SPOILERS AHEAD FOR SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME
I really liked Spider-Man: No Way Home. That’s not saying much of course. Spider-Man is one of the most popular superheroes and this is the seventh major film of his we’ve gotten since 2000. Still, we’ve gone through long periods of time when good Spider-Man content was few and far between. Nowadays we have tons of Spider-Man content. We have 4 separate series of Spider-Man movies we can watch (5 if you count Venom), a popular video game franchise about the character, comics, and cartoon shows for days. There’s no shortage of good Spider-Man content right now.
Spider-Man No Way Home may not necessarily be the best of that modern deluge but it’s easily the best film of the MCU Spider-Man trilogy and stand comfortably alongside the better elements of Phase 4 Marvel like WandaVision and Loki.
And a lot of that had to do with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. As was Hollywood’s worst kept secret of the last year, Spider-Man No Way Home turned out to be a crossover movie that brought the Sam Raimi Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man actors, and their respective villain characters into the MCU.
By all rights, this should be a massive mess but it’s actually the best of what I guess we’ll eventually come to call the Spider-Man Home Trilogy. It was dark, funny, and emotionally honest in the way that all good Spider-Man content is.
As such, instead of a normal review I just wanted to point out my ten takeaways from the film after having seen it opening night and mulling over it for a day:
- Spider-Man No Way Home is the fourth Best Spider-Man Movie
I’ll start with part of the bad news first… I know a lot of people that absolutely adore the Tom Holland version of Spider-Man, but I still need to be honest say that he’s not my favorite version of the character. That still belongs to Toby Maguire who’s goofy performance was able to capture the emotional turbulence and emotional depths of the original Stan Lee Spiderman comics. While I think that this film, in particular, does do a good job encapsulating the traditional themes of the comics, I still appreciate the ways that Spiderman, Spiderman 2, and Inter the Spiderverse encapsulate those themes more quietly and intimately. Spiderman: Homecoming and Spiderman: Far From Home left me somewhat colder. That the third film comes close to making me question its place though is a good sign!
2. No Way Home is the Best MCU Film Since Endgame
It’s weird to think that April of 2022 will mark three years since Avengers: Endgame was released in theaters. That just goes to show how much of a timewarp the COVID pandemic put us all through that we’d burn through two years before it came close to being over. We went from July 2019 to July 2021 with no new MCU Films being released in theaters and the initial releases like Black Widow and The Eternals were met with a shrug. Spiderman No Way Home easily outpaces them all and earns its status as the best MCU film in years (Shang-Chi is a close second though!).
3. Alfred Molina and Willam Dafoe are the BEST
It shouldn’t be surprising as these two men are two of the best character actors out there but Spiderman No Way Home really does justice to the two greatest villains the franchise has ever put on screen. The entire spiderman franchise has benefitted from having the strongest and most emotionally motivated villains of any franchise with this many entries. Even when I find the movies tedious or underdeveloped like The Amazing Spiderman 2 or Spiderman: Homecoming, their villains are still instantly memorable. The best thing they brought to their performance was continuity. These are characters who were teleported to the MCU the moment they thought they’d succeeded. As a result, they get entire character arcs in this film that feel fresh and bring these characters to life in their full glory.
4. Curing the Villains instead of Killing Them
What is interesting about the villains in Spider-Man movies is that they’re all quintessentially good men who become consumed by their dark sides. Their goofy monster villain origins only exist to bring about their worst traits. In that sense, they’re great foils for Spiderman because they represent what he could become if he let go and embraced his worst impulses. This film really senses the tragic nature of their characters and asks if there is some way they could be cured. The entire dramatic stakes of the film’s finale are whether or not Peter Parker can find a way to do that. The payoff for this story is the best arc I’ve seen for a villain in ages. Just watching the terror and rage fall off of Alfred Molina’s eyes the moment he is freed from the robot arms was… a lot.
5. Marvel Bickering made the characters more interesting
While he is reviled now, Joss Whedon really did give the Marvel movies a secret give with his banter. The entire MCU franchise was born off of it’s clever dialog and quips and Spiderman No Way Home delivers on some of the best character interactions of any film in the franchise. Its great insight was watching characters from the older Spider-Man movies come to terms with their circumstance, learn more about each other, and slowly rationalize what is going to happen to them. Seeing Molina and Dafoe share character dialog as former colleagues separated by years of time and deaths by the same person created some of the best moments. Seeing characters who never met ask about their powers and bond over their goofy origin stories was incredibly charming. It gave me at least a dozen Doc Ock moments I never knew I wanted.
