This will be a full spoiler review for Spider-Man: No Way Home!!
After nearly 20 years of live action Spider-Man movies which spanned three lead actors, seven standalone movies, and 10 villains, they all converged this year with Spider-Man: No Way Home. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield are back, reprising their versions of the role of Spider-Man/Peter Parker and they’re here to help Tom Holland take on five different villains. But unlike previous Spider-Man movies where too many villains made the plot overstuffed and convoluted (see: Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2), director Jon Watts manages to balance three Spider-Men and five villains.
It’s not a perfect movie — it falls victim to the same problems that literally every other movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe runs into — but for a movie this full of fan service and callbacks, the nostalgia is naturally incorporated. It’s jarring to see Garfield and Maguire pop up in here and have them look and act (at times) so… bland. Criticize parts of their movies all you want (some of them really deserve it), but you can never say they looked bad. Marc Webb, for all of his story problems, knew how to shoot Spider-Man beautifully and excitingly in The Amazing Spiderman films, and Sam Raimi brought so much visual flair to his trilogy. But in No Way Home, while Watts perfectly balanced the story and plot structure, it’s about a visually boring as any movie you’ll ever see featuring this character.
This film picks up immediately where its predecessor, Spider-Man: Far From Home, left off. Peter Parker’s (Holland’s version) identity has been revealed to the world and he’s on the run from the law and the court of public opinion. This happens at the worst possible time because he and his friends Ned (Jacob Batalon) and MJ (Zendaya) are trying to get into college. But with the added publicity and legal problems surrounding Peter, colleges are reticent to bring in such trouble and scrutiny. Not wanting to be the reason his friends’ lives take a massive left turn (and Peter’s selflessness is a big theme in the film), Peter goes to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to have him cast a spell that will cause the world to forget he’s Spider-Man. The spell goes wrong, the multiverse is opened, and all of a sudden there are previous Spider-Man foes and other Spider-Men themselves coming through portals.
Yes, this is very convoluted and not quite straightforward. There’s a whole lot of suspension of disbelief that goes into this, which is fine in a superhero movie, but you’ll come out with no less than 10,000 questions about the mechanics of what you’ve just seen. If the emotions and the themes hit perfectly, these questions wouldn’t be as notable (I’m willing to forgive some things in Christopher Nolan movies, for example), but this MCU-ified Spider-Man doesn’t quite allow everything to land. When there are potentially emotional moments like Garfield’s Spidey saving MJ the way he was unable to save Gwen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, or Maguire, Garfield, and Holland sharing a meaningful hug after the final battle, they’re undercut either by unnecessary humor or the filmmaking not giving the scene a moment to breathe and live in the emotion. If you’re willing to exchange full catharsis for the thrill of seeing past heroes, this movie will probably do well for you. But if you’re not, like me, then you might come out feeling a bit frustrated.
Even though I was frustrated, there’s still a lot that No Way Home does right. Whereas other recent legacy movies like Avengers: Endgame or Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker don’t find a genuine emotional center, No Way Home does. This is Holland’s movie even with all of the extra fluff. Cherry and The Devil All the Time showed that Holland is actually a very good actor, but he’s not been given a chance to display it as the web-head until now. The previous two installments in his series of Spidey flicks were very much John Hughes-inspired high school comedies (and it works especially well in Far From Home), but this one is a serious drama with a hefty dose of comedic elements, giving Holland a chance to show off his range. The midpoint sees the death of Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) at the hands of the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), and Peter begins a descent into rage and hatred. It’s not something I expected, but it works superbly well, again, thanks to Holland’s ability to sell it.
At the heart of the film are the two ideas of personal sacrifice and second chances. Once the previous villains arrive from their other dimensions, Peter doesn’t just fight them; he attempts to rehabilitate them because May taught him that people deserve second chances. (She also tells him that with great power comes great responsibility, which Peter himself already said in Civil War, so it’s a bit annoying to have it as a thematic focal point here.) All of these villains were reluctant villains. They became “bad” out of necessity in their respective movies. Peter understands that people have the capacity for change and redemption, and he taps into that with the villains, all of whom see the error of their ways by the end. And then because of some Doctor Strange magic mumbo jumbo, Peter finds himself being wiped from everyone’s memory, showing the price of true heroism. Here’s how the film was able to juggle all the nostalgia, while still keeping it grounded in true emotion and ideas.
But the nostalgia is obviously a big part of it, and all of the villains and Spider-Men are welcome returns. The Goblin, Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), and Garfield’s Spidey are the three main standouts. Dafoe shows that he’s possibly the best comic book villain of all time, save perhaps for Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, Molina’s Otto Octavius shows how these villains are victims of circumstance, and his choice to do the right thing is powerful, and Garfield shows how as an incredible actor and lifelong lifelong fan of this iconic character, there is perhaps no one better suited to the role. Garfield — whose Spidey movies I’ve always enjoyed— picks up right where he left off seven years ago and concludes the loose end of losing Gwen. You can see the character working through things, as well as possibly Garfield himself working through all that he went through making his original films. It’s quite the sight to behold.
There is so much to say about this film and so many avenues to explore, but at the end of the day, it’s simply a good movie with a lot of heart and a lot of love for what’s come before. The only area in which it’s groundbreaking is in the multiverse aspects, but that shouldn’t take away from it’s harmless value (and that’s a statement meant to be taken in a vacuum, if you’ve looked at box office numbers). Like Avengers: Endgame, this is more of an achievement than it is a great film, but it’s an achievement to be marveled at. Pun intended.