Spider-Man: No Way Home becomes the franchise’s first sequel to succeed genuinely. It does so by celebrating everything Peter Parker stands for without sacrificing an ounce of awesomeness.
Despite insurmountable odds, this Spidey epic lives entirely up to the hype, with great power and an even greater understanding of its responsibility to deliver on a momentous filibuster. The action-packed ballad throws the entire neighbourhood at us with a tangled web of monster-hunting antics, scarring emotional beats, and heartwrenching Spider-Men unions. As it defies impossible feats to swing success, this third outing is every inch the caliber of storytelling Spider-Man deserves.
Only the best movies can break you down to nothing and still leave you on one of the most incredible storytelling highs of any cinematic experience. No Way Home is a deeply profound and profoundly hilarious experience from start to finish – one that words will never quite do justice.
It is not an exaggeration to say No Way Home could be your new favourite superhero movie.
There was fear a multiverse movie would take away from Peter Parker’s journey. However, in the end, Tom Holland’s portrayal of the titular web-slinger and the tone that accompanies his style refuses to be overshadowed in a movie brimming with heavy hitters. He continues to pull back darker layers to the teen’s obsessive nature while never losing sight of the dorky, wannabe superhero that went dumpster diving for scrap parts. It’s confirmation that Holland embodies the best of this character even in his darkest hour, and all success here stems from his phenomenal portrayal of growing pains.
The first act of No Way Home helps Holland reach this feat by sticking to the familiar beats of its branding with a slue of fast-moving montages and offbeat humour. Peter’s nonsensical outlook on life does not falter in the face of becoming a public marauder. If anything, the Spidey gang doubles down on the absurdity of the situation as Peter immediately calls Ned to freak out over the news and is quickly caught up in an awkward breakup between Happy and May. Everyone is in on the joke here and immensely enjoying themselves.
It is commendable to see that lighthearted dialogue stick around well into the darker half of the film. Jon Watts ensures the Ferris Bueller-style antics of the first film thrive on. Regardless of how much this film relies on past Spider-Man iterations to swing its story, the youthful lens we first meet our Peter Parker through does not dissolve into darkness.
Even when drowning in grief, Peter finds the light, and this time, he shares that experience with characters who have suffered too long in the stifling shadows.
This spectacle boasts an array of spidey friends and foes that pander to the fan experience. But to call what they do “fanservice” isn’t entirely accurate, not by the time the end credits roll.
Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock wastes no time making his entrance as the web slinger’s “very good” lawyer. Unfortunately, it is a blink, and you miss him, cameo. But, regardless of how underutilized this brief appearance is, there is no payoff greater than seeing Matt giving legal advice to Spider-Man. The moment he and Peter react instinctively to the brick crashing through the window suggests this superhero conglomerate is moving in exciting directions on all fronts. Daredevil is the first of many presents Marvel drops in our laps and an example of what the rest of the film attempts not to do with its stream of notable cameos.
The Sinister Six trickle into the plot seamlessly. From Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock to the Lizard, this mismatch of iconic supervillains and failed antagonists play to the fun rogue gallery elements of this multiverse mishap. For the first half of the film, their presence in Peter’s story is played to full comedic effect, with Fox’s Electro and Church’s Sandman laughing off the absurdity of their missteps. For once, these antagonists can laugh at the absurdity of their situation, and the added dynamic of a Spidey gang eager to join them enriches the venture. Zendaya and Batalon’s teenage crime-fighters fall effortlessly into step with these old foes whenever Peter is preoccupied.
When it comes time to up the stakes and punish Peter, one man steps up to the task with a renewed determination to take this fun superhero romp to horrifying new heights.
Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin traumatized many during his time in the Spider-Man franchise, and he returns to No Way Home with a reminder that talent hasn’t slipped with age. He is the terrifying reality check this film’s trajectory needs to propel us into the next half. The reveal that Osborn has left the building could not have been executed better, with Peter’s spidey senses stopping the plot dead in its tracks.
