'Spider-Man: No Way Home' review: MCU installment spins one big, poignant, and sensational web
Courtesy of Sony/Marvel Studios
A concept that’s been decades in the making: a world where generations of characters intermingle under one roof despite their flawed and perhaps convoluted pasts (or studio licensing rights). Dubbed the Multiverse, the wonderful “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” teed up the inter-dimensional possibilities, but the MCU’s latest “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” the third solo outing featuring Tom Holland’s teenage web slinger, finally brings the idea to live-action fruition. You’d assume a film with a smorgasbord of villains from the past and present (the most name drops since “Avengers: Endgame”) would bury itself under the pressure, but series staple Jon Watts cultivates an imaginative, freewheeling trilogy closer that not only stands among the MCU’s superior entries, but arguably the best “Spider-Man” yet.
Watts manages to juggle the topsy-turvy storyline and working with a script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, allows Holland to finally mature into the role of Spider-Man. “Homecoming” tastefully breezed through his origin tale, which was fine considering we all know how Spider-Man becomes Spider-Man, and Holland brought a newfound dorky energy to Peter Parker than previous iterations. Granted, past Spidey’s had their own quirks and mannerisms, but Holland felt like the whole package though he never got to show range. All those qualms are put to rest in easily his most consequential spin as the web crawler which picks up in the immediate “Far From Home” aftermath where Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio told the whole world Peter Parker is Spider-Man.
The implications are huge for Peter who is slinging through NYC with girlfriend MJ (a wholesome and emotionally vulnerable Zendaya) when the news breaks, sending the teenager into crisis PR mode and the lair of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch – always wonderful) to ask if he’ll conjure one of his signature magic spells and undo Mysterio’s revelation as it’s impacting his friends, including fan-favorite Ned (Jacob Batalon), chances of getting into college. The spell Doctor Strange yields, after Peter tries amending it several times, causes a rift in the universe, opening the floodgates for visitors to bleed through. Enter Alfred Molina’s Dr. Otto Octavius, Willem Dafoe’s sinister Green Goblin, and Jamie Foxx’s Electro (who you probably remember from Sam Rami’s 2002/2004 “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 2” and Marc Webb’s 2014 “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” respectively).
Once you get over the thrill of seeing these iconic characters almost twenty years later (what a treat watching Dafoe and Molina back on screen together with the same intensity and pedigree as if they never left) Doctor Strange sends Peter and the gang on a clean-up mission (“Scooby-Doo this shit”) to corral the villains into one location and shoot them back to their respective timelines. To say anymore would probably get me accosted, but the results are a fun dose of nostalgia, emotion, and sweet bliss. It’s the Spider-Man movie to end all Spider-Man movies even if the jumbled first hour cruises at a relentless pace, you're barely given a moment to breathe.
But the growth and evolution of Spider-Man across an expansive 9-movie arch is nothing short of astounding and Holland steps up to the plate in a major way. Each player is given their own moment to shine, including the return of J.K. Simmons' smarmy Alex Jones inspired J. Jonah Jameson, Marisa Tomei’s soulful Aunt May and Jon Favreau’s endearing Happy Hogan. Nobody seems lost in the shuffle, which is a remarkable achievement considering the stakes Watts and co are up against. That Marvel continues needling the thread from over 20-years of superhero lore and still finds imaginative ways of tying up loose ends and rewarding audiences for having sat through the fine, but tepid “The Amazing Spider-Man” speaks to their carefully designed blueprint.
I’m not sure there’s a planet in which anyone assumed Sony and Marvel could work together to bring this type of intrinsic and wild adventure together, but in the process “Spider-Man: No Way Home” gives more depth and appreciation for the character. If it takes 20-years for another multi-generational adventure on this scale and magnitude to take shape it would have been worth the wait. There’s no telling what the future holds for the franchise (though stick around for two-post credit stingers), but “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is a satisfying rallying cry for all those who grew up thinking the impossible was possible and the world an endless maze of creativity.
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME is now playing in theaters.