6. Toby MacGuire and Andrew Garfield Rock
It shouldn’t go unstated just how wonderful it was seeing both of these actors back playing their most famous pop-culture roles. Both actors have had strange careers since they left the role (or more accurately go fired from it) and they jump back into their original roles fully. What’s most interesting is the implied time that has passed since their movies. Maguire’s Peter Park has aged almost a decade and a half since his last role and one line of dialog tells us that he’s continued to try and work for the happily ever after he’s wanted for years. He’s like the depressing Peter B. Parker from Into the Spiderverse but wise instead of bitter. Garfield’s Spiderman is revealed to be lonely, having gone through a long period of bitterness but coming out on the other end of it, answering quietly the fate of his character after his third movie was canceled.
7. Aunt May’s Death Scene Didn’t Work…
Okay, time for a hot take… the death scene didn’t work. I didn’t feel it. The audience in my theater didn’t seem to feel it. It happens and then it’s done. It’s certainly not for lack of trying. Marissa Tomei and Tom Holland act the HECK out of the scene and try to make it this film’s substitution for the Uncle Ben death scene but it doesn’t work at the moment. The problem is just the script. Aunt May has always been a joke character in the MCU ever since they decided to make her a hot aunt. They’ve never given her enough bonding scenes with Peter to establish her relationship with him, give her an internal life that makes her empathetic, or found an angle that makes her special. The result is that the movie’s most important scene casually passes by without much of a hit.
8. Aunt May’s Death Scene Needed to Happen
That said, Aunt May’s death scene desperately needed to happen. For whatever reason, the MCU never bothered to give this version of Spiderman a proper Uncle Ben death scene. It’s mildly alluded to back in Captain America: Civil War that something bad happened to him but he’s never really alluded to again. Instead, the movies just shift into having Tony Stark playing an absent father figure role with Parker’s central tension being whether or not he will get to join the Avengers. This dramatic core never worked for me. The whole point of a proper Spider-Man story is the grappling of wants and needs, the realities of responsibility, and the pain that comes from the realization that you can’t do everything and save everyone even with incredible godlike power. Being Spiderman is a burden and now we have a great burden for this version of Peter Parker, a moment of trauma so horrifying that he’ll never truly be able to get over it. It’s now something he simply has to live with for the sake of the world.
9. Spiderman Will Probably Soft-Reboot or Return to Sony Pictures
And that leads us to the film’s ending, wherein the entire world is forced to forget that Peter Parker ever existed. Dr. Strange wipes away the memories of everyone on the globe to destroy the spell that opened the multi-verse and in the process destroys Peter Parker’s entire life. His aunt is dead, his friends have forgotten him and the surviving members of the Avengers no longer know who he is. He’s alone in an empty apartment in New York City. This is the price he has to pay to be Spiderman, and it is the best ending a movie in this franchise has had since the end of Spiderman 2.
The secondary effect this has though is that it effectively liberates Peter Parker as a character going forward. He’s no longer tied to the Avengers. He’s no longer tied to the original cast of characters. Disney’s contract for Spiderman was extended in 2020 to add two more MCU films with Tom Holland to the schedule, the second of which will likely be some sort of team-up film. That said, if Sony decides to pull the plug on this version of the character there is nothing stopping them from making dedicated Tom Holland Spider-Man sequels without needing the help of Kevin Fiege or the MCU going forward. The slate is wiped clean. There are no loose threads. Spider-Man can be his own thing going forward without having to carry the narrative burdens that the MCU places on him.
10. Various and Sundry Character Cameos
I’m just going to go ahead and cram all three of these in one point just because there isn’t much to say about them individually:
For one, It’s wonderful seeing Charlie Cox back for the first time since Daredevil Season 3. Netflix held some sort of extended control over the five characters they produced TV shows for between 2015 and 2019. They didn’t want to produce content for a rival company with a streaming service so they systematically canceled all of the shows and sat on their licenses for years. I’m guessing that’s changed and that we’ll see Daredevil again soon.
On the reverse side, I kind of love how they put a lampshade on Venom by having him appear in the post-credits scene for less than two minutes. It’s a deservedly goofy cameo for a character that lacks pathos to stand next to some of the greatest supervillains in contemporary pop cinema.
The biggest one though was the final post-credits scene. To be frank, it’s weird that Marvel just attached a trailer to Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness to the end of this film. Usually, they have more creativity than that. That said, the final shot sold it for me. I didn’t know initially why they brought Sam Raimi into the film but seeing that the film’s antagonist is an evil Steven Strange gave me Evil Dead 2 vibes in the best way. I’m curious if they’ll drudge up the Karl Mordo subplot from the previous film or not but I am ALL for this movie!