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Spider-Man: No Way Home Review

December 17, 2021 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Spider-Man: No Way Home Image Credit: Matt Kennedy/CTMG
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Spider-Man: No Way Home Review  

Directed By: Jon Watts
Written By: Chris McKenna and Eric Sommers; Based on the MARVEL Comic Book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Runtime: 148 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of action/violence, some language and brief suggestive comments

Tom Holland – Peter Parker/Spider-Man
Zendaya – Michelle Jones
Benedict Cumberbatch – Dr. Stephen Strange
Jacob Batalon – Ned Leeds
Jon Favreau – Harold “Happy” Hogan
Marisa Tomei – Aunt May Parker
Alfred Molina – Dr. Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus
Jamie Foxx – Max Dillon/Electro
Willem Dafoe – Norman Osborn/Green Goblin
J.K. Simmons – J. Jonah Jameson

“And a lean, silent figure slowly fades into the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility! And so a legend is born and a new name is added to the roster of those who make the world of fantasy the most exciting realm of all!”

– “Spider-Man” by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; Amazing Fantasy #15, 1962.

Author’s Note: This is a spoiler-free review.

Peter Parker is put through a treacherous gauntlet and faces trials and tribulations unlike any he has ever faced in Spider-Man: No Way Home. The new sequel picks up literally right from where the mid-credit scene in Far From Home left off, as Daily provocateur J. Jonah Jameson (Simmons) revealed Spider-Man’s true identity as Peter Parker to the entire world.

Peter’s personal life is torn asunder in one fell swoop, wreaking havoc not just on his own life, but his friends and loved ones as well, including girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), best friend Ned Leeds (Batalon), his Aunt May (Tomei) and friend/would-be handler Happy Hogan (Favreau). It’s easier for someone like Tony Stark, an adult billionaire with near-unlimited resources, to face problems like this; but Peter is still a humble teen with most of his life ahead of him. Peter tries to find a lifeline in the form of one Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) to try and get a handle on things. Unfortunately, Dr. Strange’s plan to potentially restore Peter’s secret identity goes haywire and unwittingly tears a hole in the space-time continuum. Now, some of the most dangerous Spider-Man villains in the multiverse have jumped into Peter’s world, and it’s up to Peter to make things right.

Spider-Man: No Way Home, at its core, is about what it truly means to be Spider-Man, along with the good and the bad that comes with it. No Way Home is truly a culmination of Peter’s previous adventures, which coalesce into a dramatic, bittersweet narrative.

This is Tom Holland’s best, most heartfelt performance to date as Peter Parker. He’s put through the emotional wringer, which feels true to the character of the comics. The MCU Peter faced some emotional challenges and conflicts before, but none this powerful. In Holland’s past appearances as the webslinger, the plot focused significantly on Peter’s relationship with Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, and it resulted in the failure of the MCU films developing Peter’s own identity as a hero and as Spider-Man. No Way Home finally breaks off from that story arc, enabling Tom Holland to truly come into his own as both Peter Parker and Spider-man.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the presence of multiversal travelers. Peter is pitted against rogues who fought different Spider-Men in alternate universes. This sees the return of such all-time great onscreen Spider-Man villains as Alfred Molina as Doc Ock and Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin. When Doc Ock finally appears, it delivers one of the best onscreen Spider-Man fights ever in the MCU. The action sequences in the film are very ambitious. The visuals produce the most Spider-Man-esque action sequences of the MCU to date. They’re a major improvement over previous Spidey MCU scenes.

The action and fight choreography in previous MCU Spider-Man films have been largely lacking in execution, and they were missing something. No Way Home truly embraces Peter’s spider-powers and abilities in a way that’s never truly been executed in the MCU until now. It’s underscored by Peter’s journey and growth as he matures into his role as Spider-Man. The stronger focus on spider-powers epitomizes the greater Spider-Man Saga as a whole, as Peter’s identity as Spider-Man acts as a microcosm for maturity and growing into adulthood.

The one aspect that nearly weighs down No Way Home is the multiverse subplot. It’s a lot for a single film, even one that’s almost two-and-a-half hours long. The twist of the exposure of Peter’s identity to the entire world could easily be the premise of its own film. The main issue with the multiverse is that it takes a lot of creative license in service of the narrative. There are quite a few logical leaps. Certain creative choices induce ambivalence. Some are head-scratching, if not downright confusing.

It’s great to see rogues like Doc Ock and Green Goblin onscreen again interacting with a Spider-Man, but it shows how middling some of the past onscreen villains have been since the 2002 Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. Additionally, it possibly robs the MCU Peter the chance of meeting his own iterations of these characters.

Jamie Foxx’s return as Electro is a case of redeeming a villain that badly missed the mark in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Thankfully, director Jon Watts, writers Chris McKenna and Eric Sommers and producer Kevin Feige were wise enough to recognize what went horrendously wrong with the awful Batman & Robin-esque take on the character. They strip away the goofier aspects that didn’t work about this Electro. His powers and abilities are showcased better this time, but his role suffers as part of a plot with a few too many characters, subplots and spinning plates.

Marisa Tomei’s relationship and dynamic with Peter are finally given some much-needed attention in No Way Home. Tomei has been passable so far as Aunt May, but even in Homecoming, there was little development toward Aunt May’s presence in Peter’s life. Far From Home didn’t delve much into Aunt May coming to grips with Peter’s identity. Her acceptance of Peter as Spider-Man largely happened offscreen. The relationship was overdue for a spotlight, which finally happens here. Tomei finally gets her chance to shine as Aunt May.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is a heart-wrenching, emotional journey that swings almost as big as the Wall-Crawler himself. While the plot does get a bit too overwrought at times, it’s anchored by strong performances and the central core of what makes Spider-Man a hero. The immortal words from the comics have never rung truer.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Tom Holland faces an emotional and physical gauntlet in Spider-Man: No Way Home that puts him through trials and tribulations like never before seen in the MCU. In many ways, this is the most "Spider-Man" of any previous MCU outing, and Holland's Peter truly becomes his own hero. The multiverse aspect may be very exciting to some, but the movie's early premise suggests there was a plot that could have worked even better without it. Regardless, this is a genesis that MCU Spider-Man never truly had onscreen, and it's one with emotional punch.