After months of rumors, fan theories and detailed Reddit threads, Spider-Man: No Way Home arrived in theaters last month. Arguably the most anticipated movie since Avengers: Endgame, there were monumental expectations for the third installment of Tom Holland’s trilogy.
No Way Home, directed by Jon Watts, is the fourth movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase 4. Marvel has been more experimental with its projects post-Endgame. They introduced new heroes in Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals. About five years too late, they released Black Widow, a prequel for the Russian assassin. Fans have been treated to shows that focus on previously secondary characters – Wandavision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki and Hawkeye via Disney+. With the release of No Way Home, Marvel is turning back to what it knows: a classic character in a movie with massive stakes.
I’m now issuing a spoiler warning for No Way Home and all Marvel properties released to date.
I’m not gatekeeping No Way Home, but I do strongly recommend watching not only Tom Holland’s Spider-Man movies but also Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire’s appearances as the web-crawler. I did two rewatches of all seven movies before my showing!
Unlike MJ, I didn’t go to the movie with an “if you expect disappointment, then you can never really be disappointed” mindset, but that didn’t stop No Way Home from blowing audiences away. It now has a 98% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.7 on IMDB and, while it has its flaws, No Way Home is a reminder that there is something special about seeing movies on the big screen.
Sony and Marvel would have had a riot on their hands if Maguire and Garfield weren’t in the movie, but it was still shocking just how long the three Spideys were together on screen. The two first appear with over an hour left in the movie when Ned (Jacob Batalon) accidentally opens a portal to Garfield’s Spider-Man and stay present through the final battle.
Every moment involving the Spider-Men (Spider-Mans?) is golden. One of my favorite moments is when Garfield’s Spider-Man cracks Maguire’s back – a nod to when Maguire suffered a back injury shooting Seabiscuit that limited his ability as the action hero. Other highlights include the three heroes discussing how they deal with loss, comparing their webs and all three of them sharing the coolest villains they’ve defeated, leading to Garfield’s Peter calling himself lame. (You are not lame Andrew Garfield. Not at all.)
No Way Home also brings back villains from old Spider-Man movies: Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), Lizard (Rhys Ifans), Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), a new and improved Electro (Jamie Foxx), and the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). Church and Ifans aren’t given much to do and neither of the actors even showed up on set due to scheduling conflicts. The actors only returned for voiceovers as their characters spent 99% of their time on screen pixelated and shots from previous movies were reused at the end as they returned to human form.
On the flip side, Foxx and Molina’s characters have excellent arcs. In Amazing Spider-Man 2, Electro was outrageously botched. Instead of blue skin and a goofy combover, Foxx carries newfound confidence in this universe. Doc Ock was a tragic villain in his turn in the films. A brilliant scientist controlled by the tentacles he created, it makes sense that he is the first nemesis Holland’s Spider-Man tries to cure. By the end of the movie, Doc Ock is whole again and an ally to our heroes.
Frightening and unhinged, Dafoe’s Green Goblin is Holland’s most formidable foe. What makes him one of the best comic-book movie villains to date is that he doesn’t have a goal. He’s just pure evil and striving to cause chaos. What other villain would smile as Spider-Man punches the shit out of him?
No Way Home brings back another familiar face after Holland’s Peter gets in legal trouble toward the beginning of the film. Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock from the Marvel Netflix series Daredevil is on screen for barely a minute but generated almost as much applause in the theater as Garfield and Maguire. Side note: I have since watched Daredevil and my, oh my, a TIMJ might be in order.
Beyond the excitement of these appearances, No Way Home’s script is excellent and there are several stellar performances. Holland – my personal favorite Spider-Man – gives his best effort since stepping into the role. His Peter is outmatched and faces his toughest test yet. Holland expertly balances mourning Aunt May’s death and intense rage without losing a sense of humor, cracking jokes about where Maguire’s webs come out of.
Zendaya as MJ has her biggest role yet since entering the MCU. She isn’t just a damsel in distress – the scene where Garfield saves her is more about him making peace with his mistakes than her being a helpless love interest. Instead, she is a hero alongside Peter as they try to cure the villains. She is central to the plot of No Way Home, providing many hilarious moments and several emotional scenes (I might have teared up).
Ned, the eternal third-wheel, kills it. I don’t think this is a hot take but Ned, while occasionally funny in his first two appearances, is often annoying and forced into important moments. There’s just the right amount of Ned in No Way Home; his jokes land and he genuinely seems like a good friend: “I promise I won’t turn into a supervillain and try to kill you.”
The real standout, though, is Andrew Garfield. I always loved his version of Peter Parker and in No Way Home, he steals the show. Beyond having several comedic moments, Garfield’s Peter is finally given the chance to properly grieve the death of Gwen Stacy. Garfield was never given a third installment after the sequel bombed but, with his appearance in No Way Home, fans are clamoring for an Amazing Spider-Man 3. After he spent months shutting down rumors, there is already chatter that he could be back as the web-slinger sooner than we expect.
All of these great elements aside, I do have a few questions and nitpicks. To start, how did Doctor Strange mess up that spell? He’s supposed to be one of the best sorcerers ever. How does the spell actually work and why does everybody want credit for opening the multiverse (Wanda, Sylvie and now Doctor Strange)? And don’t get it twisted: Spider-Man should never be able to beat Doctor Strange one-on-one and math is not cooler than magic.
Peter’s decision-making is interesting throughout this movie. He tries to alter the entire universe’s memory, brings dangerous villains he knows nothing about into an apartment (as if that wouldn’t backfire) and sacrifices everything – Aunt May, his relationships with MJ and Ned, and his entire existence as Peter Parker – to heal a couple of baddies? The most egregious plot stretch is when Ned, upon first try, opens a portal using the Sling Ring. Plot-wise, it is necessary to introduce Maguire and Garfield’s Spider-Men, but the idea that a high school student can immediately do what it took Doctor Strange weeks to learn is absolutely ridiculous.
The plot of No Way Home is rather flimsy but ultimately it doesn’t matter because it provides an incredible in-theater experience. There are strong action scenes, incredibly emotional moments and a plethora of exceptional returns. It is well-paced with three strong acts. The events of the beginning – applying to colleges and dealing with real-life problems – is what makes Spider-Man such a likable, relatable character. In the second act, characters we haven’t seen for decades return and force Holland’s Peter to make important decisions. There are moments no Spider-Man fan could have ever dreamed of and incredible performances from Holland and Zendaya as Doctor Strange erases Peter Parker from everyone’s memory.
After Doctor Strange’s final spell, Peter decides not to tell MJ and Ned who he is after seeing how happy they are. This scene is gut-wrenching and sets up many questions for his next appearance as Spidey. The final shots show him sewing a more comic-accurate suit – beautiful, vibrant red and blue – and swinging over Rockefeller in it.
What is next for Holland? The relationship between Sony and Disney is complicated and Holland’s current contract with Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures ended with the release of No Way Home. Holland has apparently received a new contract and the actor will receive a second Spider-Man trilogy. Could we possibly see him train a young Miles Morales in his next movie? Or will he appear in another team-up movie? Whatever is next, the future is bright for Spider-Man fans.
Thumbnail image courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment via Youtube.