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Spider-Man: No Way Home - A Love Letter to Fans

Updated: Jan 23

The final act of the MCU Spider-Man trilogy is finally upon us. And let me just say, while I’m usually excited any time Marvel drops a new project, it’s only once in a blue moon that they have the chance to drum up hype on this level. The way rumors and fan theories overflow in the community as the release day comes nearer and nearer is the kind of stuff I live for. This is definitely one of the most highly anticipated Marvel movies we’ve seen in a good while. But with great hype comes great expectations and for Spider-Man: No Way Home those expectations have never been higher. Does it manage to live up to the hype? Let’s take a look.


Side note: I’ll be splitting this review into two parts because a lot of this movie is difficult to get into without delving into spoiler territory. For that reason, I’ll be hiding the second half (where I'll be going into that movie as a whole, spoilers and all) so those who hope to watch the movie for themselves spoiler-free, something I’d recommend, can do so as they please and I'll be keeping the front end of this review spoiler-free. Thanks! :-)


The first act of this film focuses on the ensuing fallout that directly follows the final scene of Spider-Man’s last movie, Far From Home. The audience is shown Peter Parker’s life turned upside down and inside out and how it affects both him and the people closest to him after the world finds out that he is Spider-Man. It handles it all with a very real sense of controversy and personal stress and it’s an important stepping stone in Peter Parker’s character arc and yet I can’t help but feel like the opening segment of this film is the slowest and messiest. See, every Spider-Man movie faces the challenge of juggling the two sides of its titular character: Spider-Man and Peter Parker. You can’t have a traditional Spider-Man story without Peter Parker being a nerdy student who lives with his Aunt May. Tom Holland’s first solo Spidey outing, 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, handles this tactfully and intertwines the Peter Parker that is a high-schooler with the Peter Parker that is a masked crime-fighter in a way that’s both fun to watch and narratively interesting. However, the aforementioned sequel, Far From Home, fumbles this a bit and allows the high-school Peter segments to come off more like filler that detracts from the more engaging superhero action of the movie. I always cite the bus scene, a scene in which Peter accidentally initiates a drone strike on his school’s field trip bus with him and his classmates in it and desperately struggling to deactivate the drone while everyone else is blissfully unaware. This scene always felt like hijinks to me and really hurt the pacing of the movie. This issue, while not as obvious or consistent, rears its head in the first act of No Way Home. After the legal trouble settles and things become a little less frantic the movie takes its time to let Peter Parker be a teenager with his girlfriend and best friend. While these scenes aren’t as abrasively unnecessary as something like the bus scene felt they still ultimately feel like the weakest part of the film. I’d like to take a moment to mention that Flash Thompson, Peter Parker’s school bully character, returns in this movie purely as comic relief and is just never funny. He has about three on-screen appearances and each time it’s to make a joke that never earns much more than a pity laugh. It’s definitely necessary to have these high-school turmoil scenes and reestablish the relationship between these characters which isn’t wholly unfun to watch and does set certain stakes for the movie but you can’t help but get stuck tapping your foot in anticipation of what comes next instead of being totally engaged with what’s happening in front of you during these segments.



After a brief segment where Peter and his pals try and fail to get admitted into college, rejected on the basis that Spider-Man having been publically unmasked has been a major point of recent controversy in the world, Peter Parker visits Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange for help. This is where the movie starts to pick up some and we start to get some fun mystical action scenes that we've come to expect with Doctor Strange. Doctor Strange obliges Parker (thanks in part to a clever blink-and-you'll-miss-it callback to his own 2016 debut film) and casts a spell to make everyone forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. However, things go awry and the spell gets screwy which brings on a slew of negative consequences that our heroes spend the rest of the movie trying to clean up. It’s a grim movie, foregoing Spidey’s typical snarky and fun attitude for a much darker and more brutal tone. It doesn’t hesitate in tackling heavy and even depressing scenes and it goes about them with a pregnancy just appropriate enough to drive a dagger deep enough into your heart that you’ll remember; effectively trapping the audience in the brutal reality of the film’s harrowing stakes. and even the action is much grittier focusing on more intimate bloody and white-knuckled fistfights. Preceding the film's debut, actor Tom Holland alleged that the film would “not be fun,” a sentiment that shouldn’t be taken lightly when going into this movie. That isn’t at all to say that it’s not worth watching. If anything, the darker tone is much appreciated and the film benefits from it in many ways.


