‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Swings High And Doesn’t Miss, Just Barely – Review
The levels of expectations for Spider-Man: No Way Home have been dangerously high for months now. Dangerous in the sense that, thanks to endless online fan speculation, the film is expected to deliver just about everything and more, not only as the end of a trilogy but as this sort of encapsulating celebration of Spider-Man’s live-action history. This, of course, comes with its multiversal plot and the inclusion of five previous headlining villains, as revealed by the trailers. So with all of this plus the continued story of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, it’s almost unbelievable that the film runs as smoothly as it does, at least until it starts to crack under its own pressure. Against all odds, No Way Home does indeed deliver on practically all of its promises, perhaps to its own detriment.
Picking up immediately after Far From Home, Peter Parker is forced into an identity crisis in the most literal sense. After Mysterio’s shocking cliffhanger, the city of New York glorifies Peter as both a noble hero and loose killer. He does his best to swallow his pride and get by in daily life, dodging overbearing fans and the tabloids, though when his notorious reputation starts to derail his hopes for college, and the lives of best friend Ned and girlfriend MJ, he hits rock bottom and makes the ultimate plea. A quick visit to Doctor Strange could fix everything, in theory, but when he selfishly tampers with a monkey’s paw spell, things turn for the absolute worst, for him and everyone who’s come to know the real “Peter Parker” across multiple realities.
No Way Home kicks off at a rapid pace, moving past the fallout of Peter’s identity reveal in seemingly only the first 15-20 minutes. There’s simply too much plot to get through, even for its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Such is needed when having five returning villains, the inclusion of another major superhero, and a developing love story, all leading up to a jam-packed third act extravaganza. Yet, to great surprise, the film never completely falls apart, and it couldn’t be more clear why. The main trio of Holland, Zendaya and Jacob Batalon are at their best. They sell the film’s larger-than-life plot naturally, grounding the story in something much deeper than just “Spider-Man’s Greatest Hits.” Though given all the legacy characters, references and easter eggs, the film can’t help but indulge in that very concept from time to time.
The most fascinating aspect of the film comes from Holland’s interactions with all the villains. Doc Ock, Green Goblin, Lizard, Electro, and Sandman are all sucked into the MCU out of the mere fact that they’ve come to know that their Spider-Men are Peter Parker. They are lost in this new reality, possibly more scared than they would like to admit, and Holland’s Peter seeing them as helpless souls makes for quite the captivating dilemma. Things get more interesting when most of the foes find out that, if they get sent back to their realities, it would be at the time right before they die in their respective films. It couldn’t be more fun seeing everyone slip back into their roles seamlessly, with Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, and Jamie Foxx making it abundantly clear that they’ve still got it, but this narrative thread gives them so much more to do than just take a few hits and repeat old lines. And when No Way Home does dip into some nostalgia with the villains, it doesn’t get too distracting given their new perspectives.
When stepping back and looking at the film in its massive entirety, it can really be appreciated as a true to form comic mini-series event come to life. It certainly feels the most weighty out of the MCU’s Phase 4, and you can almost divide the plot into sections that feel like they would be their own top-telling issues right off the shelf. From seeking out and catching the loose villains with a magic web shooter, thanks to Strange, to even taking a psychedelic trip into the mirror dimension, the film boasts its fair share of memorable set pieces. Seeing everyone come together is great and all, however, these notable set pieces are inspired in their own right. Much can be accredited to director Jon Watts, who now more than ever, is evidently the MVP behind the scenes when it comes to this trilogy. He injects the film with the same youthful vitality as before and is trying his absolute best to keep the nostalgia from running dry. At the same time, you can feel his love and admiration for Spider-Man throughout. Regardless of whether this was his original idea on closing the trilogy or not, he goes out with enough style and with his head high.
Speaking of trilogies, No Way Home, for all that it pulls off, still ends up being somewhat of an odd third chapter for Holland’s Spider-Man. You can’t really call it an ending, not just because we know that more sequels are coming down the line, but it makes a few choices that feel either unearned or out of place in the grand schemes of things. It’s the obvious result of the miscommunications between the Sony and Marvel ownership deal, almost like two parents pulling their beloved child in two different directions. No Way Home works better if you see it as a separate one and done standalone event, a really fun one at that, though as an “epic” finale to the arc we’ve seen Holland’s title hero go through for five years now, it leaves you wanting a bit more for his sake.
Finally, the film’s monkey paw narrative extends beyond the screen – you can almost ironically see it having a slight reverse effect on future viewing experiences. “Be careful what you wish for, Parker” Doctor Strange says, and that very much goes for the audience as well. As previously mentioned, No Way Home gives fans just about everything they could have asked for, but as we’ve seen before with fan service, that isn’t always a good thing per se. Sure, in the moment, you’ll be on a high of wonder seeing the things you’ve always pondered about come to life. However, when that high comes down over time, you’ll think, “Maybe that one thing could have been done cooler” or “Maybe that didn’t turn out as I thought it would.” The monkey’s paw curls, and some fans are bound to be slightly let down in one way or another, especially since No Way Home does arguably start to wear thin with its nostalgia by the end.
Nonetheless, it’s incredibly hard to sit through No Way Home and not have a damn good time at the very least. Even with all of its faults put together, it’s still a movie made by people who care and, more importantly, have a true love of Spider-Man. Hopefully, the character’s future in film will be handled with more focus from beginning to end, as this cast and interpretation always shines to the fullest when given the chance. No Way Home, a film that could have easily crumbled under its own weight at any time, is saved by these very same people. How its nostalgic elements will age remains to be seen, but what is for sure, we’re going to be looking at the impact of No Way Home for a very long time.