Spider-Man: No Way Home

4 STARS

Director: Jon Watts
Writers: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Cast: Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Benedict Wong, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church, J.K. Simmons

Marvel Studios tends to think up very good ways to blow our minds. Spider-Man: No Way Home is no exception. With many surprises up their sleeves (well, if you’ve managed to avoid any leaks/spoilers), audiences are in for a treat, whether you are a fan, superfan or casual observer of the MCU. It’s no secret that we see the return of a bunch of villains from the Sony franchises (Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man), and that alone is enough to get the fanboy/girl blood pumping, but we also see Peter Parker begin to take a new direction in his web-slinging career. Is No Way Home a good bookend to the MCU trilogy, or has Spidey finally lost his spider-senses?

*NOTE: There are no spoilers in this review (except for pre-warned thoughts at the very end), but there are spoilers for Homecoming and Far From Home and the odd spoiler from other previous MCU movies.*

After the events of Far From Home, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Holland) is at something of an impasse. With his identity revealed, he cannot continue with his Spidey activities, his loved ones are in danger and all are hounded by the press and the public. Feeling at a loss, he turns to Doctor Strange (Cumberbatch) for help, asking Strange to make everyone forget that he is Spider-Man. Strange eventually concedes to Peter’s request, but says it will come at a cost – everyone, even Strange himself, Peter’s Aunt May (Tomei), girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and BFF Ned (Batalon) will forget he is Spider-Man. Peter requests that these people be spared from the spell, but as his requests are made while Strange is trying to cast the spell, it all goes topsy turvy. Instead, everyone who knows of Peter’s identity from every universe in the Multiverse begins trying to creep through into MCU Peter’s universe. Thus, Spider-Man’s enemies from other universes start to appear, and it’s up to Peter and pals to try and get them all back, preferably safely and no longer as threats in their respective universes.

Homecoming and Far From Home were both fun and exciting instalments into the MCU, creating a Spider-Man that was younger (physically rather than just in the story) than Sony’s past versions and in many ways more relatable to audiences and the comic book character. No Way Home continues that trend, as Peter becomes more humanised in his dealings with his friends, the wider public and villains from the Multiverse. In other words, he’s growing up and learning how to deal with the consequences of his actions (consequences with higher stakes than his previous mistakes anyway). Not only that, the character is beginning to think about how to make himself useful, not just as Spider-Man with superpowers, but as an intelligent and empathic person. Perhaps this is the aftermath of his learning to live without the guidance of his one-time mentor and father figure, Tony Stark. It’s great character development and no doubt will be of great importance as Phase 4 continues to get underway.

Of course, one of the main points of No Way Home is bringing back some familiar villains from Sam Raimi’s trilogy and Marc Webb’s duology. Utilising modern computer graphic techniques, Dr. Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus/Doc Ock’s mechanical arms are now CGI rather than puppetry, and Molina’s face has been digitally de-aged to make it seem like 17 years haven’t passed since he appeared in Spider-Man 2. Similarly, Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Dafoe) from Spider-Man, Flint Marko/Sandman (Haden Church) from Spider-Man 3, Dr. Curt Connors/Lizard (Ifans) from The Amazing Spider-Man and Max Dillon/Electro (Foxx) from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 have had some upgrades in their physical attributes. It’s probably a good thing they were unable to get any more previous villains onboard – it was already a little crowded with the ones they did get (a heavy mistake already made in The Amazing Spider-Man 2). The weaker scenes, funnily enough, were often ones involving MJ and Ned. Although they were integral to helping Peter save the day, their banter was a little lacklustre at times and felt like it was just filling the gaps while we were waiting for Spider-Man to be back onscreen. Nevertheless, when Peter, MJ and Ned are all together, their friendship as a trio is as strong as ever.

