Josh Reviews Spider-Man: No Way Home
Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up seconds after the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, with J. Jonah Jameson and Mysterio’s having revealed to the world that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. This brings Peter Parker’s life crashing down around him. Hounded everywhere he goes, and watching his friends Ned and MJ’s lives also being ruined by the spotlight now upon them all, Peter decides to ask Doctor Strange if there’s any way Strange can create a spell that will allow his life to go back to normal. Over Wong’s objections, Strange agrees; but, of course, things go wrong and suddenly Peter Parker finds himself attacked by enemies that he’s never encountered before but with whom we, the audience, are very familiar…
Spider-Man: No Way Home is extraordinary. Over and over and over again, I am so impressed by how Kevin Feige and his team behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe are able to continue to outdo themselves, crafting near-perfect super-hero movies. No other studio or company can even come close. They “get” these characters and this world so perfectly. Even if there are some plot or story problems (and this movie, like almost any other, does have some plot holes you can pick at), it hardly matters to me because they get the characters so perfectly right, so that I as an audience member am completely captivated by these characters’ stories. And the storytelling in No Way Home is so audacious — they take some HUGE narrative swings in this film — that I was bowled over and delighted by the ambition on display.
I’m impressed that the MCU team managed to keep most of this film’s big surprises a secret from general audiences. While rumors had of course crept out over the course of the last year that could be found by fans who sought them out, no trailer spoiled what is, frankly, the true story of this movie and the main reason to go see it. In an age in which many movie trailers tell you the entire story of the movie they’re advertising, I am incredibly impressed at Marvel’s restraint in keeping their cards so close to their vest.
And so, if you haven’t yet seen Spider-Man: No Way Home, please don’t read beyond this paragraph. This movie is best enjoyed by going in cold, without spoilers, and enjoying the ride. You’re going to love it. I certainly did.
OK, for those of you who have seen the film, let’s dig in.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
Again, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, STOP READING NOW and come back once you have.
OK, here we go!
The trailers did show us Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus (reprising his role from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 from back in 2004) as well as Jamie Foxx’s Electro (from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 from 2014), so it was clear that this movie was going to explore the concept of the multiverse. This has been a familiar concept in Marvel and DC comic books for decades, and it’s very cool to see the idea hit the mainstream with the MCU digging into this concept in a big way. The animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse brought this idea to life in a spectacularly entertaining fashion, the Disney+ What If…? show was all about the multiverse, and we know that the upcoming Doctor Strange sequel will be called In the Multiverse of Madness. I’ve been excited for months to see what Spider-Man: No Way Home would do with this concept in live-action.
It was a brilliant idea to depict this concept by bringing in characters from the two previous cinematic interpretations of Spider-Man: the three Sam Raimi Spider-Man films starring Tobey Maguire and Marc Webb’s two Amazing Spider-Man films starring Andrew Garfield. Rather than making up new versions of the familiar Spider-Man characters, No Way Home establishes those prior Spider-Man film series as legitimate parts of the MCU; they’re just alternate-universe versions from across the multiverse. This is genius!! Had the movie just done that, dayyenu.
Instead, No Way Home proves far, far more ambitious that I’d ever dreamed. The movie doesn’t just use some of those characters, it actually sets out to give the characters from those two previous film series the emotional conclusion that neither actually received. It embraces what was great about those movies and those versions of their characters and also demonstrates a clear-eyed view of their flaws, and in fact sets out to redeem those flaws and draw all three Spider-Man film series together in a beautiful and emotionally rich way.
I’d read the rumors that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield would be reprising their roles as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and I’d hoped that would be the case. I assumed, if this happened, it would be for a brief fun scene at the end with the three Spider-Men working together to kick ass. I never ever dreamed that Mr. Maguire and Mr. Garfield would have such significant roles in the film. They’re a HUGE part of the film’s third act. I am bowled over that 1) this happened and that 2) Marvel was confident enough in this movie that they allowed this to remain a secret and they haven’t been promoting the hell out of it for the last six months. Wow.
It’s hard to express how happy I was to see these two actors back in these roles. Let’s start with Tobey Maguire. I adore his first two Spider-Man movies, which were directed by Sam Raimi. The third one broke my heart, and so it was an absolute pleasure to get to see Mr. Maguire back in this role. He’s all grown up, as one character comments, and yet, Mr. Maguire is still note-perfect in his depiction of the humble and inherently good Peter Parker. It makes me happy to hear him say that, while things might still be complicated with his MJ, they were eventually able to work things out. (Spider-Man 3 left them mostly on the outs.)