These villains start as a fun tool to demonstrate Peter’s selfless nature and then weaponize against him in gratifying ways. These evildoers don’t work as a cohesive unit, and their legacies are complicated, all of which adds rich layers to this unusual Sinister Six experience. These villains are not weak plot tools; they are the beating heart of Peter’s trial by fire. The decision to treat these villains as extensions of Peter’s journey to greatness rather than his conflict is born from a determination to alter the tired superhero formula. The Sinister Six are not the only elements here willing to change for the sake of telling a better story, with writers brave enough to challenge the antagonist curse.
No Way Home did not have to give these villains their happy ending. But, in doing so, we witness a significant turning point for the Spider-Man franchise as we move beyond the one-note boss battles.
From the outside, this Spidey spectacle looks no less guilty of weaponizing nostalgia than other blockbusters with theorizing all but overshadowed the main plot. The circumstances surrounding this monumental experience pose a vital question: how does a project honour Holland’s Peter when its premise hinges on the appearance of previous web slingers?
As it turns out, honouring Peter Parker’s legacy is easy when you ditch the money-grabbing cameos and treat this outing as a definitive conclusion to all three Spider-Man franchises.
No Way Home is, by all accounts, an authentic goodbye to Parker’s teenage years. It is a feat in itself, given how many moving parts this story juggles throughout his final days in high school. But what gives No Way Home the right to live up to the hype is its capability of providing meaningful closure to Andrew and Tobey’s iterations while nudging Holland’s Spidey closer to the source material. Maguire and Garfield are not treated as cameos. Instead, they are imperative to the third act of this film, weaving lore from their respected tales into this showdown.
This Spidey ensemble is a crowning achievement because it goes beyond our expectations of a small cameo. If taken out of the plot, the carefully threaded storylines that propel Holland’s Peter to success would fall apart. For this, many little moments will live in infamy, like the long-awaited interrogation surrounding Maguire’s bodily web fluid and the initiative to give each Peter a number offscreen so they can bicker in the heat of battle over who is who.
However, two particular scenes stand out as the best utilization of the three Spideys.
The first is the introduction of Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parkers. This scene is brilliantly blocked and pumped full of giddy shock value. The initial shot of a tall figure in the dark alleyway is genius. As the figure approaches the screen and the Amazing Spider-Man costume comes into sharp focus, it is clear Marvel has exceeded expectations before this cameo can even get underway. Then Garfield rips off his mask, and the instant swell of emotion is not something formulaic blockbuster can force from its audience.
The Amazing Spider-Man movies never understood Garfield’s greatness, which is apparent in the first beats of his return. Marvel perfectly captures the essence of what makes his version so loveable as Peter refuses to crawl around on the ceiling for Michelle, eventually giving in after she pelts him with bread rolls. The joy of knowing, after seven years, Garfield put on that iconic suit just so he could dust cobwebs for Ned’s grandmother is insurmountable. We do not deserve this man.
Then there’s Maguire’s Peter Parker, who steps onto the hero pedestal we put him on all those years ago so effortlessly. He instantly puts fans at ease with his calm demeanour and casual ability to embody Peter without the flashy suit or wed tricks. Witnessing the original Spider-Man return to claim his throne is a theatre experience we will never forget, and it is backed by excellent writing.
This scene plays beautifully to the strengths of these Spidey iterations, and for that, we must applaud. We have Garfield in his super-suit with the witty dialogue and over-the-top movements that made him a stand-out Spider-Man. Maguire, on the other hand, was always an exceptional Peter Parker. So he greets fans as the kind and courageous man behind the mask. Zendaya’s MJ is a brilliant addition, too, as the skeptical buffer to the madness.
