A convergence of storylines, film studios, and forgotten screenplays, shouldn’t be this good.
Peter Parker’s identity has been revealed to the world, and spins his life around. Seeing the consequences negatively affect his friends, he looks for ways to undo what happened. However, his desires threaten to rip the multi-verse apart.
There’s a vocal minority on the internet that believe Marvel/Disney/Sony collaboration Spider-Man: No Way Home has been snubbed from the 2022 Academy Awards for Best Picture. This is, frankly, absurd. Jon Watts’ third Spider-Man movie is a powerhouse in the pantheon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for numerous reasons, but it is not infallible.
With the huge success Sony Pictures had with their animated movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and with DC/Warner Brothers planning to do a multi-verse cross-over in the upcoming Flash movie, Marvel/Disney/Sony opted to do it again. This time in live action. Amusingly, the Flash movie was in development long before this movie and has been beaten to the punch, and No Way Home includes a rather subtle wink to this.
Confused? We’ve only gotten started.
There was a lot of hype leading up to this film, but this review will give away basic elements of the movie. If you want to avoid spoilers, to summaries: No Way Home is a great MCU movie, fans will be hugely happy with it. Movie fans who watched the other Spider-Man films will also appreciate what it done here. However anyone who doesn’t know these previous movies, not even just the MCU’s history… will feel very lost indeed.
So to fix his problems, Peter Parker gets the help of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange. But upon casting the spell to make people forget Spider-Man’s alter-ego, Peter’s meddling causes the multi-verse to momentarily rupture, forcing people from other realities to enter theirs. This includes villains from the Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man films from the early 2000s, and villains from the Mark Weber Amazing Spider-Man films, predating a lot of Disney’s influence. Moreover, Sony Pictures had always, always, wanted to produce a “Sinister Six” movie; which is a story revolving around several Spider-Man villains. No Way Home is the closest they have gotten to it so far.
This is a lot of studio talk, but it is quite unavoidable. But how does the film perform with all of these elements??
Surprisingly, really well. There is a coherent, fast-paced, and very emotional rollercoaster ride inside this third part. Tom Holland shows his acting chops at extremely critical moments; for all of the film’s Marvel-lightness, it goes to some spectacularly dark places. Perhaps some of the darkest moments the MCU has had.
Speaking of darkness: it is wonderful to see some old characters return, but more accurately, it is wonderful to see certain actors reprise roles and even develop the characters further. Willem Dafoe returns as the shocking and terrifying Norman Osborne, and Alfred Molina reprises his excellent turn as Doctor Otto Octavius. Both from the extremely good Sam Raimi movies. They deliver instantaneous threat, having arrived in this universe at their worst possible moments in their storylines. Marvel “de-aging technology” hard at work. Somewhat less represented are villains from Andrew Garfield’s movies, Jamie Foxx’s Electro gets a more respectable turn this time though.
It isn’t only villains who arrived either. Indeed, Andrew Garfield and Toby Maguire are here too. What is great about this, is that they are also given little moments to extend the history of their characters too, which is bittersweet; remembering that each of them were planned to have another film entry that never transpired. Seeing the actors give their characters more gravity, and impart their own experience to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, it is a delightful and heartfelt exchange.
The action set pieces are on point for a Marvel movie. Dr Strange even gets a moment familiar to his own brand of movies. There are some all too familiar scenes, though, the classic car hanging off a bridge, etc. But even the most generic of fight sequences play important parts in escalating Peter’s disorientation.
The only real issues with No Way Home are systemic of the MCU today. This is as far away from a stand alone movie as you can possibly get. It is part of the MCU, so it refers to the Iron Man films, and the Infinity War saga. It is part of a trilogy, it follows the other Spider-Man films within the MCU, and it involves the other Spider-Man films produced even earlier! So if you are new to any of these elements at all, you won’t appreciate it as much as it wants you to, or as much as fans would say you could.
The effect is similar to James Mangold’s 2017 film Logan. It is a similarly emotionally weighty comic book adaptation, but again, relies on audiences to have cinematic history with the actors and characters involved.
It should not work as well as it does, spinning so many plates as it does. Admittedly it does need a lot of working knowledge to fully appreciate it, yet even with all of the additional elements, our lead characters still have a lot of agency, emotional gravity, and presence in the story. Tonally it is a rollercoaster, sure to entertain and harrow in equal measure; quite different for movie this deep into the MCU.
Additional Marshmallows: The multiverse is broken in front of and behind the camera, too, with Sam Raimi directing the fast-approaching Dr Strange sequel In the Multiverse of Madness.