Spider-Man: No Way Home is a definite monster-hit for Sony and Marvel Studios, but there are chinks in its Iron Spider armor.
The third in the Home-themed trilogy of Spider-Man films had an ambitious, but difficult set of goals. One, it had to successfully conclude the first trilogy of Spider-Man MCU films. Second, it had to stand-alone as a film while bringing in a healthy dose of nostalgia for both old and new fans. And it had to set up the future for the next stage of growth for Tom Holland’s version of the Wall-crawler.
The film is already on its way to being the most successful movie of 2021 and joining the billion dollar club, with mostly positive reviews coming in. But does Spider-Man: No Way Home succeed in all respects? Read on for the review of the Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures superhero collaboration: where it succeeds, where it fails, and where it is heading.
SPOILER WARNING: Stop reading if you have not watched Spider-Man: No Way Home. There are details from the film and the teasers included in the credits.
Where No Way Home succeeds
The story of Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up immediately where Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) leaves off. The bombshell revelation of J. Jonah Jameson broadcasting Spidey’s secret identity as Peter Parker all over the world would not be without consequences, both for the hero and his supporting cast.
Spider-Man: No Way Home has a huge chunk of fan service. But instead of distracting from the story, the film fully embraces it in a way that helps push the narrative forward. The cast and crew know exactly what the fans want, and they give it to them. The callbacks to particularly memorable (or should we say meme-able) details from the previous Spider-Man film series are well executed, straddling that fine line of pure nostalgia to being tongue-in-cheek. These wink-wink moments are mostly clever, whether it’s Norman Osborn’s now-famous line of being a scientist himself to the three Peter Parker’s pointing at each other to Maguire’s Spidey having a back problem (calling back to his painful fall from Spider-Man 2).
‘Twas the night before #Christmas, when all through the theaters the people were cheering. 🎄 Spend the holidays with #SpiderManNoWayHome, now playing exclusively in movie theaters! pic.twitter.com/DhZQXND0HH
— Spider-Man: No Way Home says HAPPY HOLIDAYS ❤️ (@SpiderManMovie) December 24, 2021
The main cast are mostly at their best here, out of the three MCU Spider-Man films. Tom Holland has seemed to have finally grown into the balance required for the role of the perpetually unlucky but always hopeful Peter Parker. Zendaya’s MJ (now confirmed to be Michelle Jones-Watson) has more to do, and even Jacob Batalon’s Ned Leeds gets to shine rather than being just there for the sake of being there.
Marisa Tomei is always a treat and one of the better parts of the MCU Spider-Man films, but she truly gets to become the guiding light for Peter in this outing. In a way, she serves the role of making Peter realize his place in this world of heroes and villains that previously Uncle Ben had.
Of the returning villains, Alfred Molina again steals the show in every scene he is in. His Doc Ock seems lifted out of Spider-Man 2 as if it was just yesterday. Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn is also in top form, continuing his over-the-top maniacal portrayal with the same gusto. Their brief interactions with each other are also a nice touch, echoing the mutual respect and understated competitiveness between these peers.
Thomas Hayden Church and Rhys Ifans, as Sandman and The Lizard, are mostly only present digitally, but their voice acting did not take away from their characters, although they did have less to work with. As for Jamie Foxx, his Electro is a bit better this time around, and he gets a good exchange with Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man, which seems to be a nod to the coming of Miles Morales in live action sometime in the future.
On that note, reviewing Spider-Man: No Way Home would not be complete without talking about the two veteran Spider-Men Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. In possibly the worst-kept secret about the film, fans finally get the payoff they were looking for. Maguire gets to strut his stuff side-by-side with Tom Holland, while also highlighting what makes each of them unique. Maguire’s more serious take on Peter contrasted well with Garfield’s energetic version. And there is a genuine sense of camaraderie between the three Spideys.
Where No Way Home comes up short
Spider-Man: No Way Home is not a perfect film, as some overexcited fans are painting it to be. It is certainly not Oscar-worthy beyond the technical achievements. There are glaring concerns with the story, pacing, and characterizations.
