Spider-Man: No Way Home Review
*This review contains major spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home. We highly suggest you see the movie before reading this review.*
If you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Spider-Man, comic books, Tom Holland, superhero movies, or haven’t been living under a rock for the last few months, then there’s a good chance you’ve been eagerly awaiting Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), directed by Jon Watts and starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch. The film is the third installment in the joint Sony-Disney Spider-Man franchise and the latest addition to the ever-growing MCU.
What No Way Home Is All About
When we last left Peter Parker (Tom Holland) at the end of Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019), he was watching a special news bulletin in the middle of downtown New York as J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons) revealed his secret identity to the world along with doctored footage of Mysterio’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) death. Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up exactly where the last film left off, with Peter watching in horror as the secret he worked so hard to protect is revealed. MJ (Zendaya) is quickly overwhelmed by pedestrians who’ve seen her with Spider-Man and so she and Peter swing back to his place to hide. Unfortunately, it’s soon clear that hiding isn’t an option as helicopters, crowds, and federal agents swarm Aunt May’s (Marisa Tomei) apartment and take everyone—including Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Ned (Jacob Batalon)—into custody.
Although Peter is eventually cleared of all charges by the police—thanks to his amazing lawyer, Matt Murdoch (Charlie Cox)—the public is less likely to believe his innocence. While this is inconvenient at first, it eventually begins ruining the lives of his loved ones, namely in the form of Ned and MJ being rejected from every college they’ve applied to because of their association with Spider-Man. Desperate to fix things, Peter seeks the help of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell on the world so they’ll all forget Spider-Man’s identity. He agrees despite his better judgement and things quickly spiral out of control when his constant talking tampers with the spell. Dr. Strange contains the botched magic and sends Peter on his way.
Unfortunately, the spell went worse than previously thought and instead of causing people to forget who Spider-Man really is, it’s drawn villains from alternate universes who are hell-bent on killing Peter Parker. Or, more specifically, their Peter Parkers. With the help of Ned, MJ, and Dr. Strange’s magic, Peter is able to capture and contain Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), and eventually the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). Although it finally looks like Peter and his friends have reason to celebrate, Dr. Strange dampens their mood when it’s revealed he’s using a magical box to send everyone back to their respective universes… at the exact moments they were killed by Spider-Man.
Determined to try and give them all a second chance, Peter manages to trap Dr. Strange in the mirror dimension and helps the group escape the dungeons of the Sanctum Sanctorum and seek refuge in Happy’s condo. Once there, Peter tries to cure each villain using the stolen Stark tech that Happy had in storage. He manages to fix the inhibitor chip that was destroyed in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) and gives Otto Octavius control over his arms once more. He then tries to work on a cure for Norman Osborn and Max Dillon, but things go wrong when Normal slips back under the control of the performance-enhancing serum and becomes the Green Goblin.
From here, chaos ensues as the villains break out of Happy’s condo, beat Spider-Man to a bloody pulp, and then force him to watch as the Green Goblin attacks May and rides off into the night. At first, it seems Peter and his aunt have miraculously escaped with their lives, but it’s quickly revealed that she’s been mortally wounded. She tells Peter that he did the right thing by trying to give everyone a second chance and that “with great power comes great responsibility” before passing away in his arms.
Meanwhile, MJ and Ned—who’ve been waiting with the magical box—wish that they could find Peter. To their surprise, Ned is able to open a portal to Peter with Dr. Strange’s stolen ring. To their greater surprise, they’ve stumbled on a different Peter (Andrew Garfield) than the one they were expecting. They try to open the portal a second time, only to once again find a different Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire). Eventually, MJ, Ned, and the two Peters locate, well, Peter and have a heart-to-heart about the losses they’ve experienced while wearing the mask before deciding to join forces to stop the villains.
The film ends in a massive battle atop the Statue of Liberty—which is being remodelled to hold Captain America’s shield instead of a torch—that doesn’t disappoint. The trio of Spider-Men manage to cure all of the villains and send them home, although it comes at a steep price. To prevent more villains from crossing through the rift in space and time, Dr. Strange performs a spell so the entire world will forget about Peter Parker. He says his final goodbyes to his loved ones and the film ends with Peter seeing Ned and MJ at a diner, neither of them aware he was once their best friend.
No Way Home Packs an Emotional Punch
This newest addition to the MCU is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, Spider-Man films to date. Peter Parker’s journey isn’t about figuring out who he is as Spider-Man—we already know this—and instead focuses on his struggle to find a balance between his life as a teenager and his life as a superhero. It looks at the complexities of maintaining relationships and how they’re infinitely more complicated when you’re under public scrutiny or in the public eye.
