There aren’t many films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that are true game changers. Certainly entries in the series like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Civil War, Black Panther and Avengers: Endgame all moved the franchise forward in unexpected yet entertaining ways. A new challenger has entered the arena with Spider-Man: No Way Home and has vaulted itself into the pantheon of truly remarkable films not only in the MCU but also in the superhero genre.
Beware that this review will contain spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home as well as Hawkeye. Continue reading at your peril. You have been warned.
Picking up right where Far From Home left off, Peter Parker is labeled public enemy number one following the outing of his secret identity and now faces federal charges. These charges are later dropped thanks to attorney Matt Murdock aka Daredevil played by Netflix’s Charlie Cox. This appearance, coupled with Vincent D’Onofrio’s return as Kingpin in the Hawkeye series on Disney+, has far-ranging implications as they open for returns from other Netflix stars like Mike Colter who played Luke Cage, Krysten Ritter who starred as Jessica Jones and Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle/The Punisher. Marvel producer Kevin Feige hasn’t said much about how Cox or D’Onofrio will appear in future projects but it is certainly exciting to see beloved characters find new life and become a part of the main Cinematic Universe.
As Peter and his friends begin encountering protesters and new obstacles start to emerge, he goes to consult fellow Avenger Dr. Strange and asks him if there is any way to somehow make people forget that he is Spider-Man. Strange accepts this seemingly impossible task but thanks to Peter’s meddling and constant interruptions, the spell becomes botched. It is in this moment that we get our first reminder that Peter is still just a child and while he wants to keep his life the same, he simply isn’t cognizant of the larger world. The botched spell causes a minor emerge of Spider-Man’s multiverse. Immediately following this meeting, several incredible villains emerge with Alfred Molina reprising his role as Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2 and Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin from the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films.
Peter and Dr. Strange briefly team up to wrangle all the villains across Spider-Man’s multiple appearances including Jamie Foxx’s Electro, Rhys Ifans Lizard and Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman but upon realizing that these villains die while fighting Spider-Man, our Peter resolves to help them rather than send them back to the universes and face an uncertain fate. What results is a dazzling CGI sequence as Spider-Man and Dr. Strange fight over what to do and the latter ends up standing the wizard in the Mirror Dimension leaving Peter to explore his options in order to cure these stranded villains. Peter is desperate to see the good in everyone and doesn’t want to violate his core tenant of not killing his foes but this good nature is exploited by Norman Osborn. He ends up freeing the sinister group and murders Aunt May in the process. What’s often glossed over in the Spider-Man film universe is that the Green Goblin is meant to be what the Joker is to Batman, a cunning yet hyper-insane villain that seems to get the best of their foe whenever possible.
No Way Home packs an emotional punch like few films in the MCU manage to accomplish. The film likes to remind us that Peter is still an adolescent and is not equipped to lose everything especially his final parental figure. Just consider what this kid has lost during the timeline of the MCU; mentor Tony Stark and now his guiding light Aunt May. This would be a lot for anyone to handle, now imagine if all of that happened in less than a year. Peter carries the heavy weight of his failure and blames himself for the loss of May. It’s during this failure and self-blaming that he disappears while friends manage to summon the heroes that also emerged from the multiverse.
In what was possibly the worst kept secret in the history of any production in the MCU, Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire reprise their roles and provide our Peter with the advice he sorely needs; they’ve all suffered loss and have their own reasons for continuing to be Spider-Man and that life will always find a way to knock you down or make you hurt but what’s important is how you get up and fight back. The Spider Men now team up to confront their foes in one of the most satisfying and entertaining climaxes in the superhero genre. The actors both fall seamlessly back into their roles and the trio feel more like a group of brothers than that of alternate versions of each other.
No Way Home concludes with our Peter asking Dr. Strange to amend his spell and eliminate himself from everyone’s memory. Spider-Man will remain but Peter Parker now becomes anonymous; no girlfriend, no friends, no Avengers and this reality is overwhelming melancholy as Peter even attempts to reconnect with MJ and Ned only to realize that they may be safer without him in their lives. In what is probably the most heartbreaking moment in the film, Peter visits May’s grave and her epitaph doesn’t even list the fact that she was his aunt. Out of this sadness comes a resolve from the young hero as he finds a small apartment with GED books in tow and intently listens to a police scanner. As the film ends, we see Peter, now wearing a new homemade suit, swinging through the city as Spider-Man ready a new challenge with new responsibility.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is more than just an attempt to bring us past legacy actors. These actors receive more than just a brief cameo, they are prominent and integral to the story. The banter between Holland, Garfield and Maguire manages to feel natural and humorous as their chemistry flows onscreen. Willem Dafoe reminds us that he deserves to be in the conversation of one of the best superhero villains, as does Alfred Molina. Peter’s balancing of his personal life and naiveté help to ground the web slinging superhero. This film’s implications go beyond Spider-Man as the multiverse will become a huge part of the MCU going forward.
VERDICT: 5 spell boxes out of 5
Spider-Man: No Way Home is now exclusively in theaters and stars Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zendaya, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx, Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church, Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire.