Movie Review: Spider-Man: No Way Home (Sony Pictures)

“Hey Strange, you know what’s cooler than magic? Math!” Spider-Man: No Way Home is a 2021 feature film, the latest collaboration between Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios. Directed by Jon […]

“Hey Strange, you know what’s cooler than magic? Math!”

Spider-Man: No Way Home is a 2021 feature film, the latest collaboration between Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios. Directed by Jon Watts from a story by Chris Mckenna and Eric Sommers, it is the direct sequel to 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home. It also serves as a successor to Sam Raimi’s 2007 film, Spider-Man 3 as well as Marc Webb’s 2014 The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Returning from Far From Home are Tom Holland, Marisa Tomei, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon and Jon Favreau, along with J.K. Simmons. Benedict Cumberbatch, Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, William Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Thomas Haden Church, Jamie Foxx and Rhys Ifans guest-star. There are also cameos by Benedict Wong, Charlie Cox and Tom Hardy.

Thanks to the machinations of Quentin Beck, the man known as Mysterio, J. Jonah Jameson (Simmons) has exposed to the world that Peter Parker (Holland) is the spectacular Spider-Man. He is wanted for Beck’s murder, and worse, MJ, (Zendaya) Ned, (Batalon) and Aunt May (Tomei) are thought to be his accomplices. While their legal woes are temporarily abated by the surprise intervention of ace attorney Matt Murdock, (Cox) their social situation sours substantially as crowds of supporters, protesters and mobs of media descend on their school to try to document the students’ return.

MJ and Ned’s plans for the future are derailed by their proximity to Parker, and the trio’s hopes of matriculating to MIT together are dashed. Assuming that he’s ruined all of their lives, Peter desperately seeks a solution. Realizing he’s acquainted with a wizard, he travels to Greenwich Village to visit Dr. Stephen Strange, (Cumberbatch) who is now Wong’s (Wong) assistant. Hoping for a “simple” magic fix, Peter wants the doctor to force the world to forget Parker’s secret identity. Though he is admonished by Wong, Strange thinks he can do it, and sets the stage for a globalized, targeted amnesia bomb.

While the doctor begins weaving the complex spell, Peter realizes the implications of everyone including his loved ones forgetting him, and tries to get Strange to re-wire the great geas on the fly. Asking for one change after another (after another) distracts the doctor from his delicate spellwork, and the powerful charm runs amok and nearly unravels. Barely regaining control of his rogue spell, Strange is exasperated to find out that Peter hadn’t bothered to call admissions before trying to get the doctor to rewrite the fabric of reality. The doctor sends Parker on his way, imploring him to try more mundane routes first.

Peter resolves to do just that, and once he learns the location of MIT’s Assistant Vice-Chancellor who was in town to meet newly admitted students, he decides to intercept her in his own inimitable manner. He tracks her down on her way to the airport, hoping to make right Ned and MJ’s rejections.

At the worst possible time for him, Peter is attacked by ghosts from a past that isn’t his own. He struggles to save the lives of the Vice-Chancellor as well as dozens of other innocents from a menacing, trench-coat clad figure with four cybernetic tentacles extruding out of his back. (Molina) When a second, cackling character spirals out of the sky on a flying machine, armored in green, hurling grenades and calling him out, (Dafoe) Peter begins to realize the ramifications of Wong’s warning.

Strange’s botched incantation didn’t make everyone in his universe forget that Peter Parker was Spider-Man. It summoned forth anyone who knew Peter’s identity from their universe(s) and pulled them across dimensions.  Reality begins to splinter around Spider-Man and he finds five foes out for his blood. Can he and Dr. Strange send these interlopers home while re-forging the framework undergirding the facades of the multiverse, or will their actions merely serve as a precursor to multi-dimensional pandemonium, leading ultimately to universal collapse?

This story about a kid and his friends trying to get into college is one of the most mature and adult movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Possibly the most emotionally resonant Marvel film, it tackles topics like death and grief head on, and doesn’t shy away by using one of Nick Fury’s patented “Get out of Death Free” cards utilized so frequently during the two dozen or so earlier entries in the series. Spider-Man: No Way Home is one of the few Marvel movies that doesn’t bigfoot its emotional beats with flip zingers. It lets the characters mourn, weep and breathe their grief. There are even awkward pauses and some moments of haunting emptiness that feel at home here. Its quiet passages set it apart from most Marvel films which run with a relentless staccato beat and want to roar at a breakneck pace, rarely allowing the audience a second for reflection.  

