This article will contain a lot of spoilers so if you haven’t seen the movie and plan to, then I advise you to stop reading here, though you can read my thoughts on why the movie is going insane at the box office right now.
(READ: ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Going Gangbusters at the Box Office Proving Non-Woke Movies are What We Want)
If you don’t care about spoilers or already have seen the film, then come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure nerd-toxication.
I was surprised I managed to get tickets to a Sunday evening showing of Spider-Man: No Way Home. I’d been hearing that people have been rushing to get them and some were even being sold for thousands of dollars by scalpers. My local Alamo Drafthouse had two seats left in the far back row, and I scooped them up immediately.
When the lights turned low and the film started, I was immediately…not getting what I expected. Maybe I should have expected it given the approach Marvel Studios has been taking with Spider-Man, as in its less of a story of Spider-Man and more of a story of Peter Parker.
The movie picks up at the exact moment the last one left off. The Daily Bugle’s editor-in-chief turned internet blowhard, J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), just exposed Spider-Man’s secret identity thanks to footage sent to him by Far From Home‘s villain, Mysterio, and pegged Parker for the death and destruction caused in that film. Parker (Tom Holland), in costume, is forced to swing away from an increasingly hostile crowd that had surrounded him and MJ (Zendaya) in downtown New York, winding up back at Parker’s apartment.
This sets up the first act which has Parker, MJ, and Parker’s best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) dealing with the fallout of Parker’s identity being revealed. What you think will be a superhero movie turns into a young adult drama. The trio continues going to school and trying to get into MIT, with everything going south quickly.
The movie spends a good deal of time on this, but it never overstays its welcome with it. To be honest, Parker the young man overshadows Spider-Man the superhero in this film quite a bit, but it’s done so well that the two seamlessly mix together. It’s always been part of the Spider-Man story, but no movie has managed to capture it so well as No Way Home.
The film takes a turn when Parker, upset by his life messing up the lives of those closest to him, gets the idea to seek the help of New York’s resident wizard, Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to see if magic could fix the problem. As seen in the previews, Strange does have a solution and casts a spell that Parker botches midway through.
Here the film can get a tad confusing for people who don’t keep track of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or watch the Disney+ shows that add a ton of story and background to events of the movie. While it’s definitely helpful, the film doesn’t really require you to have seen anything but the big films in order to enjoy it.
The botched spell opens up a rift in reality, allowing for villains to come in from other universes. Spider-Man fans will recognize them as villains from previous Spider-Man movies dating all the way back to the early 2000s, including Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin from the 2002 Spider-Man film starring Tobey Maguire, and Jamie Foxx’s Electro from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 starring Andrew Garfield.
Despite the emergence of villains from past movies, Parker and Strange capture them all relatively easy, but this is only to set up the film’s main theme; redemption.
Parker learns that some of these villains die at the hands of their universe’s Spider-Man, and despite Strange making it clear that this is their destiny, Parker cannot accept this and seeks to fix each of the villains in holding.
It’s a decision that Parker makes due to influence by his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) but one that would ultimately backfire on him, resulting in betrayal and tragic death. Because of Parker’s soft heart, he undergoes one of the most tragic and gutwrenching moments of any MCU movie thus far.
But where the film delivers one of the MCU’s lowest moments, it also delivers one of its highest. In an attempt to find him, Parker’s friends try to find him through magic, only opening portals that bring in both Garfield and Maguire’s versions of Parker. Both of them help Parker the younger find perspective amidst his crushing grief, having gone through it themselves in previous Spider-Man outings, and then together cook up a plan to not just stop the escaped villains but cure them.
What results is a final act that seeks to redeem villains and heroes, but most importantly has Parker confront some very dangerous inner demons. It shows that Spider-Man is capable of real brutality but that underneath all that power is a scared and angry boy.
If you’re thinking the film will be wrapped up with a nice little bow with everyone happy, then I’d temper your expectations. You’ll probably walk away slightly melancholic. Not everything ends well, but it does end how it should. People who grew up watching the previous Spider-Man movies will feel like their nostalgic itches were scratched as Holland’s Spider-Man hits Maguire and Garfield beats, but you are left with far more hope for Holland’s Parker after seeing this film’s treatment of his predecessors.
Story-wise, the film is a masterpiece, but I expect that out of Marvel’s big-name titles. What I really enjoyed was watching the actors do their characters justice. Each of them carried out their roles as if they were made for them, especially Maguire, who fell right back into his version of Parker so well I felt like we never left him. Garfield manages to be my favorite Spider-Man of the trio, being somewhat of an underdog of the three, prone to humorous self-deprecation, but desperately in need of closure, even if he doesn’t know it.
However, it’s Tomei’s May that really captured my heart. Her love for her nephew sends her at Spider-Man’s biggest villain like a protective mother with a random blunt object when Parker is all but defeated. Tomei manages to convey the fear and desperation so well that I forgot she was acting for a moment. Her speech to Parker even afterward is simultaneously powerful and heartbreaking. This is easily Tomei’s best acting of her career.
MCU fans will also be happy to see other characters make appearances. Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock (aka Daredevil) makes a much-deserved appearance from the Netflix show, not in his suit, but as Parker’s lawyer. While he doesn’t do any superhero things, he does catch a flying brick flying through Parker’s window before Parker can. It’s a significant moment for the MCU, telling us that the interconnected universe is even more connected than you think.
Sony’s Venom (Tom Hardy) also makes a post-credit appearance, staying long enough to signify that Marvel’s Parker will be confronting the alien symbiote in future installments of the franchise.
The film does a lot to show that Sony and Marvel have thrown their doors open to one another, and it couldn’t have been done with more care and skill. You won’t find yourself becoming exhausted by over-reliance on the action. Each story beat is hit exactly when it needs to. Any anticipatory moment is played up so you still feel on edge, even when you see it coming. No character acts outside of their personality, and they had a lot of moments where that could have happened.
I’ve seen a handful of movies that were actually good this year but No Way Home will definitely sit somewhere at the top. Perhaps on subsequent viewings, when the shine wears off, we’ll get a clearer view of the film’s worth, but for now, I can’t recommend this movie enough.