As always, Holland is on top form as Peter/Spidey. His humour is on point, his ability to get us to connect with Peter is consistent, and he particularly bares Peter’s vulnerability well. I have zero complaints with him. Zendaya is also consistent in her portrayal of this version of Peter’s love interest, and although I’ve had my issues with Zendaya as a performer in some of her other work, she is most suited to this tomboy character that is loyal down to the ground. Batalon’s Ned doesn’t seem to have come very far in his own character development and remains the comic relief when Peter must put on his serious face, so there’s not much to say there. Cumberbatch is his usual awesome self as Doctor Strange, being the wisest and adult of adult figures in this movie (perhaps a new mentor for Peter somewhere down the line?). Tomei also is as enjoyable as ever as another important figure in Peter’s life, and she also brings some light-hearted humour in when needed. Molina plays Doc Ock as though he never stopped, slipping back into the mechanical arms like no time has passed. In fact, all the returning villain-actors do very well in reminding us why they became who they became, but the standout must be Dafoe. His original Green Goblin, while terrifying in many ways, is pushed even further with his mental health issues and the split between the Norman Osborn and Goblin personalities. Dafoe has always been an excellent player of villains, and he takes Green Goblin to a new level in No Way Home – a credit to both Dafoe and the writers, both of No Way Home and Spider-Man.

Preceded in Phase 4 by Black Widow, Shang-Chi, Eternals and a few Disney+ TV shows, Spider-Man: No Way Home is perhaps the first of this phase to further the current timeline of MCU events, even in just a small way. Where Black Widow was a flashback of sorts, Shang-Chi and Eternals standalones to introduce new characters and the TV shows further developed current characters, No Way Home is consistent within the timeline and allows for it to be altered slightly in a particular way, which, in my opinion, is what we need right now. If it weren’t for particular events happening in this movie, it would probably be on the same level as Homecoming and Far From Home, but as it is, it’s one small step ahead. A most enjoyable latest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Mid-credits scene:
Somewhere along the way, another little handshake between Sony and Disney must have occurred, as how else would Eddie Brock/Venom (Tom Hardy) be appearing in the mid-credits scene of an MCU movie!? I’ve not yet seen Let There Be Carnage as I wasn’t a fan of the first Venom movie, but I hear that movie has a mid-credits scene in which Venom first appears somewhere in the MCU. Anyway, he probably appeared here because of Doctor Strange’s spell, but he’s quickly zapped back to where he came from, though not before leaving behind a little trace of Venom goo. Uh oh.

Post-credits scene:
Basically a trailer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (due early May, 2022). Check out the trailer here. Also, it’s worth having watched the Disney+ Marvel series What If…? to really understand this one (specifically the final episode that introduces a dark Doctor Strange), and perhaps WandaVision, if you really want to get into the nuances of everything to come.

And Finally, The Bit We’ve All Been Waiting For, aka, The Vindication of One Andrew Garfield and His Excellent Acting Skills in Interviews:
Yes, we see the return of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield in No Way Home, and not in just little bit-part cameos but in fully written scenes that see them assist Holland’s Peter Parker in ways that could have left the character dead had it not been for his Multiverse counterparts. This seems to have been a controversial move for some but a fantastic moment for others. For me, having loved all previous iterations of Spider-Man and the Sony movies, I loved it and got goosebumps when they appeared. In the screening I attended, you could tell there was joy in the audience when Garfield appeared, but it was the applause when Maguire stepped in that said it all (may I also say that this screening was in a cinema in South Korea, so this is a huge deal for people all around the world, not just English-speaking or American). I personally thought their reintroduction was very well done and the interactions between the Peters was fun, with each of their individual personalities clearly defined from each other physically and verbally. Even their costumes/wardrobes said a lot about their characters and how unique each one is. The whole final act of the movie was so meta and enjoyable and it felt like it put a lot of things to bed, both from the perspective of the franchises and characters and the personal experiences of the actors. It was reminiscent of the Avengers all coming together or appearing in each other’s’ movies, but to a different degree (it’s one thing to bring together a bunch of characters owned by one studio, it’s quite another to bring together ones owned by separate studios). I don’t think this is something that should be repeated too often (i.e., Wolverine somehow popping up in a Thor movie, or the Fantastic Four showing up to fight alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy), but this was worth it, considering it’s been almost twenty years of Spider-Men on our big screens. Despite the title citing No Way Home, it feels like Spider-Man is closer to home (the MCU) than he’s ever been before.

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