FOR REFERENCE: This review of, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is based on a theatrical viewing

 

Marvel loyalists had quite the scare a couple of years ago, following two very strong Spider-Man movies made for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a joint venture between Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios. That legendary, industry-changing partnership almost collapsed in 2019, following what appeared to be some kind of dispute between the two parties, something that threatened to take Tom Holland’s fan-favourite live-action Peter Parker out of the MCU forever. Fortunately, Sony and Marvel did eventually bury the hatchet though, resulting in a new sharing deal for Spider-Man’s live-action license, as well as a previously-teased return for Holland’s Spider-Man in the MCU, fresh off of the entire world learning his secret identity due to the final trick by Spider-Man: Far From Home’s fallen villain, Quentin Beck/Mysterio.

Whatever Sony and Marvel did to repair their relationship, it must have been pretty damn romantic as well! After all, it’s not just the MCU’s Spider-Man personalities reaching a climax in the franchise’s third MCU movie, Spider-Man: No Way Home. Thanks to the magic of the Marvel Multiverse, Marvel has officially invited legacy characters from Sony’s standalone Spider-Man movies into the MCU, following a botched reality-altering spell by another returning MCU hero, Doctor Strange. Now displaced in Marvel Studios’ shared live-action universe, several denizens of Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man solo movie universe from the 2000’s, as well as the subsequent Marc Webb duology of Amazing Spider-Man movies, find themselves confronted by a world very much unlike their own, where the specter of the Avengers looms large, mega-corporation, Oscorp doesn’t exist, and Spider-Man is, well, Tom Holland, not Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield.

Unfortunately for Holland’s Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and the MCU at large as well, all of these displaced legacy characters also happen to be villains! Almost every legacy Spider-Man movie villain thus becomes the latest obstacle to Holland’s Spider-Man, including Spider-Man’s Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, reprised by Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man 2’s Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, reprised by Alfred Molina, Spider-Man 3’s Flint Marko/Sandman, reprised by Thomas Haden Church, The Amazing Spider-Man’s Curt Connors/Lizard, reprised by Rhys Ifans, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s Max Dillon/Electro, reprised by Jamie Foxx. While we’re one villain shy of a true Sinister Six for the MCU (albeit one that’s ‘borrowed’ from two alternate realities), Holland’s Spider-Man nonetheless faces his greatest obstacle yet in Spider-Man: No Way Home, one that serves as both a brilliant conclusion to the MCU’s current Spider-Man movie trilogy, and a fantastic celebration of almost twenty years’ worth of Spider-Man movies in general.

CHARACTERS

Spider-Man: No Way Home hits the ground running by putting its returning leads into a difficult new position. Now that Tom Holland’s Peter Parker has had his secret identity as Spider-Man revealed to the world, an avalanche of opinions and judgment comes down on his head, something that also heavily alters the lives of Peter’s two best friends, MJ, played again by Zendaya, and Ned, played again by Jacob Batalon. This overwhelming public response to Spider-Man’s actions as a superhero in the MCU, both positive and negative, eventually becomes too much to bear after the heavy effect it has on the three teens’ futures, eventually prompting Peter to seek help from Doctor Strange, played again by Benedict Cumberbatch. As it turns out, Strange knows just the spell required to make the world, possibly the universe at large, forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, hopefully restoring Peter’s and his friends’ lives to their proper course. After Peter tampers with Strange’s spell one too many times however, not only does it fail to execute its intended effect, but the dimensional barrier of the MCU’s reality quickly starts to weaken, trickling in some major threats from alternate Spider-Man movie universes.

Obviously, there’s very little I can dig into surrounding the extensive lead cast of Spider-Man: No Way Home without risking significant spoilers. I will say however that Holland’s, Zendaya’s and Batalon’s performances are allowed to grow in ways that just weren’t possible in the previous two movies, now that we’re facing a more dramatic and destructive conflict than what Vulture or Mysterio previously presented. Other returning performers, such as Marisa Tomei, reprising the role of Aunt May, and Jon Favreau, reprising the role of Harold “Happy” Hogan, similarly balance a continued commitment to good-natured humour, and a shocking confrontation of the true darkness that Peter has ended up inadvertently unleashing upon the MCU.

The frequent air of tragedy behind Spider-Man: No Way Home is naturally baked into the resurfacing of these legacy cinematic villains as well, crossing from Sony’s two standalone Spider-Man movie universes into the MCU. With every villain readily recalling the history of their own universes, and with some having to confront the revelation of their tragic fate at the hands of Sony’s previous two solo Spider-Men, this creates a very compelling new character dynamic, as villains like Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock can now interact with each other, and sometimes inform each other of major successive developments in their aborted movie franchises. This mixing of the villains’ fates and prophecies eventually and predictably results in more trouble for the MCU as well, as Peter’s snowballing good intentions become ever more determined to defy the supposed ‘fates’ of these displaced alternate-reality baddies, no matter the warnings or the cost.

Even beyond the depths of the MCU’s dimensional tampering however, it’s great fun to see so many fan-favourite actors return to their same antagonist roles from Sony’s two previous Spider-Man movie franchises. All of them still fit their villain parts like a glove as well, with some CGI assistance helping Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina most notably look like they haven’t aged a day since their villainous prime in the early-to-mid 2000’s.  Some MCU-friendly tweaks even allow the villain actors to go further with their roles to boot, cleaning up some less effective narrative hiccups from their former solo movie portrayals, and allowing each returning performer to make their familiar villains more ruthless, more unpredictable, and more destructive in the MCU. At its most thrilling, Spider-Man: No Way Home even feels like a ‘greatest hits’ selection of Spidey’s best cinematic battles, piggybacking off of the MCU’s plethora of resources and goodwill to bring together the best of the old with the best of the new for both Sony and Marvel Studios.

PLOT

Describing Spider-Man: No Way Home’s storyline without spoiling key details of it is a pretty Herculean task. Like many large-scale MCU movies, Spider-Man: No Way Home itself feels like one giant spoiler, even if some of its big surprises did end up leaking due to rumours and tipsters. One thing that even the worst of these leaks can’t possibly prepare viewers for though is how surprisingly dark the plot of Spider-Man: No Way Home can be. It’s certainly not devoid of fun, but this movie’s plot progression still takes the MCU’s Spider-Man franchise to a new frontier of introspection and misery, as the disillusionment of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man hits a new fever pitch.

This is because Spider-Man: No Way Home is ultimately a movie about being unable to go back to simpler times, both figuratively and literally. A lot of this allegory is framed through the legacy villains, all of whom represent a franchise history that’s revered by fans, but also can’t truly be repeated. Even before the multiverse-hopping villains arrive however, Peter must contend with the seemingly inalterable reality that everyone knows he’s Spider-Man now. Suddenly, Peter’s superhero career is more real than ever, as he becomes both a beloved celebrity and a target of online hatred, most of which is catalyzed by J.K. Simmons’ J. Jonah Jameson, with Simmons being the one legacy Spider-Man movie actor that actually is playing a different, MCU-based variant of the character he originated in Sam Raimi’s classic Spider-Man movie universe.

In fact, the worst thing one can say about the otherwise deceptively deep and bitterly rewarding plot progression of Spider-Man: No Way Home is that its interdimensional stakes have a couple of head-scratching and plot-convenient elements that don’t totally track. Again, I can’t get into these slight issues without spoilers, but fans in particular will probably notice that some of Doctor Strange’s reality-breaking magic doesn’t completely hold up to scrutiny, particularly when the exact mistake behind it is revealed, and no, it’s not necessarily what you think it is. Fortunately, this small gripe doesn’t manage to derail Spider-Man: No Way Home’s core theme of how one’s identity matures during the sometimes painful passage to adulthood, particularly in confronting elements of one’s life direction that aren’t completely in their control. Like any maturing young adult, Peter’s futile attempts to take full control of his existence simply further contribute to a future that he never imagined he would have, but one that could bring him to the place he needs to be regardless.

(NOTE: The ‘Spoiler’ section, when clicked, discusses whether Spider-Man: No Way Home has any post-credits scenes, whether it features any additional Marvel character roles of note, and whether it ties into any known future projects in the MCU, Sony’s Spider-Man Universe, or the legacy Spider-Man movie universes.)

Spoiler
Needless to say, Spider-Man: No Way Home being the first MCU project to truly unleash threats from the multiverse carries no shortage of major implications for the franchise’s future. Even beyond that, there are some eyebrow-raising character cameos that continue to tease where the MCU could go next, even if none of the established MCU movie personalities outside of the Spider-Man and Doctor Strange franchises ultimately make an appearance in Spider-Man: No Way Home.