While I love Andrew Garfield as an actor (two days after seeing this movie I watched Tick, Tick… Boom!, in which Mr. Garfield stars, and he was absolutely magnificent), but I strongly disliked both of his Amazing Spider-Man movies. I thought the films got Peter Parker entirely wrong, presenting Peter as way too arrogant and way too depressed. And I’m still angry at The Amazing Spider-Man 2 for messing up the story of the Death of Gwen Stacy. And so I was dazzled at the way Mr. Garfield’s scenes in this movie seem designed to repair and redeem his version of Peter Parker. He’s adjusted his performance just slightly — and the character is written much better. So we still get his rapid-fire dialogue, his sort of manic, all over the place Peter Parker… but he feels much more centered and “right” to me. It’s interesting to hear his Peter describe the darkness he dipped into following the death of Gwen — that was the emotional follow-up to her death that I’d wanted but that movie never gave us. Even better, his story in this film feels designed to give him, and the audience, the emotional closure those Amazing Spider-Man movies never had. I got very emotional — as did Mr. Garfield’s Peter, on-screen! — when he’s able to save MJ from death the way he failed to save Gwen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. What a powerhouse of a moment that is! I’ve written many times before about how the continuity of the MCU movies enables them to build to an emotional pay-off that a single movie could never achieve on its own, because we’ve been following and loving these characters throughout multiple movies. I never dreamed an MCU Spider-Man movie would be able to do that for a pre-MCU Spider-Man from another film series!!! Wowsers.
All of the scenes with the three Spider-Men on-screen made me so happy. I loved the chemistry of the three actors together, and I love that the film allowed them time to play. The simple “it’s what we do” refrain might be one of the best encapsulations of the basic character of Peter Parker that I’ve ever seen. Fantastic. I also loved loved loved their conversation about the Tobey Spidey’s organic web-shooters!! (That was quite a fan debate at the time. Let it be known I’ve always loved the idea and thought it made perfect sense; it’s crazy to me to think Peter Parker always has to find time to make his own web fluid in a lab!)
I led with writing about Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, but don’t think that means Tom Holland plays third fiddle in his own movie. One of the many wonders of this film is that it’s so clearly still centered on Mr. Holland’s Peter and his journey, rather than letting him get swallowed up by all the other characters, as happens in too many bad super-hero sequel films for me to name (cough Spider-Man 3 cough). I’ve enjoyed Tom Holland’s performance as Peter from his first minute on-screen in Captain America: Civil War, and it’s been a blast watching his version of this character grow with each new film. In many ways, this version of Peter Parker has had things pretty good, so it’s interesting to see him pushed into a really dark place in this film. It’s the right move for the character at this point in his film journey, and Mr. Holland nails every second of it. Peter is tested in this film the way he’s never been tested before; it’s emotionally wrenching, as it should be — and through it all, the film never loses sight of Peter’s innate goodness (one of my main complaints about the Amazing Spider-Man films).
One of the weird quirks of the MCU version of Spider-Man is that, because we met Peter in Civil War after he’d already become Spider-Man (thankfully sparing us a third version of the character’s origins), we never got to meet the MCU Uncle Ben or to hear him say “with great power, comes great responsibility.” And so I thought it was brilliant to allow Marisa Tomei’s May to say that to Peter here. I was deeply moved in that moment. I also knew for certain, the moment she said those words, that she was a goner, and sure enough, seconds later I was proven right. I’ve loved this version of May and I’m sorry to see Marisa Tomei depart the MCU, but this death worked well; it was an important twist at that point in the film.
Zendaya’s MJ moved into center stage in Spider-Man: Far From Home, and I very quickly fell in love with her wonderfully unique take on MJ. She has terrific chemistry with Tom Holland’s Peter, and I was pleased this film continued to explore that relationship. She and Jacob Batalon’s Ned get a little less prominence here than they did in Far From Home, but they both still got a lot of great moments. Ned’s lighting-quick collapse during his police interrogation was very funny, and I loved seeing him learn to use Dr. Strange’s “sling ring”!
I was so happy to see so many villains from the previous Spider-Man film series reprise their roles here. Miraculously, the film managed to give each one of them plenty of fun stuff to do in the story, without ever feeling too overwhelming. Willem Dafoe was once again fantastic as the Green Goblin. I loved hearing him say “you know, I’m something of a scientist myself!” again. I loved getting one more great multiple-persona argument between Osborn and his Green Goblin mask. I’m glad the film gave us time with the sympathetic version of Norman, the somewhat befuddled old man who wants to do good, while also making his Goblin scary and a genuine threat to all of the Spider-Man. (That the Green Goblin is responsible for the film’s most major character death felt well-earned.)