The big commercial draw of No Way Home is the return of villains from by-gone eras of different live-action Spider-Man adaptations. Sure, Marvel’s done the interdimensional crossover time and time again before but this time they’re playing outside the box by bringing back characters we didn’t even know we’re still on the table, making it a unique event to see play out on screen. Back in the fledgling days of the 21st century, superhero movies hadn’t yet quite found their footing. This was a few years before the MCU turned the genre into a household name for the box office so a lot of superhero movies were generally campy schlockfests. This was the same era where we were first introduced to comic book movie adaptations to characters like the Green Goblin and Dr. Octopus, played by Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina respectively in Spider-Man's first two live-action movies. They were already great characters then and certainly do have their fans for those performances but seeing them now inside the MCU they feel no longer inhibited by that atmosphere of cheesy early-00’s superhero flicks as they had been before. The Green Goblin has a genuinely threatening presence on screen and Dafoe’s performance playing this character for the first time in two decades is just as stellar if not more so than his first time around the block. It might be the gritty tone of this movie or the fact that these characters feel a bit more serious in the MCU but they feel like much better villain characters for it. I never thought I’d say that Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and Alfred Molina’s Dr. Octopus are probably some of my favorite MCU villains but here we are.



We also have the return of Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman, another returning villain from the original Raimi films, who spends the movie as a CGI sand sculpture instead of being played by his actual live-action actor. That’s not to say that Church didn’t reprise his role, it’s still very much him, but they just made the odd decision to have him be entirely made of sand for the movie. I’m not sure if this was something on the actor’s part, maybe they were reluctant to show their face in the role again for a whole movie despite their voice and character being present? Whatever it was, it was marginally distracting throughout the film but nothing that takes anything significant away from the movie as a whole.


Along with Green Goblin, Doc Ock, and Sandman, we also have two faces returning from a different era of Spidey: Jamie Foxx’s Electro and Rhys Ifan’s Lizard from The Amazing Spider-Man duology that happened a few years after the first Raimi movies. Ifan’s Lizard is in a similar boat to Church’s Sandman, spending the duration of the movie in a totally CGI form. While it’s a bit more noticeable with Sandman because in his debut movie we’ve seen him have the ability to freely switch between sand and human form it still feels like a detriment that holds these two back from the same kind of grand return to the screen that Dafoe and Molina had, both of whom were a spectacle any time they were on-screen. Jamie Foxx’s Electro is a curious case for being the only returning villain to receive a major redesign for their character. This is most likely due to his original performance, where Electro is adapted as a totally blue man with transparent electro-membranes, being critically panned by audiences. It’s overall an upgrade for this character and Foxx’s performance definitely redeems this character a bit after TASM2’s big flop making him an enjoyable villain and a force to be reckoned with. Still maybe not as much so as Ock or Gobby, but hey, kudos for making one of the iffiest live-action Spidey baddies significantly better. I absolutely adore how this movie acknowledges the storied history of Spider-Man's cinematic outings by adapting his two prior iterations as different universes in the same multiverse. It interconnects prior canons that were thought to be all but irrelevant and breathes new life into them in an organic and believable way that manages to provide ample well-handled fan service with narratively convincing stakes for our protagonists to deal with. It's a brilliant and innovative idea that's never been done before and I can't help but give them props for that.


With each new MCU appearance of Spider-Man, we’re usually given one or two new suits for him to swing around in. Earlier live-action Spider-Man adaptations only had one or two suits but Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has seen upwards of seven different variations on the classic Spidey look. I can get behind a new suit when it makes narrative sense, e.g. the Iron Spider suit being an upgrade that was very welcome during the higher stakes of Infinity War. However, during a good portion of this movie Spider-man dons the “black and gold suit,” a suit that turns out to be his regular Stark suit inverted inside out because the outside got messy. This has zero narrative weight and comes off as a completely transparent attempt from Marvel to sell a larger variety of Funko Pops and other assorted merchandise. There’s plenty of reason for them to give us to make a suit justifiable to be in the spotlight but this one really just had no reason to happen besides merch sales and feels lazy in its explanation for why it needed to have screen time. All in all, this is really just a nitpick on my behalf but there’s a massive pool of options for Spider-Man suits that Marvel can draw from and adapt to the big screen and the quote-unquote “black and gold suit” really just feels like low-hanging fruit.



Unfortunately, that's about all of what I can say without giving away any of the big surprises this movie has in store for the audience. I know a good portion of this review so far has been personal nitpicks but I'd honestly recommend seeing this movie, especially if you're a fan of Spider-Man. It's one of those films that benefits from being experienced in a theatrical environment. You will not regret seeing this film, I can guarantee you that.

REVIEW SECOND HALF - WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS

If you are a Spider-Man fan or even just a Marvel fan I'd highly recommend this movie. It is a critical point for Tom Holland's arc as Spider-Man. He has officially come into his own here as the character and it's his best performance to date. This movie has fan service galore, incredible villains, wonderful callbacks, high stakes, and amazing surprises around every bend. It is not one to pass up on. As a final verdict, I'm going to grant this movie a 9.5/10. Amazing and definitely one of the most memorable and exciting Marvel movies yet.


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