SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME SUCCESSES ON TWO DECADES OF FAN PAYOFF
Spider-Man: No Way Home is a film that aims to accomplish a lot of things. It is the third instalment in Jon Watts’ MCU Spider-Man trilogy, and it concludes a storyline for Tom Holland’s incarnation of Peter Parker. It’s a direct sequel to Spider-Man: Far From Home, picking up where the 2019 film’s cliffhanger credit scene left off. It is a continuation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Phase FourPhase Four” storey arc. It’s also a nod to the previous 20 years of Spider-Man films.
That’s a lot of balls to keep in the air. And the fact that No Way Home manages to pull off so many of them is impressive, especially when it comes to fan service — but, like Peter Parker, this movie can’t have it all.
Spoiler alert: this review will refer to basic plot details of the film as revealed in the existing Spider-Man: No Way Home trailers, as well as Spider-Man: Far From Home spoilers.
If you want to go in completely blind, skip this review for the time being.
Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up where the previous film, Far From Home, left off. Mysterio’s final trick revealed Peter Parker’s secret identity as Spider-Man to the world, and now everyone blames the webslinger for the villain’s rampage through London.
No Way Home doesn’t let Peter off easy, at least not for the first third of the film, which foregoes heroics in favour of grinding down the costumed hero. Half of the world despises Peter and believes he murdered Mysterio. He has no idea how he will pay for college. (As an aside, given that this is the third time this plot point has appeared in an MCU film this year: did none of the Avengers get paid? Tony, come on.) Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is forced to leave her apartment after it is surrounded by reporters and protestors. And his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), and his girlfriend, MJ (Zendaya), are flatly rejected from every college they apply to simply because they are friends with Peter.
In order to protect his loved ones, Peter approaches his fellow Avenger Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and asks him to use his magic to solve the problem. Things naturally go wrong. The spell opens the multiverse, revealing villains from Sony’s previous five Spider-Man films, spanning nearly two decades: Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe reprising his role from Spider-Man), Doc Ock (Alfred Molina, Spider-Man 2), Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church, Spider-Man 3), Lizard (Rhys Ifan, The Amazing Spider-Man), and Electro (Jamie Foxx, The Amazing Spider-Man 2). Each bad guy has been snatched up right before their web-slinging comeuppance and given a new chance for vengeance on (another) Spider-Man, who must find them and return them to where they came from.
No Way Home revels in resurrecting these characters. Each villain gets his or her moment in the spotlight (some for a shorter period of time than others), and long-time Spider-Man fans will enjoy seeing Doc Ock smash his way through a highway of cars, a devilishly grinning Green Goblin cackling his way from scene to scene, or Jamie Foxx’s Electro not having to be a blue CGI Doctor Manhattan knock off. While Molina’s tortured scientist struggles to control his out-of-control creation, Dafoe leads the charge, bouncing between his feral and friendly personalities without missing a beat in the intervening 19 years. The main cast of Watts’ trilogy returns as well. Holland’s portrayal of Peter is his best yet: he’s still fresh-faced and quipping his way through fights while dealing with the growing weight of having to be Spider-Man. MJ and Ned are more removed from the action, though Aunt May steals the show in some of the film’s quieter moments.
It’s all very entertaining, but it returns to the same problem that has plagued all of Holland’s films: the smorgasbord of bad guys are once again other characters’ foes that Peter just happens to be dealing with, in the same way that Homecoming and Far From Home had him cleaning up Tony Stark’s messes. Peter’s mirror dimension duel with Doctor Strange, reminiscent of Inception, carries almost as much weight as some of the villain fights — at least there, Peter knows his opponent’s name.
In fact, nearly all of the film’s biggest emotional beats rely on viewers’ knowledge of the previous five Spider-movies, attempting to tie a bow on each villain’s storey while also providing closure for the characters in the Tom Holland trilogy that No Way Home ostensibly is meant to conclude. There’s a lot going on right now.
Still, once No Way Home gets going, it’s difficult to care about any of that. Characters and cameos abound in scenes that feel choreographed to get theatregoers cheering. There are big reveals, catchphrases are dutifully recited, and the final hour is essentially just pure payoff for two decades of Spider-Man films, handled with a surprising amount of levity and heart despite some darker swings halfway through. Whether you’re a fan of Sam Raimi, Marc Webb, or Jon Watts films, No Way Home will not disappoint. (Of course, you’ll get the most out of it if you’ve seen all seven previous Spider-Man films.) It’s all very satisfying for fans, though at times it feels like the film is as much about Sony and Disney’s competing studio interests as it is about Spidey himself.
And, as is practically Marvel tradition, No Way Home doesn’t let its characters rest, slamming the reset button and laying the groundwork for future sequels, with the now-traditional post-credit scenes setting up more adventures for Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.
Still, Holland’s version of Spider-Man is expected to return for a few more films, and the ending of No Way Home suggests that some of Peter’s MCU baggage will be shed in favour of a friendlier, more neighbourly Spider-Man. So it’s possible that future entries will finally allow the character to soar through the city on his own strengths, rather than relying on spectres from previous films.