I was even more happy to see Alfred Molina back as Doc Ock. He was so perfect back in Spider-Man 2, and he was just delicious once again in the role here. I love Mr. Molina as this character, and as with the Green Goblin I’m glad the film allowed him to play both the evil version of his character and also the kind-hearted one.
I was surprised but very happy to see Thomas Haden Church back as Flint Marko, the Sandman, from Spider-Man 3. (For the most part Mr. Marko just voiced the character; the film cleverly holds off on seeing Flint as a human being until the very end, turning that into a surprisingly moving moment.) The Sandman visuals looked great.
Oy, I hated Jamie Foxx’s depiction of Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. And yet… he’s pretty great here!! Once again, they figured out how to tweak this version of the character so that he worked. I loved getting to see the character’s electricity powers depicted in yellow (like the comics, instead of blue like in The Amazing Spider-Man 2)… and it made me so happy that they even found a way to depict the yellow jagged-edge points of energy around his head in a way that resembles his classic comic book outfit but still looks cool on screen! This Electro actually felt dangerous as a villain and also somewhat sympathetic as a human (neither of which were the case before). Another great redemption of choices made in a previous film.
Of all the villains, Rhys Ifan’s The Lizard, from The Amazing Spider-Man, gets short shrift. For some reason they stick him in a van for a big chunk of the movie. I wish they’d done a little more with this character.
It’s funny, the Amazing Spider-Man movies were clearly building towards depicting the Sinister Six (that famous alliance of six Spider-Man villains), but that never happened. So it was cool to sort of see that finally happen here with this multi-villain team-up. (I wonder why they didn’t include one more villain so there would have been six, instead of five? They got so close to the Sinister Six!!)
Incredibly, I haven’t even mentioned Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange! Dr. Strange is a huge part of this movie! Once again, I’d expected a relatively brief cameo but was pleased that he was so involved in the story. (Yes, they found a way to write him out for the whole middle of the movie, but still!) I continue to love Mr. Cumberbatch’s depiction of Dr. Strange, and it was fun to see this movie build on Strange and Peter’s connection from Avengers: Infinity War.
I mentioned some plot problems earlier, and it’s true, I don’t think the film’s story is perfect. Dr. Strange is incredibly self-centered and idiotic — more than usual!! — by starting a world-changing spell without actually taking the time to explain to Peter what he’s doing or what it means. I’d sort of thought from the set-up that alternate-universe characters would be continuing to pop through from other universes as the film continued, until the point when they pressed the button on Strange’s box containing the out-of-control spell… so it seemed a little weird to me that we just got these five and no more.
I’m not sure what happened with the Tobey Maguire Peter Parker’s seemingly mortal injury at the end. When the Green Goblin stabbed him, I thought he was dead. But at the end he’s standing up and just holding his side, so he seems to be OK? I wish the film had better clarified what happened and how injured he was/wasn’t.
I’d also have loved to have actually seen some scenes of these characters after their return to their universes. The whole premise was that Peter was “fixing” all the villains so they weren’t going back to their deaths, right? I don’t exactly understand how that would happen if they’re being sent right back to the moments they left. (For instance, it doesn’t matter if Doc Ock is mentally cured if he’s still going to have to die underneath his out-of-control “power of the sun in the palm of my hands”, right? Remember that he actually WAS sort of back to his old good self at that moment at the very end of Spider-Man 2. So how would things be different/better now?) I’d have liked to have actually seen what happened when those characters re-entered their universes, to see them living their new, better lives. I’d also have loved to have seen one more glimpse of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. It’d have been nice to see clearly that Tobey’s Peter isn’t dead, and I’d have appreciated the closure of getting to see them both happy and doing OK. Oh well.
I also must admit that I don’t love that everyone’s memory actually did get erased at the end. I’m not a fan of that sort of resetting-to-the-status-quo narrative cheat. One of my fears when I first saw the stinger at the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, with the revelation of Peter’s secret identity, was that the next movie would have to find some dumb way to make that not happen. At first, when Strange does his spell but then it gets interrupted, I was so relieved! That forget-everything spell was just a fake-out! And so I was a little bummed when it did, in the end, happen. Still I must admit that, if I have to live with an “everyone forgets” reset ending, this is about the best way to do it. I think the film does a great job at selling the weight of the tragedy of Peter’s losing his friends. The ending works and is emotional.
