(WARNING: I’ll be staying away from major spoilers in this review, but I feel like it’s impossible to write this without giving my basic thoughts on a few of the side characters who pop up in the movie. It’s very likely that you know who they are, what with social media and all, but I still want to play it safe just in case.)
What’s new, everyone? I’ve been highly anticipating Spider-Man: No Way Home, the 26th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for a long, long time. Thanks to COVID anxiety, I didn’t feel safe enough to go to a movie theater after its December 19, 2021 release. But now it’s available to rent, allowing me to finally consume the Spidey goodness. This particular goodness centers around Peter Parker (Tom Holland), the eponymous web-swinging superhero, as he contends with the general public walloping him with a barrage of contempt and suspicion due to a leaked video that not only makes it seem as if Peter used drones from Stark Industries to ice Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), another apparent superhero, but also reveals Spider-Man’s secret identity. The thing is, Mysterio was actually a dastardly trickster who was trying to kill Peter, then covered his ass by editing the video with enough cunning to falsely incriminate Peter (of course, you know all this if you saw the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home).
But with many people believing Mysterio’s video and Alex Jones-esque news personality J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) fanning the flames of the Spider-Man hate, Peter and his closest friends and family find collective scrutiny and derision taking over their lives. This spurs on Peter to approach his surgeon-turned-sorcerer ally Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help and ask him to cast a spell that will make everyone forget that Peter is Spider-Man. When Peter blunders in the middle of the spell-casting, though, it disrupts the space-time fabric of our reality and pulls in foes of Spider-Man from other universes. Now Peter and Strange have to send those familiar faces back to their home dimensions and prevent even more chaos from spiraling out of control.
Directed by Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Far From Home) and written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (Homecoming, Far From Home, The LEGO Batman Movie, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), No Way Homemanages to weave Spider-Man nostalgia and emotionally potent poignance into a captivating, if not slightly bulky, multiverse narrative. I do have some gripes, particularly in regard to certain aspects of the villains’ depiction, but this is a worthy closing chapter for the “Home” trilogy.
It’s funny how the multiverse really is having its heyday, what with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the 2020 sci-fi flick Parallel, the similarly titled 2022 French Disney+ series Parallels, and the smash hit Everything Everywhere All At Once conjuring up their own spins on what it would be like to traverse alternate branches of the universe. This subgenre is reaching the popularity level of the zombies era, which I got tired of quite fast. The multiverse, however, is something I find to be much more gripping. If too many stories get squeezed out of it, though, they’ll eventually exhaust me, so we’ll see how this progresses.
In any case, the MCU’s multiverse, which has been previously explored in the Disney+ shows Loki and What If…?, plays a prominent role in No Way Home, a movie that could have been absolutely bloated and clunky if the challenges it presented were improperly tackled. Learning about how the script had been rewritten on an “almost daily basis” and how Holland had to give a bit of his own input, according to an interview he did with GQ last November, was certainly worrisome. But the plotting remained cogent and the 148-minute runtime didn’t overstay its welcome. Sure, there are plot points in the movie where it just glosses over specific and critical issues (e.g. the litigation that Peter and company would need to handle the fallout and how it would unfold in the courtroom) because it wants to devote itself to the multiverse. As much as I’d love to see No Way Home flesh out these issues, I also realize this would only cram more baggage into a movie that’s already fitting several villains from previous Spider-Man franchises and the former Spider-Men themselves into two and a half hours, so I understand why it has to streamline itself.
Speaking of which, we’ve got a rogue’s gallery of Spider-Man baddies here: Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) from 2002’s Spider-Man, Dr. Otto Octavius/Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) from 2004’s Spider-Man 2, Flint Marko/Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) from 2007’s Spider-Man 3, Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard (Rhys Ifans) from 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, and Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx) from 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Osborn was undoubtedly my favorite of the five—a complicated and sympathetic character who feels stranded and miserable as he struggles to overcome the sadistic Goblin persona that’s been driving him to insanity ever since he injected himself with an experimental formula meant to enhance his physical abilities and intellect to superhuman levels. Furthermore, Dafoe, being the veteran actor that he is, crushes the performance. When he’s Osborn, I fully believe in the trauma he’s undergone and his wholehearted desire to get better. When he’s the Goblin, I believe equally as much in the persona’s own wholehearted desire to spread evil and chaos everywhere he goes. I’m giving even more props to Dafoe for his insistence on executing as many of the stunts as he was physically capable of. As I was watching his surprisingly brutal physical fights, I kept thinking to myself, “He’s accomplishing all this at 66? That’s some commitment to your craft.”
