anyway, let’s be real) and lend power to his twisted words. It’s good to have you back, Dafoe.
That said, it’s unfortunate that Molina and Dafoe are so good in their respective roles, they often overshadow the other villains. Rhys Ifans returns as the Lizard from Amazing Spider-Man, for example, but is seldom given much to do. Ifans himself previously admitted he was disappointed with his initial turn as the villain – featuring in another movie gave his character a chance for cinematic redemption. Alas, I can confirm this isn’t so and he ends up the least interesting of the villainous bunch, seemingly devoid of motivation and only present to service some CGI battles.
Likewise, whatever happened to the Sandman? Haden Thomas Church’s tragic villain is one of Spider-Man 3‘s biggest redeeming elements. And yet, Spider-Man: No Way Home turns SM3’s best villain into its own unmemorable background character. That said, in a movie chock-full of villains, there were always going to be some casualties during the script’s final draft edit – Church and Ifans were just that. Ah, you may ask – what of Jamie Foxx’s Electro? Well, he’s got a better look, a better arc, and better dialogue this time around. And Jamie Foxx really does well in the role. However, there’s lots of other stuff going on here that he ends up getting overshadowed.
The Marvel CGI Universe
As far as Spider-Man movies, go, this is the least fight-heavy. And yet, the fights that do ensure are a visual eyesore and creatively scripted. The Spidey vs. Dr. Strange fight teased in the trailer is as epic and otherworldly as you might expect, pitting the hero’s acrobatics against the sorcerer supreme – but also, his brain, which is often an undervalued side of Peter in these movies. Seeing him use his smarts to best his adversaries feels fresh in a movie franchise that sometimes downplays this aspect of the character.
The Spider-Man vs. Doc Ock fight, teased to infinity in marketing material, is also a fantastic dose of comic book fun. As the trailers show, Ock initially mistakes MCU Peter for the Raimi Peter. What ensues is one of the most enjoyable Spider-Man battles ever. Ock quickly learns this Spidey has unique tricks up his sleeve and it’s a joy to watch them duke it out. I’m sad to say that the final battle doesn’t live up to the enjoyability of this early clash.
But like Spidey, No Way Home has lots of tricks up its sleeve. The biggest trick it pulls off isn’t what you expect. It manages to give the audience fanservice that also services the story. Yes, there’s plenty of chilling callback dialogue. And yes, there’s the anticipated inter-villain banter and meta-jokes. And yes, composer Michael Giacchino utilizes musical cues from previous Spidey films to get our hearts beating. However, these elements are never cheaply thrown in as a money-grubbing afterthought. They serve Peter’s journey.
And for that, Jon Watts and co. deserve credit by the superhero load.
Verdict: Spider-Man: No Way Home is a beautiful tribute to the past two decades of Spidey cinema. And it successfully treads the hard line of fanservice and quality storytelling. Bolstered by some truly top-tier performances, this film will get your Spidey Senses tingling – and then some.