Going into Spider-Man: No Way Home fans who follow movie news daily probably feel like they’ve got it all figured out. And, to an extent, they’re right. The trailers have made it very clear that after the shocking ending of Spider-Man: Far From Home, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is going to ask Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell so everyone forgets he’s Spider-Man. Then it goes wrong and villains from the previous Spider-Man movies show up. All of that is true.
However, what you don’t know is why that happens, how it gets sorted out, and what any of that has to do with making Peter Parker a better Spider-Man. And in those aims, director Jon Watts and his team have found a way to make this Spidey story more heartbreaking, more character focused, and, also, even more fun than you are imagining. It can sometimes get a little too wrapped up in the story but, overall, Spider-Man: No Way Home is an absolute blast. It’ll make you laugh, cry, and smile from ear to ear.
[Note: This article will do its very best not to spoil anything but if you want to go in not knowing anything, it’s best to go away now. Vague implications about the events of No Way Home are necessary to explain what we did, and didn’t, like about the film. So, just in case...]
No Way Home picks up immediately where Far From Home left off, with J. Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons) playing news footage revealing that Spider-Man is Peter Parker. In an instant, Peter’s world is turned upside down. Suddenly he’s the most famous person in the world and the film shows this from various different perspectives and points of view, from Peter’s teachers and classmates, to friends, family, strangers, and even heroes. Seeing how so many different people change their perception of Peter is one of No Way Home’s first, and most welcome surprises. It challenges you to put yourself in Peter’s shoes and grapple with the trauma he’s enduring on a day to day basis.
Peter’s trauma continues after he asks Dr. Strange for help and things go horribly wrong. And yet, again, it’s not handled in as straightforward a manner as you may expect from the trailers. Don’t forget, many of these characters Peter encounters in No Way Home—like Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, and Alfred Molina’s Otto Octavius/Doc Ock—are incredibly smart. They’re not gonna pop up in an alternate universe and just, be an asshole. Upon first arriving from their universes, sure, they want to kill Spider-Man—but soon after those motivations shift and change, in fun and frightening ways. Conflict doesn’t just exist between Peter and his new familiar-yet-not foes either, leading to moments where, for what feels like the first time in his tenure as Spider-Man, Holland’s Parker gets to act and make important decisions of his own making, rather than in service of a mentor figure.
This, in turn, means we get to see Peter spending more more time with his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Each has a hugely expanded role here, since Peter has his own plan for the villains and needs friendly support. But none of them are just along for the ride. In their own unique ways, they each help Peter advance the plot with some unexpected twists that range from fun and exciting to downright depressing. And so, you’ve got Peter, Ned, MJ, and Aunt May, dealing with, as glimpsed in the trailers, Doc Ock, Green Goblin, Electro (Jamie Foxx), Sandman (previously played by Thomas Haden Church), and Lizard (previously played by Rhys Ifans) with Doctor Strange and others in the mix too.
It’s at about this point in No Way Home that the story itself begins to overtake the characters. With multiple villains to contend with, and Peter having his family and friends alongside him for the struggle, there’s just not a ton of time, at least in the second act, for Peter to to stop and really grapple with what he’s facing. He’s just doing and doing and doing. For a little bit, No Way Home feels like it wanders off course, and in turn, is a little less impactful or clever than the franchise has been in the past. It begins to rely far too heavily on the novelty of seeing all these villains on screen again, doing things similarly to what we saw them do in their original movies.
Thankfully, as the film enters its climax No Way Home rights itself, and really starts to fly. The last hour of No Way Home may end up ranking alongside the Avengers movies in terms of rousing and satisfying Marvel Cinematic moments. There are moments of not just big laughs and bigger excitement, but chances for characters to redeem themselves, and pass on important lessons to our hero. It’s not just a scene or two in a larger grand finale, either—it’s a long, chunky section of the movie filled with winks, nods, payoffs and touching reverence. The third act of No Way Home made me cry happy tears, cry sad tears, and literally cheer in the theater, and if you’ve ever loved any version of Peter Parker on film over the years, you likely will too.
In another exciting twist though, all of that third act pomp and circumstance doesn’t end up being the real treat of Spider-Man No Way Home. Oh sure, it’s excellent for fans to feel like they’re getting a celebration of the character’s cinematic history over the past twenty years, but this remains the third film in Tom Holland’s Spider-Man trilogy, and really it all comes down to what kind of Spider-Man does this story make him. In those answering those questions, No Way Home knocks it out of the park again, with choices made that are sure to be controversial, but they pack an emotional wallop leading to both a strong ending, and something that feels like a whole new beginning for this version of the character. None of which would work, if not for Tom Holland’s performance. No Way Home is by far his most dynamic work in this character, and Holland crushes it. And it’s not just he who rises to the occasion—familiar foes and friends alike get some knock out performances, Dafoe in particular acting as a standout among the villain cast, relishing his return to Norman Osborn.
The MCU’s take on Peter Parker has been on quite the journey these past few years. He defeated the Vulture, Mysterio, fought Thanos, got blipped, and saved the world, all while trying to get through high school with grades good enough to get into college. Spider-Man: No Way Home brings that wild ride all together in a hugely ambitious movie, even one that’s almost too big for its own good as it battles to balance its wide cast of characters and its larger than life story. Thankfully, in cantering its big scale adventure on Peter Parker’s choices as a hero to justify some of that fantastical excess, No Way Home brings it home in the end, and it’s hard not to love it for that.
Spider-Man: No Way Home opens this Friday, December 17.
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