By the way, I can see how this also would have been a great way to write Peter out of the MCU. I wonder if that was part of the original intention for this ending. It seems like that’s not necessary, now, because Sony and Marvel have announced they’re working on a new trilogy of Spider-Man films together. But I can see how this ending could have been used to neatly slide Peter out of the MCU (and into unconnected future Sony films); if everyone in the Avengers has forgotten about him, there’s no need to mention him ever again. (It’s interesting that the end of the credits doesn’t actually say Spider-Man will return. It says Doctor Strange will return, instead!)
* Michael Giacchino created a terrific score. I was delighted by how he wove in themes from the Raimi Spider-Man films and the Webb Amazing Spider-Man films at key moments!! That made me so happy!! Not to mention his continuing to use the MCU Spider-Man theme AND the classic “Spider-Man, Spider-Man” theme from the old cartoons!! So great!!
* I loved the scene with Hannibal Buress, J.B. Smoove, and Martin Star as teachers at Peter’s school. I’m so glad those three had a funny moment in the movie!
* I would have loved to have seen more of Angourie Rice as Betty Brant and Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson, but I’m glad we did see them both, albeit briefly. (I wonder why we haven’t ever seen Liz again from Spider-Man: Homecoming… or Michael Keaton as her father?)
* I’m glad we got several juicy scenes with J. K. Simmons back as J. Jonah Jameson!!! I’m glad he’s firmly established in the MCU now. I hope we see more of him in future Marvel films!
* At the same time, I’m glad the mid-credits scene confirms that Tom Hardy’s Venom is NOT part of the MCU! Whew! (I have not seen either of his Venom films, and I’m not in a hurry to do so.) I loved that they included Mr. Hardy in this crossover film, and at the same time I’m glad they sent him back off to his own universe at the end, clarifying that those Sony Venom films are not in the MCU.
* I enjoyed the tease for Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness at the end of the credits. I’d have preferred to have just seen one solid scene (maybe more of Strange and Wanda?), but I enjoyed this mini-trailer. (Marvel hasn’t really done that since the trailer for The Avengers at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger.) (I wonder if the Strange-Wanda scene was originally intended to appear at the end of WandaVision? I’ve read there was at one point a plan for Strange to appear at the end of that series, but then they decided not to do that.)
* I liked hearing the name “Damage Control” (I loved that concept from the comics!!), but I’m not sure it makes sense for that clean-up organization to be the one prosecuting Peter Parker for being a vigilante. (Also, didn’t Homecoming establish that Tony Stark had created that organization, to clean up after the Avengers’ messes? So why would a Stark company be investigating Stark Enterprises?)
* I was so happy to see Jon Favreau back again as Happy Hogan. Happy has been in the MCU ever since 2008’s Iron Man!! What a fun surprise that he’s had such a major role in these Spider-Man films!! It was interesting to see the film show Stark Enterprises getting into hot water because of its previously-established connections to Spider-Man. I wish we’d gotten to see a scene with Pepper Potts dealing with all of that…
* How is it that I’ve gotten this deep into my review without mentioning the joyous scene of Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, reprising his role from the Netflix Daredevil show?!! I saw this movie just days after seeing Vincent D’Onofrio back as the Kingpin on Hawkeye. What an amazing one-two punch!!! Those Netflix shows WERE originally supposed to be a part of the MCU. (Remember, the on-screen explanation for why Hell’s Kitchen was in rough shape on the Daredevil show — like it was decades ago back when classic Daredevil comics were being made — was because of “the incident”, which was meant to be the alien attack in the first Avengers film.) But I’d long since ever given up hope that we’d ever see any of those versions of those characters again, once Netflix pulled the plug on all their Marvel shows. Not only did it make this comic book fan’s heart sing to see Peter Parker being defended by Matt Murdock, but I was even more happy to see thus MCU film embrace this character and actor from the Netflix shows. So great!
* I smiled at how the flowers at May’s grave hid the date of her death. The five year jump during Avengers: Endgame means, I believe, that these MCU films are still taking place in our future, something the subsequent MCU films seem to have tried to mostly ignore (out of an understandable aversion to confusing audiences).
* I loved seeing Peter forced to sew his own costume at the end (just like the classic comics) — and I loved seeing that new Spidey costume with the brightest blue I’ve ever seen in any of these movies!
I could go on and on and on about how much I loved this movie. I don’t know what more I could have asked for this film. Hopefully we’ll see Tom Holland in many more MCU films, but for now, if this is the end of his story, it’s a terrific ending. More than that, this movie ties a beautiful bow on two decades and three on-screen series of Spider-Man movies. It’s a joyous celebration of all three film versions of Spider-Man. I loved it.
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