[This review contains no spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home–but it does deal with themes and ideas within the film that may hint at certain elements of the story.]
There’s no question that Spider-Man: No Way Home is Marvel’s big present for fans under the tree. And, frankly, it’s everything you hope that it will be.
Taking place immediately after the final moments of Spider-Man: Far From Home, No Way Home leans into the fallout of having the Webcrawler’s identity revealed to the world. Under constant scrutiny by those who believe he murdered Mysterio, Peter Parker seeks out the help of fellow Avenger, Dr. Strange. After Peter asks him to cast a spell that will make people forget his identity, the good Doctor reluctantly helps. However, when the spell goes wrong, the effects on space/time are devastating. As other characters from the multiverse sneak into their own world, Parker must attempt to capture his mysterious foes before its too late.
There’s really no other way to say it. Despite building hype over the past few years, Spider-Man: No Way Home somehow manages to deliver the goods. Once again directed by Jon Watts, the conclusion to the ‘Home Trilogy’ balances epic scale Marvel action sequences and intimate character-driven moments that work on a number of levels. While Marvel sometimes has a tendency to sacrifice storytelling for the sake of action sequences (and vice versa), No Way Home finds a way to incorporate them into one another in such a way that they actually impact each other. (This is especially true in the film’s third act ‘mega-battle’, which actually furthers the emotional arc of the films characters.) After three films, Watts cares enough about this franchise to tell a story that means something to his team and the results are spectacular. Seamlessly blending genres and generations together, Watts creates an epic finale but never sacrifices the soul of his characters in the process.
Of course, No Way Home is an absolute nostalgia-fest for every fan of the Spidey-franchise over the last 20 years. For years, people of debated which iteration of the cinematic Spidey-verse is superior to the others. Here though, Marvel gets to celebrate them all in one big party. This is a festival of all things Spidey that should delight three eras of superhero filmgoers at the same time.
Even if Peter Parker has No Way Home, this film is a welcome homecoming for many old friends.
However, while nostalgia may be fun for everyone, what makes the film work is that their appearances are relevant to the story through some sharp writing. By bringing back familiar faces in new situations, No Way Home could have simply devolved into a fanservice mess yet their appearances somehow further developing their original story arcs. (Returning villains like Willem Dafoe, Jamie Foxx and Alfred Molina are allowed the chance to develop their characters further without detracting from their original stories. In fact, Marvel arguably elevates their previous material in the process.)
At the same time, the film becomes a perfect finale for this chapter of the Spider-Man story. Throughout his three Spider-films, Watts has done a (mostly) impressive job spinning interesting stories for the Wallcrawler. Whereas Homecoming told a small and intimate tale of a young boy who simply dreams of becoming an Avenger and Far From Home showed that young man trying to balance his life, No Way Home takes that journey even further. Having almost literally grown up onscreen before our eyes, Holland has exemplified the youthful enthusiasm that we expect from the character. In No Way Home, further completes his coming-of-age into a true Spider-Man as opposed to Spider-Teen. Having moved through high school, Holland’s Spider-Man is now faced with understanding what it truly takes to be a hero. In No Way Home, Parker has to make decisions about his life and the safety of his friends that he would have been unable to make earlier on in the franchise. Without giving away any spoilers, this iteration of Spider-Man needed to learn what it means to sacrifice himself out of love for others.
Why? Because that’s what heroes do.
However, No Way Home is also about second chances. Although most superhero films of the last two decades have featured heroes battling unsalvageable villains, No Way Home actually makes a point of arguing that everyone deserves a chance at redemption. Rather than writing off these villains as ‘bad guys’, Holland’s Spidey is challenged to view them as more. Here, iconic villains like Doc Ock, Green Goblin and Electro show their vulnerability and humanity more effectively than they have in other films.
What if the ‘bad guys’ are actually the ‘lost guys’?
There’s a sensibility to this film that, maybe, anyone can change. Despite the ‘fate’ that they are dealt, No Way Home allows the opportunity for a crack in the villainous armor. Despite the negative tone of its title, No Way Home wants to believe that there is a new way for anyone who chooses it. Maybe, regardless of their past actions, there’s an opportunity for these villains to find hope. For Parker, maybe these villains are more than the sum of their darkness.
While the nostalgia is fun and action is well-executed, it’s this aspect of Spider-Man: No Way Home that truly leaves its mark. Wrapping up this chapter of the MCU’s Spidey-Verse, Watts completes the emotional arc that he began about a crew of high school kids learning how to grow up. But he also manages to tread new ground for characters that we already felt we knew. Leaning into hope for the ‘bad guys’, the film gives Spidey the chance to try to help everyone, not just his friends in his neighbourhood.
Because that’s what heroes do.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is available in theatres on Friday, December 17th, 2021.