Warning: this review contains multiple spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home – if you haven’t seen it yet, read at your own risk.
On Wednesday 15th December 2021, myself and thousands of other film fans up and down the country were lucky enough to be amongst the first of the general public to see Marvel’s much-anticipated Spider-Man: No Way Home.
After multiple trailers, countless leaks, and levels of “hype” that were last experienced during Marvel’s history-making Avengers: Endgame (2019), the pressure was on for Marvel and Sony to deliver on what, only a few short years ago, had seemed like an impossible dream. The crossover of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s previous incarnations of Spider-Man with their MCU counterpart, Tom Holland, had finally arrived
It is safe to say that it lived up to the hype.
Directed by Jon Watts and written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, Spider-Man: No Way Home is the 27th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the 8th live-action Spider-Man film. No Way Home picks up straight after 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home. Media mogul J. Jonah Jameson, a role reprised by J.K Simmons from Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy (2002-2007), reveals Peter Parker’s identity to the public, blaming him for the ‘murder’ of Quentin Beck/ Mysterio.
Following the fallout, Parker asks Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell making the world forget his identity. However, when the spell goes wrong, Strange accidentally opens the multiverse, a new fictional realm that is going to be central to future MCU projects. This allows anyone who knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man to come to Peter’s world from theirs, creating chaos and wreaking havoc whilst providing plenty a call back to past Spider-men.
Now, despite a seemingly convoluted plot, the film is actually fairly straightforward in its approach. The first act is very fast-paced and shows a side of Peter Parker we’ve never really seen before. Having his identity revealed allows a more vulnerable side of the character to be portrayed. However, this fast pace is not without its faults as the film moves at almost breakneck speeds for the first 45 minutes, leaving dangling story threads that could have easily been their own movie.
Recently, as its budgets have grown and popularity becoming something akin to a global religion, the MCU has had an issue with almost going overboard with its action scenes, sometimes trading character moments for big bombastic action set pieces that add little to the film. Marvel and Disney have essentially got a “do whatever the f*ck they want and get away with it card” because their films are such huge tent poles that audiences will flock to see them on brand recognition alone.
Where No Way Home is concerned this means that it had an opportunity to really explore what it means to be a hero when falsely blamed and painted to be a villain. To be fair to the creatives, they did do this to an extent, but they could have gone further and explored characters at their most vulnerable, before moving onto the action set pieces the audience are familiar with.
As the film continues we are treated to more of this blend of action and character that makes No Way Home one of the best Marvel movies to date. Following a mind-bending action sequence with Doctor Strange, Peter resolves to help cure the multiversal villains from past Spider-Man movies at Aunt May’s (Marisa Tomei) urging, leading to a story that actually feels fresh and is not a rehash of past Marvel movies or directly lifted from an acclaimed comic book run.
This story development is welcome because, whilst we have seen sympathetic villains in comic book movies before, this is the first time a hero has tried to help the villain instead of fighting them. The multiversal villains in No Way Home include Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn/ Green Goblin, and Alfred Molina’s Otto Octavius/Doc Ock, with both reprising their roles from the Raimi trilogy. Dafoe is somehow even more terrifying than he was in 2002, with his performance being one of the films strongest points (no one does insanity quite like Willem Dafoe). Similarly, Alfred Molina is as charismatic and intimidating as he was over a decade ago.
Peter’s desire to cure these villains leads to what many have called the film’s best sequence, which sees Osborn brutally murder Aunt May in a shocking twist. Uttering the iconic phrase “With great power, comes great responsibility”, May’s death is the catalyst that sees the film eschew its traditional MCU format and really opens it up, providing many emotional beats that other Marvel movies falter on.
What really separates No Way Home from its MCU predecessors is its ability to elevate character beyond the traditional trappings of the hero arc. Here, Peter Parker feels like a real character with thought and intent behind him. This is mainly due to Tom Holland’s standout performance. Throughout his five films as the web crawler, Holland has demonstrated time and again why he is the best live-action Spidey. His ability to portray a wide range of emotions, showcasing Peter’s vulnerability, whilst retaining his charisma and charm, without ever veering into melodrama as Tobey Maguire occasionally did, is what makes him the most believable iteration of Marvel’s most iconic hero.
Tom Holland’s performance is also what anchors the film in its final act when fans across the world had their dreams come true after two multinational media conglomerates realised they could make more money if they… compromised!
No Way Home’s third act sees Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s versions of the character team up with Tom Holland in a final showdown to cure/defeat the villains and send them back to their own realities. Predictably, fans screamed with delight when the two actors were finally confirmed to be in the film. Now, many have taken to social media to decry such behaviour from fans however in my experience it actually made the film better. Obviously, 5 minutes of straight cheering would have been irritating but the fans in my screening knew when to cheer and when to shut up. These films are made for the audiences and being able to share such a moment with hundreds of other strangers, each with their own personal connection to Spider-Man, is what made this film special.
However, as soon as the three “Spider-Men” began interacting as a trio Tom Holland’s strength as an actor anchored the film and refocused it back on his Spider-Man’s mission. The final fight scene was predictable as ever but still thoroughly enjoyable and gripping. Its main flaws were Marvel’s tendency to make everything grey. Whilst Sam Raimi’s films were full of bright colours reminiscent of Steve Ditko’s original illustrations, Jon Watts’ use of colour leaves a lot to be desired (although it is a fault across the MCU, not just his films).
Ultimately, Spider-Man: No Way Home is a delightful, emotionally resonant, film that gives fans what they want whilst reminding everyone why they fell in love with Spider-Man and Marvel in the first place. The film is not without its faults, and it is so packed that this review barely scratches the surface both critically and “theory-wise”, but at a time when the MCU is (fairly) criticised for being formulaic and predictable, No Way Home stands out as a mature, truly original instalment when compared to its peers.