Photo Courtesy of Trusted Reviews
Article written by Myles Hoglund
(Warning, this is a spoiler review! You’ve been warned.)
Spider-Man has been in our pop culture for decades and decades, from comic books, cartoons, video games, and of course, movies. While the first three theatrical films were tied into the 1970s CBS series The Amazing Spider-Man, it wasn’t until 2002’s Spider-Man where not only he was catapulted into massive success, but the superhero genre as a whole. Unfortunately, after the critical and financial success of Spider-Man and its 2004 sequel both directed by Sam Raimi, the franchise would experience quite the roller-coaster. After the mixed response from 2007’s Spider-Man 3 and cancellation of another installment to Raimi’s series, the franchise would instead be rebooted with a new cast and director, this being Marc Webb. The Amazing Spider-Man was released in 2012, this time with Andrew Garfield in the titular role as opposed to Tobey Maguire from the previous films. While this first film did do well at the box office and was mostly received positively from fans and critics, it would be the 2014 sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that brought the series back to more mixed reactions. Much like with the series before it, there were more sequels and even spin-offs planned to take place, but these would once again be scrapped. However, Spider-Man would see a light at the end of the tunnel, as he would be back onscreen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Starting in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man would be played by Tom Holland and would have a more supporting role opposite to all the other heroes but would star in his own film a year later. Directed by Jon Watts, Spider-Man: Homecoming strived to have the character in a more light-hearted John Hughes-inspired high school comedy compared to the other films and despite this different direction, the film was a critical and financial success once again. After appearances in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man would have another film in 2019 titled Spider-Man: Far From Home and not only had positive reception but would become the first Spider-Man film to gross a billion dollars at the box office.
Finally, we have reached the next installment in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Arguably, this may be the most ambitious Spider-Man film out of the whole lot, not only having to follow up with his identity revealed to the world and being framed, not only having to rope in Doctor Strange, but to also deal with the whole concept of the multiverse with villains from previous films thrown into the scuffle. The question does remain: Does Spider-Man: No Way Home make it through with so much going on? Let’s find out.
Firstly, the action. The two previous Spider-Man films haven’t had the best action admittedly, either from uninteresting concepts or set pieces, or too consumed by effects and CGI to feel engaging, but thankfully, No Way Home fixes that issue. Not only is there more action throughout the film, but most of them also feel impactful and have weight and don’t fully rely on the effects. Even the more CG-reliant sequences are large in scale and have interesting concepts, so you don’t really care, like the sequence with Doctor Strange and the final battle at the Statue of Liberty. The acting is also something that’s been improved from the previous two films, with Holland giving his best performance as the character yet with so much commitment and emotion, even in the action sequences.
Of course, the stealer of the show is Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin. Not only is he just as over the top as you’d expect, but the story allows him to explore aspects of his character the Raimi films didn’t allow him to do. We see more of the split personality at play, the vulnerability of Norman as well as to have more ferocity in the action and targeting Peter’s weaknesses as Green Goblin. The acting from the rest of the cast is solid enough, high points and low points here and there but solid overall. Because of the mostly strong acting, the character interactions and personalities are all on point, both from the returning villains and returning Spider-Men. Watching Tobey, Andrew, and Tom interact is not only great to watch as a fan, but the three have great chemistry that it’s great to watch regardless, which results in their scenes together being personal favorites of mine.
The musical score retooling their themes from the previous films is a lovely touch as well. With all these aspects, the film accomplishes its greatest strength, it finally makes Holland’s character FEEL like Spider-Man. What do I mean by this? Well, I (and many other fans) felt that Holland’s portrayal of the character didn’t quite click. In Homecoming and Far From Home, for instance, there are many moments when things start to get heavy for Parker, but the film pulls back by either having another MCU character help him out, or it’s brushed aside for laughs or not even mentioned again. I understand that the films have lighthearted aspects to them, but there are only so many times you can see Peter Parker have things work out for him until it gets stale. No Way Home doesn’t fall into that trap, and has the film not only gets heavy and dark but makes Peter’s actions have consequences not only on him but the people around him.
From the opening minutes of him dealing with his identity revealed, to the death of Aunt May, and even with the ending of Peter being forgotten by the world. Not only does Peter make that final choice and he must deal with it, but it also cements that from now on, he’s on his own. Even if this final choice does potentially rid the chance of him interacting with the other MCU characters, it’s still exciting because like the comics and previous films, he must fix his problems himself, not another hero. He finally learns the meaning of “With great power, comes great responsibility” and it’s incredibly satisfying.
Despite these qualities, there are flaws, one being the comedy. Granted the film isn’t as comedic as Homecoming or Far From Home and there are a few good ones, there are still plenty of jokes that either take away the dramatic/emotional weight of a scene or are just not funny at all. For example, there’s a scene where Peter, MJ, and Ned meet Doc Ock and once he introduces himself with his full name, the three of them start laughing and question if that’s his real name.
While villains like Green Goblin and Electro have new aspects explored, others feel almost pointless. Sandman and Lizard don’t have much going on and while it’s understandable that some villains would get the short end of the stick, I question why they were brought into the film in the first place. Sandman was a mostly sympathetic villain in Spider-Man 3 and not only is that not brought here, but his motivation also doesn’t make much sense. Early on, he talks about how he wants to go back to his world for his daughter, and yet despite this, he’s fighting with the other villains at the final battle anyway. What changed with him? Lizard doesn’t fare better either, with his motivation made not super clear but his lack of screen time and personality devolves him into a generic monster. Doc Ock ALMOSTS falls into this trap, but his interactions with the other characters make up for it, even if he is underutilized in the story and action. There are also several conveniences and things that don’t quite add up.
From Ned being able to successfully use a sling ring quickly, Peter being able to move his physical body despite being pushed out by Doctor Strange, the cure of Norman not working the first time, but the second time works just fine, and even Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock/Venom being able to appear. The latter is especially head-scratching. It’s explained by Doctor Strange that the spells he casts to make everyone forget Peter Parker is Spider-Man, affect those who know such information, and because Peter tampered with the spell, it reached every universe that has people like that, thus returning villains and Spider-Men. Tom Hardy’s Venom doesn’t fit that mold, as his two movies don’t make any sort of reference to ANY Peter Parker or Spider-Man, and yet he’s able to be thrust into the film like the other villains. I don’t know if there will be some explanation later down the line with another film, but it’s confusing regardless. A more nitpicky point is that I didn’t quite care for Aunt May’s death or Peter’s relationship with MJ. Despite the acting, there wasn’t a moment where I go “Ok, I get it now. I love these guys now!”. This isn’t a strong criticism as I was still engaged in the story, but not enough to cry or feel bad that MJ forgets Peter.
Overall, Spider-Man: No Way Home gets a LOT right. With so much at play, it’s a miracle it’s not an incomprehensible mess, much like how Avengers: Infinity War and Into the Spider-Verse succeeded. It’s easily the best Spider-Man film with Holland as the character, and not only feels like a satisfying conclusion to the previous films but sets up a very exciting future with the character. If you weren’t the biggest fan of Holland’s Spider-Man like I was, this film will very likely win you over. Despite the instances of its ambition not working out, it hits it swinging! With this in mind, Spider-Man: No Way Home gets a strong 4 out of 5 huskies. Excelsior!