A spectacle sprinkled with nostalgia but above all, a Spider-Man story
It’s fair to say that Spider-Man: No Way Home was generating excitement even before the first teaser for the film dropped. To my memory, fans have been clamoring for a multiverse related live action Spidey flick ever since the success of “Into the Spider-verse”. Now looking back, perhaps that’s what the MCU had realized once they saw how successful that film was. Still, I had my expectations firmly planted, I was even reluctant to see those ideas come to the big screen in all honesty. Fast forward to today, I’ve already gone to see this movie twice in its first week.
Most of my reservations about this movie were properly dealt with. With one exception, just how off-balance the MCU’s tone tends to be, it’s like they’re afraid of letting their audience feel some sort of sadness or seriousness for an extended amount of time, so they throw in a quick supposed “funny” scene to make sure everyone’s having a good time. It’s a staple in the MCU diet, so it’s not necessarily something that is only prevalent in Tom Holland’s Spider-Man.
What I was really worried about was that we’d be getting another Spidey flick that didn’t feel like a Spider-Man story. I was not a fan of Far From Home, and as a whole my initial excitement about Spider-Man joining the MCU had long faded because I wasn’t crazy about the direction they were taking. It’s never really felt like Spider-Man was dealing with his own storylines, and he didn’t seem to be growing as a character. Add to that, now the people writing for this version of Spider-Man would now be tackling characters from its predecessors.
“No Way Home” could have easily been just a spectacle. A movie where we simply marvel at the fact that we’re witnessing Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield donning that red & blue suit again, be awestruck at seeing the three Spider-men we grew up watching take on their respective villains, but ultimately their presence in the film doesn’t really serve the story but the story serving their inclusion. A movie where the character arcs of previous villains gets completely undone by bringing back subpar versions of them. Thankfully, that’s not the movie we got.
Instead what we got was, oddly enough, a Spider-Man origin story (albeit, one on a much grander scale). For a while it seemed that the MCU had made Tony Stark the “Uncle Ben” of the MCU’s Spider-Man and it’s something that has (rightly or wrongly) never sat well with me. But now we know that role is Aunt May’s. I had a hunch that Aunt May would get killed off in this film from the trailers but up until this film, I had felt her role in the MCU had been played more for laughs rather than for emotion. So if they were to put the “Uncle Ben” mantle on her, it should be a moment that’s earned and I think “No Way Home” does that.
While her character still gets used mostly for humor early on, I think the film does a good job setting up for the big emotional moment. First her reminding Peter that “helping people is what we do” before the big “with great power, comes great responsibility” moment right before her passing. I think the movie would’ve really benefited if the relationship between Peter and May had been fleshed out even more in the first two films, but I still think there’s enough of a foundation there that allows the film to earn the big moment in “NWH”. Holland also really showed his acting chops in those scenes of grief with Aunt May.
It’s the immediate aftermath of May’s death that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield prove that their inclusion really does serve the story, and they were proper supporting characters rather than nostalgia props. We get a scene that I was really hoping for, where the three Spider-men discuss their experiences and traumas. We see that the years of being Spider-Man have left their mark. It’s during this scene that I finally felt the MCU understood Spider-Man, and it’s incredibly relieving to see that. Maguire, as the first and oldest Spidey, gets to play the “big brother” Peter. And perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but Garfield just shows how much he loves playing this character. He just oozed charisma. And, in terms of his character, he got the moment where he saves the girl. While their rumored inclusion was a big reason for the hype surrounding this film, it’s still very much Tom Holland’s Spider-Man movie.
The villains mostly get their characters done some justice. However, the likes of Lizard and Sandman don’t really get any depth out of this film. They’re mostly just there, while the majority of the writing went to serve Ock and Goblin. Electro’s decent, his character is mostly interested in serving himself because he’s tempted by how powerful he can be by staying in the MCU’s universe. While I’m not sure he’s a more fleshed out or complex character, seeing him represented more accurately visually and seeing his character be more powerful was fun.
Ock and Goblin were clearly the bigger pull and focus for the writers, and they stayed true to their characters. Not necessarily evil men, but flawed humans who fighting a losing battle with their inner demons. Ock even plays part of the story as a hero, as he helps the Spider-men take down Electro. He also shares a beautifully short moment with an older Peter Parker (Maguire), as they catch up while Danny Elfman’s score from the 2002 Spider-Man movie quietly plays in the background. Just really well executed fan service. Willem Dafoe absolutely killed it as Goblin again. And of course, we got to hear him say “you know, I’m something of a scientist myself” again. He felt far more menacing in this film when he was Goblin, and really sympathetic as Norman Osborne. It’s incredible that’s he’s able to top himself 20 years later.
Last point, I think another reason why this film has ended up becoming an origin story is now that no one knows who Peter Parker is, he’s isolated (for now, at least) from the grand scheme of things in the MCU. So we may see some more traditional Spider-Man stories with regards to the villains he takes on. It’s also a fate I feel that stays thematically true to Spider-Man. Peter, realizing those he loves are safer without him, decides that it’s best to separate himself from them. He moves in to a small apartment, designs his own suit and has a police radio/scanner app to keep track of local crime.
We’ve obviously got the sequels for the Playstation game and Spider-verse film coming up next, as well as “Spider-Man: Freshman Year” and the Sony Marvel movies. So with all that in mind and with how well this movie came out, what else is there to say other than it’s a great time to be a Spider-fan.