Spider-Man: No Way Home – Directed by Jon Watts. Written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. Starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tony Revolori, Benedict Wong, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Foxx, Thomas Haden Church, Rhys Ifans, JK Simmons, Tom Hardy, and several surprises

**** out of ****

My first reaction after coming out of Spider-Man: No Way Home, the third and most spectacular of the MCU Spider-man movies, was “How do we get to watch these movies?”. As a long-time comics fan, it’s still surreal to me that we’re not only getting multiple big-budget comic book movies a year but that they’ve grown in spectacle and story to the point where they equal the most ridiculous event comics of all time. In the wrong hands, they become bloated, overwrought collections of explosions (see the woeful Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice). But in the right hands, like director Jon Watts, they become spectacles that manage to stun with their sheer scope while never losing sight of their emotional core.

It’s impossible to talk much about this movie without spoiling some things, so I’ll give a warning before I get into this movie’s biggest surprises. But to start, this is good. Very good. It picks up right from the cliffhanger in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the last Marvel movie released before the pandemic hit, which saw Peter Parker’s secret identity exposed to the world by the sadistic Mysterio. J. Jonah Jameson, now a sinister talk radio host, has wasted no time painting Spider-man as a menace. All of Ned, MJ, Happy Hogan, and Aunt May quickly find themselves under suspicion of crimes by the authorities along with Peter, and Peter finds himself a combination of the world’s biggest celebrity and the world’s most wanted man.

He’s willing to take the heat even when it leads to him and May being chased out of their apartment, but when the controversy keeps Ned and MJ from getting into college, he realizes that this new status quo can’t be sustained. So, in classic Peter Parker style, he settles on a solution that might make things worse. He seeks out Doctor Strange, who like Peter is still sorting things out after being blipped for five years. Strange, demoted from Sorcerer Supreme and now answering to a vaguely annoyed Wong, agrees to help Peter erase his identity from the public’s mind. But as Peter asks for one exception after another for his friends and family, the spell goes awry. He’s kicked out by a very annoyed Strange – but the chaos is just beginning.

The biggest surprise in Spider-Man: No Way Home was revealed long ago in the trailers – villains from other Spidey-franchises are making their way to the MCU. The chaotic spell created a tear in the multiverse, and everyone who knows Peter Parker is Spider-Man is being pulled in – most of them right before they died fighting him. That includes Alfred Molina’s brilliant Doctor Octopus, equal parts sympathetic and terrifying, along with Rhys Ifans’ hulking Lizard (still very much into the idea of turning people into reptiles), Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman (vaguely annoyed and confused by the whole thing), and Jamie Foxx’s Electro (After a massive, massive rewrite on the character likely spurred on by Foxx himself).

And of course, it includes Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn, a ghastly cackling specter who instantly dials up the intensity of the film the second he shows up. While some of these villains were antiheroes or tragic figures when they first showed up, the Goblin was one of the few villains who was unambiguously evil. At least the Goblin is – Norman Osborn is a very different story. And while Doctor Strange sends Peter out to collect the villains and send them back to their dimensions ASAP, Aunt May has very different ideas – after encountering Norman, she believes they deserve the chance to be cured of their conditions and get a second chance.

This is a great way to set up a moral dilemma for Peter, and I was glad to see Tomei get more to do in this film after being largely sidelined from Peter’s European adventure. I have to say, while Rosemarie Harris may have been an authentic portrayal of Lee and Ditko’s Aunt May, it’s Tomei who’s portrayal will really stick with me. All of the gags about her attractiveness aside, she’s a great grounding force for Peter’s Spider-man and she has probably her best role in this film – adding an important dose of humanity amid the madness of the multiverse.

One of the most impressive parts of Spider-Man: No Way Home is how it manages to switch tones brilliantly on a moment’s notice. This is a really funny movie – Ned and MJ get many of the best lines, even if they do feel slightly sidelined for much of the film. But when it needs to get serious, it gets deadly serious. There are times the movie feels like a slow-burn horror movie, and some where it feels like a Greek tragedy. It balances an almost absurd scale with quiet, intimate moments in the way few blockbusters do. Ambition ultimately worked against Eternals, but here it works brilliantly in the film’s favor.

And that’s even without talking about the movie’s biggest surprise.

Massive Spoiler Warning – Do Not Read On Until You See The Movie

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

The fact that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield appear in this film is not the biggest surprise in the world. It was heavily rumored for the better part of a year. What was a surprise to me was just how significant a role they played. I expected them to be a last-act cameo, but they’re in more than an hour of the film – and in many ways are its emotional heart. For Tom Holland’s Spider-Man to see these two versions of what he could become adds so much critical context to the movie’s final act. Maguire’s older, battle-wizened Peter offers him hope for the future. Meanwhile, Garfield’s pained, haunted Peter is obviously still struggling and is determined not to let him make the same mistakes.

I stand by the belief that both of them are excellent Spider-man actors. Maguire’s series had its hiccups, but I loved him here and would be thrilled to see him come back for a Kraven’s Last Hunt film or as a supporting player in a Spider-girl series. Garfield, meanwhile, had his series end on a bitter downer note and this role lets both the actor and the character redeem themselves in dramatic fashion. It’s amazing how many little moments this movie has time for, especially scenes between the two older heroes and their former villains.

The ending is bold. Very bold. This shouldn’t be spoiled, but it upends the entire concept of the series in a way that’s massively risky – and also feels like it could have been written as either the end to Holland’s tenure as Spider-man, the end of the MCU tenure before Sony takes him back, or the launch of a new MCU era. It’s going to be controversial, especially since it calls back to a massively divisive storyline, but it also feels quintessentially Spider-man in the choice Peter makes.

Is Spider-Man: No Way Home a perfect movie? No. Is it closer to one than a movie of this scale has ever gotten? Probably. It’s the most thrilling moviegoing experience since the pandemic and probably the most spectacular event film of all time after Avengers: Endgame. It brought theaters back with a massive bang, and every single dollar of its ridiculous box office is wildly deserved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.