Spider-Man: No Way Home Review
Much like 2019’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Spider-Man: No Way Home reminded me why I love Spider-Man. Comic books often have a level of unpredictability to them, something that’s lacking from modern superhero flicks, where every twist and turn is precisely calculated. Of course, No Way Home is just as calculated, a way to keep the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the headlines after the board-clearing Avengers: Endgame. That said, No Way Home also features moments that bloom with creative joy.
Director Jon Watts and his crew have delivered the cinematic equivalent of a double-sized crossover comic, a true event movie. They manage to avoid getting bogged down by fan expectations, somehow circumventing the traps of other crowded part threes. No Way Home is crowded, but it’s also shockingly light on its feet. The movie is just purely entertaining, building to a final act that not only earns its emotions but pays off some of the ones about this character that may have been forgotten.
No Way Home picks up right where Spider-Man: Far From Home left off; Mysterio has revealed the identity of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to the world, and Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) world is thrown in disarray. The movie opens with a series of scenes showing the impact this event has on Peter’s girlfriend M.J. (Zendaya) and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). When M.I.T. denies all three of them admission, citing the controversy surrounding Peter’s identity, our hero has had enough. He has a plan. A certain wizard can cast a spell and make it all go away.
Peter begs Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to make the world forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Unsurprisingly, the plan goes awry. He doesn’t want M.J., Ned, or Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) to forget everything they’ve been through together. The spell gets derailed in the middle of its casting; Strange barely gets it under control. And then Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) and the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) attack Peter on a crowded freeway.
As revealed in the marketing, No Way Home weaves characters and mythology from the other cinematic iterations of Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thankfully, this is more than just a casting gimmick. Unlike the cases of Batman Forever or even Spider-Man 3, “more” is not the enemy of good here. The villains that return from the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb films don’t overcrowd or overpower the narrative; instead, they speak to a theme that emerges in No Way Home that ties the current Spider-Man series back into the past ones. No Way Home is about the modern Peter Parker learning exactly what “With great power, there must also come great responsibility” means.
So many modern superhero movies have wrestled with what it means to be a superhero, but this is the first time that the modern Spider-Man series has fully dealt with that idea. In a way, No Way Home is a sort of graduation story. It’s one in which Parker has to deal with not just the fame that comes with being Spider-Man, but how his decisions will have more impact than most kids planning to go to college. It asks some intriguing questions about empathy as Peter is put in a position to try to save the people who tried to kill other iterations of him. It becomes a playful commentary on correcting the mistakes of the past, not just in the life of Holland’s Parker, but those of characters (and filmmakers) made long before he took up the role. No Way Home is about the weight of heroic decisions. Even the right ones mean you may not be able to go home again.
Watts hasn’t gotten enough credit for his action sequences in his two prior Spider-Man movies; No Way Home should correct that. There are two major sequences — one in a mirror dimension where Spidery clashes with Strange, and the climactic one — but there are expertly directed action beats sprinkled throughout the movie. Mauro Fiore’s camera swoops and dives with Spider-Man, giving the action a fluidity that is lacking in most other MCU movies. And the final showdown doesn’t succumb to the overblown hollowness of MCU climaxes because it has undeniable emotional weight. Additionally, Michael Giacchino’s score here is one of the best in the MCU, by far.
The only shame is that, with so much to love about No Way Home, it’s not more tightly presented. The 148 minute running time is a bit much, especially given how much the first half repeats its themes and plot points. Watts (and the MCU in general) has a habit of over-explaining things, and there’s a sharper version of No Way Home that trusts its audience a bit more, giving them room to unpack the themes that these characters have a habit of explicitly stating. And, no offense to Batalon, having Ned become a major character is a bit baffling. He always feels like a distraction from the rest of the cast. That said, this is the first of these three films that has allowed Zendaya and Holland’s chemistry to take the spotlight. Zendaya, in particular, nails the emotional beats of the film’s finale, adding weight to a film that can feel light in terms of performance. It also helps a great deal to have heavyweights like Molina and Dafoe in villain roles again, given how the lack of memorable villains continues to plague the MCU.
Spider-Man: No Way Home could have easily just been a greatest hits compilation, a way to pull different projects into the same IP just to get people in seats. Some will see it that way. However, there’s more going on under the hood here than the previews would have you believe. It’s a movie about historic heroes and villains and what those characters mean to us in the first place — why we care so much about them. More than any MCU movie in recent memory, it made me want to finally finish the four-year backlog of Spider-Man comics sitting on my bookshelf. That’s a heroic feat.