Another stand-out moment that emphasizes the emotional undertones of this union between Holland, Garfield, and Maguire’s Spider-Men comes when MJ loses her footing and falls from the Statue of Liberty. The look of peril shared between Holland’s Peter and MJ as he is swept away is powerful. The film’s most significant parallel quickly follows as Garfield’s Peter comes to the rescue. The power this moment of redemption holds for him in the wake of Gwen’s death is defined by the tears welling in Garfield’s eyes as he lets us feel every inch of grief. This moment of raw emotion is perfect, and it isn’t easy to believe there were dry eyes in the audience after a performance like that.
No Way Home does not throw Andrew and Tobey to the fans in the final minutes. Instead, it uses this remarkable cast of preestablished characters to build on enticing lore abandoned in Sony’s graveyard of films. By looking beyond Disney’s Marvel properties for inspiration, this adventure pays better homage to the Spider-Man persona because no one understands Peter better than himself.
That sentimental approach allows this bloated ensemble to work as one unit.
Now for the near-perfect part.
There is no denying that No Way Home effectively weaponizes our love for these characters. One can respect that this film wants to be just as emotionally intelligent and heartbreaking as it is immensely entertaining. However, I wish it did not have to kill off one of the best iterations of Aunt May to give the third act its passionate urgency. By sacrificing Marisa Tomei’s universally beloved “cool” Aunt, the film essentially says this is Peter Parker’s story, whether you like it or not.
Spider-Man’s legacy is defined by the tragedy of losing his Uncle Ben and even Aunt May when the narrative calls for it. In the same breath, however, this film clings to the idea that Peter’s selflessness can change the fates of these villains. If the worst evildoers can transcend death, it’s tough to make a case for May’s inevitable demise. Mainly because tragic deaths already define Peter’s life. Uncle Ben may not have been the defining death in Marvel’s trajectory for this character, but Tony Stark’s is still fresh in our minds. So it feels like a failed attempt to distance Peter after years of linking him closely to Iron Man.
Look, someone had to die for this film to earn that final act, and as much as it kills me to say this, it should have been Happy. Jon Favreau is Marvel royalty, but he no longers has connections to any notable projects within the MCU. Happy’s death would close his ten-year, allowing the same impact on the story with a character that goes back to Iron Man.
By removing Peter’s only parental figure from the equation, this film carelessly isolates him.
The decision to have Peter Parker’s identity forgotten separates him from everything he accomplished in these first three films. Even though it makes sense for the story No Way Home is telling, the concept that one must endure the worst emotional and physical torture to be Spider-Man is tiresome. Additionally, I refuse to believe Peter’s transition to adulthood means he must be alone. That works against everything Maguire preaches when he confirms a family is in the cards for them.
Peter maturing does not mean his character has to ditch support systems to wear that new suit. Regardless of how rewarding it would be for Tomei’s bright personality to accompany Peter into the next phase, Marvel clearly wants a clean slate for future projects. No Way Home manages to get away with that choice unscathed, but the decision to have Peter follow a lonely path does expose a part of this sequel that is incapable of transcending past missteps.
Just as Uncle Ben’s death is inevitable, Spider-Man’s storytelling faults are anticipated, even at the highest level of performance.
This extravagant showdown of second chances is everything that makes Spider-Man special, with not a single detail from his decades-long journey left out of the fight.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is a smorgasbord of Spidey references and self-mocking satire, unrelenting in its pursuit to tell the most prolific superhero story yet. Despite everything this third film pulls from past franchises, it never gives in to their darker tones. Instead, it finds creative ways to hold tight to the hyperactive, rock and roll montages of Homecoming and the unflinching innocence of Holland’s soft-spoken Peter Parker.
This tribute to the web-slinger does not feel like a bid to sell us another big-budget superhero adventure. Instead, this honest and fun character study reveals the beating heart behind the Spider-Man formula we embrace even when it struggles.
With twenty years of nostalgia to expertly unpack, No Way Home might be the best Marvel film to date, if not one of the most extraordinary superhero events of our time.
Great power, indeed, Spider-Man.