Spider-Man: No Way Home, directed by Jon Watts — 2.5/5 Stars
In the current climate of action-oriented comic book movies, it is common practice for movies to be viewed as collective experiences of fun. Die hard fans fend of spoilers of the newest releases, and many attend opening weekend screenings for the sake of having an unadulterated, uninfluenced participation in the theater going experience. These movies have also been catered to fan expectations and hopes, with characters from the source material making brief, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances, and sequel-teasing post-credit scenes accompanying virtually every single release. In the controversial, often-referenced words of Martin Scorsese, these movies have become theme park rides, geared to entertain and satisfy rather than to innovate. This isn’t an inherently negative trend, but it becomes an issue when it is so monstrously prevalent in the industry, altering the wants and demands of movie studios for directors and pushing other films out of theaters for the sake of private profit. Herein lies the inevitably complicated legacy of Spider-Man: No Way Home. This latest installment in the Marvel cinematic universe (or MCU) draws heavily from past Spider-Man films and builds on audiences’ understanding of the stories that precede it, perhaps more than any other film of its nature. These elements make No Way Home undeniably fun, but also expose a bleak, unimaginative underbelly that the MCU and, increasingly, Hollywood filmmaking as a whole share. This review contains spoilers.
No Way Home picks up right where Far From Home left off, with Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio revealing Spider-Man’s alter ego, Peter Parker (played by Tom Holland), to the world. This, of course, throws a wrench into Peter’s daily life, limiting his privacy and the privacy of those around him. When his superhero identity prevents him and his close friends from getting into their dream college, Peter seeks the help of Doctor Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch). Together, the two devise a plan to cast a spell on the entire world’s population that would eliminate all memories of Spider-Man’s true identity. Things go wrong, though, when Peter tries to make some tweaks to the spell during its intricate casting, wanting to make exceptions for his friends and family. These attempted changes, inexplicably, break open the multiverse, and instead start to draw in people who know Peter’s identity from alternate universes. None of this makes much sense, but all plot contrivances are forgiven when familiar faces from past franchises start to arrive, like Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin from 2002’s Spider-Man and Jamie Foxx’s Electro from The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The truly exciting moments, of course, come when the audience is re-introduced to Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire, the two other Spider-Men themselves, and the three versions of the character team up to take down an entire entourage of their past adversaries.
This is all thrilling in the moment, especially for long-time fans and for fans of several generations, but a quick peek under the surface reveals very little substance. The film’s humor, like much of the Marvel canon, is chuckle-worthy at best and numbingly cringe-inducing at worst. The cast does their best with the limited script; Holland’s Peter Parker is a believably bewildered but heroic teenager and is supported adequately. Dafoe shines in his return as Green Goblin, as does Garfield, who brings some much-needed genuine laughs. The action sequences are composed of rubbery, flatly lit CGI doubles that look startlingly ugly when compared to the look and feel of Sam Raimi’s dynamic, practical fight scenes in the Spider-Man films of the early 2000s. While the multitude of characters is integrated surprisingly well, it leaves little room for any emotional development or downtime between constant plot progression. It’s very revealing that one of the few genuine attempts at an emotional beat is a cheap-feeling imitation, with Marisa Tomei as Peter’s Aunt May being clumsily given the task of delivering the now iconic line: “With great power comes great responsibility.” While the film’s ending does, surprisingly, seem to show some real consequences for the characters’ actions — unlike past MCU outings — No Way Home has little to offer outside of its allusion and borrowing from the works that led up to it.
While it gives audiences a fun nostalgic trip, Spider-Man: No Way Home is, unfortunately, an ugly product of the corporate model of repackaging and re-selling nostalgia until it loses its soul. It’s worth watching once, but those looking for craft and rewatch value are better off returning to Raimi’s trilogy or Into the Spider-Verse.