To start, Spider-Man: No Way Home has one mid-credits scene, along with an interesting post-credits tease that Marvel Studios hasn’t done since 2011; A theatrical-style teaser for an upcoming MCU movie! Indeed, the second post-credits ‘scene’ of Spider-Man: No Way Home is actually the first teaser trailer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the next MCU movie that’s set to follow Spider-Man: No Way Home in early May 2022.

Predictably, the events of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness are kicked into motion by the fallout from Spider-Man: No Way Home, which continues to leave the MCU’s reality in tatters. As Mordo and Wong caution Strange about new inter-dimensional threats, Strange seeks the help of Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, who is in self-imposed exile following the events of Disney+ series, WandaVision. Strange has no interest in grilling Wanda about Westview at this point, though the two nonetheless find themselves targeted by a surprising enemy; An alternate version of Doctor Strange from a different reality! Could this be the same ‘Strange Supreme’ variant seen in Disney+ series, What If…?? It’s not currently confirmed, but the tease of animated series, What If…? crossing into the MCU’s live-action canon is still pretty exciting!

As for Spider-Man: No Way Home’s mid-credits scene, it pretty much definitively establishes the relationship between the MCU and Sony’s Spider-Man Universe, going forward. This humourous mid-credits stinger features Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock/Venom from Sony’s Venom movies drinking in a bar, while learning and expressing disbelief about the Avengers, Thanos, The Blip, and other major cornerstones of the MCU from the bartender. Initially, it appears that Eddie is ready to stop drinking and meet Tom Holland’s Spider-Man after this as well, though before he can do so, he’s suddenly pulled back into his own universe, albeit not before leaving a tiny drop of symbiote goo behind him! So, this would seemingly confirm that the MCU and Sony’s Spider-Man Universe will remain separate at this point, and that Tom Hardy’s Venom seemingly won’t cross over with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man for now, sadly. Yep, this is another in an increasingly long line of ‘Ralph Bohner’-style MCU fan trolls, one that impressively spans two different cinematic universes! Still, a drop of the Venom symbiote lingering in the MCU nonetheless teases that Marvel Studios’ live-action continuity may soon include a different version of Venom than Hardy’s version made for Sony’s Spider-Man Universe, possibly in an upcoming, yet-to-be-announced fourth MCU Spider-Man movie.

Outside of this all-too-brief cameo by Hardy’s Eddie Brock, there are also some major surprise character roles outside of the five legacy Spider-Man movie villains in Spider-Man: No Way Home proper, and yes, the most crucial of these are appearances by Tobey Maguire’s and Andrew Garfield’s former cinematic Spider-Men. Ned inadvertently pulls the two legacy Spider-Men into the MCU after trying to use Doctor Strange’s Sling Ring, and they subsequently help Tom Holland’s Spider-Man round up their familiar multiversal villains during Spider-Man: No Way Home’s climax, which takes place at a modified Statue of Liberty. The appearance of these two classic live-action Spider-Men for Spider-Man: No Way Home’s third act is heartfelt, and greatly benefits the completion of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man maturing into a fully independent superhero. Sadly though, if you were hoping for a more complete villain roster alongside the classic cinematic Spider-Men briefly coming to the MCU, you’re out of luck. There are no surprise appearances by Topher Grace’s Venom or James Franco’s New Goblin from Spider-Man 3, nor by Paul Giamatti’s Rhino or Dane DeHaan’s Green Goblin from The Amazing Spider-Man 2. That said, all four of these omitted villains are mentioned in separate throwaway lines, as a small nod to their own history in the Spider-Man movie franchise.

Even more shocking than the return of Tobey Maguire’s and Andrew Garfield’s classic Spider-Men however, if you didn’t have it ruined for you in leaks, is another cameo by a less expected personality, Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock/Daredevil! This cameo was heavily rumoured ahead of Spider-Man: No Way Home’s release, and yes, the rumour is true. Cox’s Matt Murdock is only briefly featured early in the movie, and he never appears in his Daredevil persona, though he does humourously catch a brick being lobbed by one of The Daily Bugle’s anti-Spider-Man crusaders, as a reference to Murdock’s own superhuman abilities.