The timeline for Spider-Man: No Way Home is inconsistent, at times. For one, this is supposed to have occurred right after Far From Home, but it appears many things have already changed. Ned has lost some noticeable weight between the two films (even during the beginning of the film) and Flash Thompson now has blonde hair. It is a jarring experience when these inconsistencies occur, as it takes the viewer out of the immersion and the suspension of disbelief more than any of the fantastical elements in this superhero movie.
This is particularly glaring when the movie relies HEAVILY on suspension of disbelief, even more so than the typical superhero movie. The spell that makes everyone forget Peter Parker, used as the deus ex machina to resolve the main threat of the multiverse collapsing, is of particular note. It leaves a lot of questions.
For instance, does the effect of the spell only apply to the MCU Peter Parker or all the Peter Parkers in the multiverse? If it only made people forget who Peter Parker is, what happens to his records on documents such as social security or his school papers? Does the spell erase or alter those? What physical evidence of his life remains and what does not?
And then we come to the villains. If the people that were transported from the other universes were those who remembered that Peter Parker is Spider-Man right before they die, why does it include Electro who did not learn about Peter’s identity or Sandman who did not die? Meanwhile, the two Green Goblins/Harry Osborns fall into that category, but did not get transported over. There is a lot of handwaving on what counts as what in the reality being warped, thus making small errors appear bigger.
As far as the performances go, while the cast are entertaining and competent as a whole, there seems to be a disconnect with the two older Spider-Men. Their individual films established their personalities quite definitively. But their portrayals here do not line up 100%.
Tobey Maguire seems more like just the actor as himself, rather than the emotional and awkward Peter Parker from the original Sam Raimi trilogy. In some of the dialogue, he seems impassive. Some fans have even commented Maguire phoned it in, though it honestly does not go that far. Still, when it does happen, it is off-putting and the actor could have obviously tried just a little harder.
Meanwhile, Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man is too animated and happy for someone who has supposedly become grimmer after the loss of Gwen Stacy. It makes his two key character moments appear out of place. The first, sharing his sorrow to comfort the grief-stricken Tom Holland Spider-Man by saying he knows that sense of loss and became so angry he no longer pulled his punches. The second is his emotional realization that he saved MJ from the same fate as Gwen. The inconsistency dampens the impact of these scenes.
That seems to be the unifying negative element that affects the film when looking at it from a critical angle: the constant inconsistency. From Peter being irresponsible with making his decisions, to Doctor Strange shifting between nice to antagonistic to nice again, to Sandman being an ally and then not at the drop of a hat, to Electro being enamored by power and then reasonable and then back to being power-hungry, and so on. There are many other instances where the script and direction just ignores each other, relying that the spectacle will keep the audience from questioning things too closely.
And we would be remiss if we did not mention how little screen time J.K. Simmons had as J. Jonah Jameson. The man is simply perfect for the role, but the lack of direct interaction with Peter or Spider-Man is a glaring omission. If Holland's Peter Parker finally works in the Daily Bugle, there had better be more scenes of the oddly antagonistic yet benign relationship their characters are known for.
Where the Spider-Verse is going
Spider-Man: No Way Home is by no means a perfect movie. Not even a perfect superhero movie. But what it accomplishes is certainly SPECTACULAR.
It merges the histories of the previous Spider-Man film series in a way that shouldn’t work, but does. It opens up new, unexplored territory when many pundits claim that the MCU has run its course after Avengers: Endgame. And it provides a proper sendoff to old favorites from the past while also ushering in the new era for Tom Holland’s Peter Parker (and if rumors are true, another chance for Andrew Garfield’s own film series to continue after it abruptly ended).
Holland’s Peter Parker gets to become his own man. Although he has lost so much, the conclusion with him living alone with no support system, no fancy Stark Tech, and no friends or family, this actually brings a sense of freedom the MCU incarnation has not had before. With the debut of a shiny new costume, swinging through the New York skyline, it feels like Tom Holland’s Spider-Man journey has only truly begun.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is currently available in most international theaters. Japan and the Philippines will begin showing the Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures movie on January 8, 2022.