Octavius is my second-favorite villain, what with the complexity he carries over from Spider-Man 2 and the satisfaction that comes with watching Molina embody this role as well as Dafoe does for Osborn. While the electricity-wielding Dillon isn’t fantastic, I much prefer No Way Home’s toned-down depiction of him compared to how cartoonish he was in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Marko and Connors are saddled with the weakest writing in the group. They just don’t get much to do, and Marko in particular becomes the kind of character whose motivations change depending on whatever the movie needs him to do. Plus, these two are only present as a CGI sand being and a CGI reptilian humanoid, followed by a bit of archival footage from Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man. That’s because Church and Ifans weren’t ever on-set. All they had to do was head to the recording booth and read some lines. Maybe they couldn’t fit No Way Home into their schedules, or maybe Disney didn’t want to pony up the cash to bring them physically onboard with Dafoe, Molina, and Foxx. In any case, the CGI-ness gets distracting after a while.
I did take issue with the portrayal of Peter’s plan to save the villains after he learns from Strange that they all die fighting Spider-Man. There’s constant talk about finding ways to “cure” them as part of the plan, which becomes icky once you apply it to real-life issues concerning mental health, disabled people, and conversion therapy. I know this isn’t what the movie is aiming for, but it’s still a gross message when you take a minute to think about it. It would have been much better to use different language to communicate the same goal sans tinge of ableism.
As has been revealed in the movie’s promotion, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield also reprised their own roles as the incarnations of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man from parallel dimensions. You may be thinking this, combined with all the bad guys, would sink No Way Home into a nostalgia swamp. But I actually felt like it aided in digging down to the heart of Peter Parker, a humble figure who fights for the little people and strives to do good, who feels like the most relatable and the most human superhero compared to peers like Tony Stark and Thor. No Way Home does include some homages that will probably lose their impact if you missed out on the Maguire and/or Garfield movies, though. Nonetheless, it’s fantastic to see them come back—Maguire with his unassuming nerdiness and Garfield with his comparatively higher levels of wisecracking energy. It’s been over a decade since I last saw any of the Maguire flicks, and now I’d love to watch them with fresh eyes. Same goes for the Garfield movies despite the fact that I recall them being mediocre.
Let’s not forget to give Holland credit for infusing Peter, as he has been in the previous MCU movies, with a youthful brand of spunk and naïveté. While I do appreciate Maguire and Garfield’s performances, they never really felt as if they were teenagers. Both of them having first taken on the role in their late 20s would explain that. Meanwhile, Holland is only 25, so it makes sense that he’s been capable of feeling like an actual teenager since his debut in Captain America: Civil War at 19 years old.
Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, and Marisa Tomei bring their own natural charisma as MJ, Ned, and Aunt May—Peter’s girlfriend, best friend, and aunt, respectively. You feel like they’re along for the ride and are ready to do whatever it takes to help out Peter. Zendaya in particular shines whenever she’s onscreen, though someone with whom I’d been watching the film commented on her having “sad eyes” the whole time. Personally, this is something I didn’t catch, but if she did have “sad eyes,” then it would be appropriate for the narrative’s sobering undertones. It’s also nice to see Cumberbatch engaging in some multiversal crap pre-Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (I’m crossing my fingers that this becomes a superb directorial return for Sam Raimi and allows a richly layered story to unfold for Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch). And Simmons returning as Jameson… Well, what else do I need to say aside from *chef’s kiss*.
What glues together all the elements of No Way Home at the end of the day is its thematic core of fighting for what’s right, being willing to make personal sacrifices in order to help others, and the tragedy that accompanies those difficult decisions. It’s presented through a lens of startlingly heartbreaking grief and anguish, whether it comes in the form of the antagonists (particularly Osborn, whom the movie frames as the best encapsulation of their tragic arcs) or in the form of Peter’s life and the sorrow he’s endured. It sets the mood for more darkness than you might expect from a Spider-Man flick, but I feel like it’s only natural to wrap up the “Home” trilogy in such a weighty fashion.
As of this writing, No Way Home has hauled in a worldwide box office gross of $1.892 billion against a budget of $200 million. Even when you double the steep budget to include the PR, which typically costs about as much as the budget itself, there’s a ton of moolah left over. It says a lot that the movie was able to attract so many viewers to theaters during the pandemic (and I bet it kicked off some COVID infection spikes as well).
Overall, Spider-Man: No Way Home isn’t without a few shortcomings, but it had a hard job blending all these multiversal antics and powerful emotions into a cohesive story, and I think it gave us excellent results. Does it top my favorite MCU films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings? No, but it’s hovering somewhere up there on my list.
Until next time, stay healthy and stay strong!
Windup score: 85/100