It also gives us a Peter Parker who’s not afraid to ask for help from the people he cared about most. In previous iterations of the character, Peter Parker did his best to keep the people he loved out of his life. In Spider-Man (2002), Peter rejects Mary Jane’s (Kirsten Dunst) advances because he doesn’t want her to get hurt like Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) does when the Green Goblin figures out his identity. In Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), Peter ends up breaking up with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) after her father is killed helping him defeat Dr. Connors. But in this film, much like the previous two installments of this series, Peter Parker is made stronger—not weaker—by calling on MJ and Ned for help. They’re the ones who help him track the villains he needs to recapture, they’re the ones to assemble the other Peter Parkers, and they’re the ones who act as his support system when his aunt dies.
May’s passing is also one of the strongest scenes in the film. She’s acted as the one source of stability and parental love in Peter’s life, a role that’s become even more important to him since the death of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) at the end of Avengers: Endgame (2019). It’s why her speech about power and responsibility holds so much more weight in this film than previous versions of this speech held. Audiences have seen two different Ben Parkers (Cliff Robertson, Martin Sheen) share this wisdom with Peter, but only May’s felt important. We got to see her evolve not just as Peter’s guardian, but as a character in her own right, which is why this conclusion to her story felt so meaningful.
This Movie Brings Closure
Spider-Man: No Way Home also brought audiences a sense of closure when it comes to the storylines laid out for both Maguire and Garfield’s Spider-Men.
For Tobey Maguire’s iteration of the character, we see him older, wiser, and significantly more relaxed. Maguire’s Parker talks about how he worked through his rage after his uncle’s death and how he’s finally found a way to make his relationship with Mary Jane work. He talks about how he’s put in the work to be a better man, and his laid-back performance really sells it.
For Garfield’s Peter Parker, we learn that he’s continued to mourn the loss of Gwen Stacy profoundly for the last few years. He hasn’t gotten over her, isn’t dating anyone new, and explains that he can never forgive himself for not saving her in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). Unlike Maguire, Garfield looks and acts like a man who’s lived through tremendous loss, despite his comical dialogue. He shares with Holland’s Peter that after Gwen’s passing, he stopped pulling his punches and began to lose control of himself, letting the rage he felt about her death consume him. Garfield’s performance is heartbreaking and painful to watch in how sincere it feels. There’s also a beautiful moment of redemption for his character. MJ is knocked off of the Statue of Liberty and as Holland’s Peter goes to save her, he’s abducted by the Green Goblin and helpless to stop her fall. However, Garfield’s Peter throws himself after MJ as she plummets to certain death and saves her the way he wished he’d been able to save Gwen. It’s a heartfelt scene between MJ and Peter, with Garfield’s character even tearing up, and it gives audiences a sense of resolution when it comes to his biggest regret.
The Characters Get a Do-Over
Although Spider-Man (2002) might not have been Sam Raimi’s strongest work, usually finding itself as a punchline when talking about superhero movies, Spider-Man: No Way Home gives the characters new life. Doc Ock goes from a mad scientist obsessed with getting “the power of the sun in the palm of [his] hand” to a man struggling with his demons. He’s no longer a supervillain, but a victim of circumstance and good intentions gone wrong. He, like the non-MCU Spider-Men, gets a redemption arc and even helps the web-slinging trio to stop the other villains.
The Green Goblin also gets a brilliant makeover. Norman is first introduced to audiences as a man suffering from a mental health crisis and actively seeks out help at the shelter May is working at. He’s a man held hostage in his body, unable to remember the terrible crimes he’s committed as the Goblin and desperate to be free of his burden. However, the second he succumbs to the power of his inner demon, he becomes the scariest villain of them all. He attacks Spider-Man with such unrelenting brutality that you can’t help but cringe as you watch Holland’s Peter take a beating, and when he kills May it’s with a smile on his face. At the film’s conclusion, he even manages to nearly kill MJ, something that was only prevented because of Garfield’s Peter Parker.
Even Marc Webb’s villains get an upgrade. Electro, in particular, is more self-aware of who he once was and has a touching moment with Garfield’s Spider-Man where he talks about how he felt so alone and unseen. It’s a great step in his evolution as a character and we can only hope to see more of him in future movies. (Plus, he shares a great moment with the Sandman as the two commiserate about how it’s important to be “careful where you fall.”)
It’s a Really Fun Movie
Although Spider-Man: No Way Home hits you right in the feels, it also brings some classic Marvel humour and makes some fun nods to the two other franchises (including Norman saying “you know, I’m something of a scientist myself” with a deadpan expression on his face). It’s full of action, comedy, breathtaking visuals, and tons of heart. Spider-Man: No Way Home is well worth a watch (or ten) and we can’t wait to see where Tom Holland takes the character, and the MCU, next.
Watch Spider-Man: No Way Home