While Cox’s Murdock bailing Peter out of his legal troubles is a cool touch for Marvel fans, it also carries significant implications for the future of the MCU; This is the first time that one of Marvel Television’s Netflix characters has appeared, or even been mentioned, in the mainline MCU movie continuity! Cox’s Matt Murdock cameo in Spider-Man: No Way Home would appear to suggest that Marvel’s Netflix shows are still canon in the MCU, even following Marvel Television’s closure and absorption into Marvel Studios, and that Cox’s Matt Murdock/Daredevil, alongside any related characters, are now fair game for future MCU projects, both in the Spider-Man franchise and otherwise!

DIRECTION

Jon Watts returns to direct Spider-Man: No Way Home, though despite directing both of the MCU’s previous Spider-Man movies as well, Watts approaches this trilogy capper with a much different energy. There’s still some of the cheeky humour from Watts’ previous two Spider-Man movies maintained in Spider-Man: No Way Home, but surprisingly, the bulk of this threequel is darker, and sometimes downright tragic. The innate fun factor of bringing legacy Spider-Man movie villains into the MCU is nicely offset by the surprisingly sobering implications of its dimensional tampering, something that directly and brilliantly confronts the air of misfortune that consistently surrounds Spider-Man in pretty much any Marvel Universe.

Watts does a superb job of adapting to this darker, more high-stakes story. As a result, his direction now feels a little more personal, and a lot more intense. It’s definitely cute when Spider-Man: No Way Home finds amusing ways to play with the two-decade history of the various Spider-Man movie franchises, but when this movie goes for the heartstrings, which it does more than you would think, it proves to be surprisingly heartbreaking. There are some very bold emotional gut punches in this threequel, along with some shocking losses that will definitely throw moviegoers for a loop, as the MCU’s Spider-Man movies graduate from starting as wholesome coming-of-age comfort food, to evolving into a sometimes bleak portrait of maturation, and accepting adult responsibility.

Despite the bittersweet, melancholy aftertaste that Spider-Man: No Way Home can leave however, it still packs in more than enough style and charm to succeed as a Spider-Man movie. Watts’ direction pushes the scope of the action scenes to astonishing new heights here, while also doing everything it can to surprise the audience, even considering that this threequel has been plagued by quite a few leaks in the lead-up to its release. Fortunately, there are still plenty of surprises that have yet to be publicly spoiled in Spider-Man: No Way Home, both in terms of action and drama, making for a superb cocktail of emotion and style that brings the entire multiversal saga of the live-action Spider-Man movies to exciting and sometimes agonizing new heights.

MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK

Michael Giacchino returns to compose the soundtrack for Spider-Man: No Way Home, after also scoring the MCU’s previous two Spider-Man movies. As much as Giacchino’s score still has a recognizable flavour however, still emphasizing some of the peppy fun behind Holland’s Spider-Man, the noticeable tonal shift in this threequel is also reflected in its latest music suite. The music in Spider-Man: No Way Home is more downbeat in many places, and covers a much wider, almost alien range of composition stylings. This of course also includes reprises of villain songs from Sony’s legacy Spider-Man movies, as well as a few new songs that just sound weird and intentionally nerve-wracking in general, nicely reflecting the bleeding of the Marvel Multiverse into the MCU on both counts. This is a more ambitious, more unpredictable Spider-Man movie score from Giacchino, one that’s nonetheless filled with a lot of neat callbacks to the Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer compositions from Sony’s standalone Spider-Man movies, creating a sharp set of music that will be especially exciting for avid Spider-Man fans.

The rest of the audio design in Spider-Man: No Way Home is unsurprisingly very impressive as well. This is particularly evident with some of the earliest Spider-Man movie villains like Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin or Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock, who sound noticeably more destructive and menacing than they could in the early-to-mid 2000’s. The sound design throughout Spider-Man: No Way Home sounds much more destructive in general, in fact, nicely reflecting that Holland’s Spider-Man no longer has a safety net, now that Iron Man is dead, the Avengers are largely disconnected, and everyone knows his secret identity. As much as it breaks from the audio style of its two predecessors to some extent, Spider-Man: No Way Home is nonetheless a much more dangerous Spider-Man movie with much higher stakes, an upgrade that finally allows the sound mixing to truly unleash some Avengers-level power.