It’s also unique in that unlike most other MCU films, the last reel isn’t a deadly, brutal confrontation with fire from the sky. The Peters Parker are driven to save lives, not end them or avenge them. The giant action set piece at the end is not the climax of the film; it’s almost incidental, the final confrontation and battle seems pro-forma, and when it runs its course, the true resolution steps to the fore. A cathartic coda takes place where Peter learns that like Mr. Spock, for him, ”The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”

Michael Giacchino’s score works well with Watt’s direction, infusing the web-swinging scenes with a sense of fun and play. He masterfully incorporates the refrains from the earlier films, plugging the villain themes into his own orchestrations seamlessly. Watts keeps his action clean, composed and easy to follow, no matter how hectic things get. It’s a testament to his skills that he was able to knit such an exquisite tapestry out of an unrelated cast of characters from divergent source materials. He gets these characters, understands who these people are and how to film them. His combat sequences are kinetic, fluid and so much fun to watch.

Holland and Cumberbatch play off each other well, with a sense of awkward congeniality that slides into outright hostility when both become convinced that they alone are right. Holland plays the last half of the movie like a raw nerve and Cumberbatch’s fury seethes beneath Strange’s more formal mannerisms.

Though obscured by de-aging cgi masking his true face, Alfred Molina is able to provide a nuanced, subtle performance. The technology has advanced in leaps and bounds over the last few years, and though his face isn’t exactly right, he looks much better than one would’ve imagined possible even a short while ago. Dr. Strange’s mirror-dimension, last seen in Avengers: Infinity War, also looks vastly improved, as does the render for the Lizard. However, for some reason, Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman inexplicably looks far worse than he did in 2007’s Spider-Man 3. Due to Covid-19 complications, many New York locations were unavailable for the shoot and had to be recreated with a combination of sets on Atlanta soundstages and extensive, photorealistic graphic backgrounds.

Zendaya is radiant, even in despair. MJ’s emotional sea-walls present in the earlier stories have finally crumbled and much of her cynicism is swept away. It is replaced by the wide-eyed optimism of young love, and with that driving her she becomes a force to be reckoned with. Her MJ fears no wizard, no goblin nor octopus-man.

Speaking of becoming a force, Jacob Batalon’s Ned comes into his own and steps out from behind the keyboard. Learning that he’s got a few new tricks up his sleeve, Ned takes his first steps into a larger world and Batalon plays him with an effusive confidence.

This movie re-imagines Jamie Foxx’s Electro to conform more to the appearance of the original comic book character, but his power-set is still similar to that of Livewire, a foe of the Man of Steel.  Foxx injects this new Electro with a sly sense of humor barely concealing the cold menace of a man who has been granted his greatest wish and will see the world burn before he’s forced to give it up.

William Dafoe is such a supreme talent; his Norman Osborne and his Goblin are two completely different characters with completely different body languages speech patterns and postures. More impressively, he’s able to slip between the two mid-scene and sometimes mid-sentence. While he begins the movie in his classic Raimi goblin-garb, he too gets an upgrade to a more comics-accurate outfit sporting a purple hoodie and a bandolier of goblin-bombs.

We are going through a moment in pop-culture with myriad IPs saturated with nostalgia. Most are thoughtless, pointless, predatory cash-grabs. Picking up nearly two decades after Sam Raimi brought Spider-Man to cinemas in 2002, this film is part of that movement but it’s also making its own use of that movement. As a point of comparison to another recent Sony film built around exploiting sentimentality, the nostalgia-fest that is Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife was so forced that it felt like drowning in an ocean of treacle while pining for the past. Spider-Man: No Way Home uses its nostalgia-force to move forward in a new and exciting direction. While it is also there to tug on the heart-strings, No Way Home adapts its nostalgia in service of the plot and to move the plot, not just for its own sake. Andrew Garfield gets a majestic moment of cathartic resolution; Maguire is vital for Holland’s growth as a man and a superman. While his world is being literally turned inside out and upside down, Holland is blindsided by an emotional gut-shot. He faces the same demon’s dilemma that Maguire and Garfield have and with their help, he finally learns that with great power comes great responsibility.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is a very good movie. It deserves to be recognized amongst its peers in the top tier of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is currently playing in theaters.

Spider-Man was created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee.

About Dan Kleiner

Dan Kleiner is a strange visitor from another planet who resides in Brooklyn, New York with two cats and his amazing girlfriend. When not plotting world domination, he spends a great deal of his time watching movies and anime of all sorts, reading comic-books and book-books, studying politics and history and striving for the day when he graduates as a Class A-Weirdo.