VISUAL EFFECTS

With a massive elevation in scope, one that even goes beyond the dimensional confines of the MCU itself, you can imagine that Spider-Man: No Way Home’s visuals easily dwarf its two MCU predecessors. Even the eye-catching illusions of Mysterio feel small in comparison to the vast, magical tampering present throughout Spider-Man: No Way Home, particularly after it allows much more bizarre and abstract villains to enter the MCU. Better still is that several of Sony’s legacy Spider-Man movie villains have undergone significant redesigns in this movie, all of which are a noticeable improvement.

There are still plenty of faithful visual touches from the Raimi and Webb villains that are maintained in Spider-Man: No Way Home however, from the heavy cloak of Doc Ock to the somewhat goofy Power Rangers-style mask on Green Goblin. These definitely clash with the MCU’s usual aesthetic in several places, but that’s the point. After all, these villains don’t belong in the MCU, and their almost cartoon-ish appearance effectively reflects that. Mind you, there are still a few visual cheats in Spider-Man: No Way Home that might irk fans to some extent, such as Doc Ock’s mechanical tentacles now being fully CGI, rather than tangible puppets like they were in Spider-Man 2, but even if some visual concessions had to be made in order to replicate the classic effects of Sony’s standalone Spider-Man movies, they’re never distracting or unimpressive.

That being said, the exaggerated legacy villain styles still elevate several of their old designs with some smart tweaks for these characters’ MCU debut, as I mentioned. Jamie Foxx’s Electro, for example, is no longer a blue ghost-like figure like he was in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but is instead a more impressive-looking, well-put-together Jamie Foxx in Spider-Man: No Way Home, one that now wields yellow lightning, and boasts a mechanical costume that’s more accurate to his green-and-yellow comic book appearance, complete with an energy-fueled lightning mask. Likewise, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin has seen a similar redesign, one that eventually makes the character appear much more dangerous and imposing, appropriately eliminating the now-very-noticeable effects constraints that sometimes plagued 2002’s original Spider-Man movie.

Perhaps the best visual flourish throughout Spider-Man: No Way Home however is its mix of disparate threats, and how they allow for a huge range in dizzying, high-flying camera work. This must have been an incredibly challenging endeavour to achieve, as the way one would shoot a fight between Spider-Man and Doc Ock would obviously be very different than the way someone would shoot a fight between Spider-Man and Sandman. When you have to combine all of these fighting methods into one movie, and quickly swap between them on the fly during certain scenes, it creates one of the most exciting, mind-blowing Spider-Man action extravaganzas ever captured on film, one that won’t be easily topped in future follow-ups!

THE VERDICT

Spider-Man: No Way Home spectacularly celebrates all of the highs and lows of the Web-Slinger’s nearly twenty years of movies, even if it’s also a deceptively heart-wrenching affair in the end. The giddy, action-packed fun derived from seeing a collection of classic Spider-Man movie villains getting dumped into the MCU to square off with Tom Holland’s Spidey is definitely a great draw for moviegoers, let alone Marvel fans, but what will really stick with audiences is the incredible toll that Holland’s Peter Parker suffers in struggling to maintain control over the consequences of his life as a fledgling superhero.

That unexpected emotional punch might make Spider-Man: No Way Home feel like a more sorrowful conclusion to the MCU’s current Spider-Man movie saga than one would initially expect, but it’s nonetheless a brilliant climax that cements Jon Watts’ MCU Spider-Man trilogy as the best and most consistently enjoyable Spider-Man movie series to date. Better still is that Spider-Man: No Way Home also manages to be the best installment in its already standout trilogy, one that definitively concludes its eponymous hero’s current arc, while teasing a bold new era that could take Holland’s Spider-Man to another interesting new frontier in the future.

Spider-Man: No Way Home Review
Spider-Man: No Way Home soars as both a celebration of Spider-Man's nearly two-decade movie history, and as a surprisingly bittersweet conclusion to the MCU's current Spider-Man arc.
CHARACTERS95%
PLOT90%
DIRECTION95%
MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK95%
VISUAL EFFECTS100%
THE GOOD STUFF
  • Robust cast of current and classic characters that all get to shine
  • Emotional, gratifying storytelling that's full of shocking twists
  • Superb direction and presentation that excellently celebrates Spider-Man's cinematic legacy
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
  • A few questionable plot elements surrounding the multiverse
95%Overall Score
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