Spider-Man: No Way Home is a culmination of not only the Spider-Man story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also a full-on victory lap for all the Spider-Man movies. Considering the series kicked off with 2002’s Spider-Man and spawned about a dozen different films, that is a remarkably deep well to pull from. Much like the animated Into the Spider-Verse, No Way Home does it with an enjoyably crazy kitchen sink approach to the Spider-Man canon with returning characters and actors from across the series. It’s a fan-servicey love-letter to the entire Spider-Man series that has some truly powerful and emotional moments. It may take the entire Spider-Verse into account, but it never forgets that the story is about Peter Parker trying to do what’s right, even as a multiverse of villains come crashing through his door.
Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is having a miserable day since his identity as the web-slinging superhero Spider-Man was revealed to the public. This causes all sorts of problems simply by association with his friends Ned (Jacob Batalon) and MJ (Zendaya) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). So, thinking of a way to fix all of it, he goes to his superhero Avengers friend, the magic casting wizard, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Strange casts a spell to undo everyone knowing Peter is Spider-Man, but things go wrong. Now dimensional barriers are breaking down as a cascade of Spider-Man’s villains from different universes come crashing in, Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), the Lizard (Rhys Ifans), the Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church), Electro (Jamie Foxx), and the meanest of all, Norman Osborn aka The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). Peter rounds up all these interdimensional baddies, but when Doctor Strange reveals sending them back to their own universes will have fatal consequences, Spider-Man tries to save everyone.
The setup flows naturally out of the final twist in Far From Home, although a lot of the backstory of the antagonists is based upon the previous Spider-Man movies. All the baddies showed up in movies before Tom Holland started slinging webs, so their effectiveness may resonate if one has seen the previous films. Still, the fact that random superpowered bad guys keep showing up is really confusing for Spider-Man so it is fine if one doesn’t know all these guys. In the previous Spider-Man movies, most of the baddies met terminal ends which was kind of annoying that they kept killing off Spider-Man villains. It works on a meta-level that the villains’ primary motivations in No Way Home are they don’t want to die, but Strange callously says they must return to their fates.
Each baddie one gets their own moment, a brief backstory explanation and argue with each other. A huge standout is Dafoe as Norman Osborn, who bounces in between his conflicted Norman and the crazy Goblin. He returns to the role with absolute relish like he never left. A fight Holland’s Peter Parker has with Osborn is absolutely gripping and very intense with Holland selling Parker’s determination and Dafoe being extra-crazy. Molina as Doc Ock bounces between wanting to crush Spider-Man and having his mind expanded. Foxx gives Electro some charisma and while Ifans and Church’s roles are mostly just voice and VFX they add some oomph to their lines. There are multiple different pulls of characters from the previous Spider-Man movies that elegantly connects the entire series together in a single web.
Holland’s Peter Parker is determined to do the right thing, often to the detriment of his own happiness and security but that’s who Peter Parker is. His buddies are very fun and they get in some good banter with the trapped bad guys, especially Batalon’s Ned who has some hilarious reactions and unexpected bits of heroism. Zendaya’s MJ also has some great moments, and she is especially affecting in the film’s finale. As Pete’s steadfast Aunt May, Tomei shows that she loves her surrogate son, and she absolutely nails an iconic piece of Spider-Man dialogue that has been missing from Holland’s previous films. Even with a movie stacked with villains, Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange is something of an antagonist. His admission that returning the villains to their universe will result in their death creates a compelling conundrum, Strange is doing it to set the multiverse right but Peter can’t let anyone die, even bad guys.
No Way Home has a great sense of pace which is surprising since it’s almost two and a half hours. The opening has Peter reacting to his identity being exposed and is one long scene of him and MJ running like hell until there are helicopters buzzing outside their apartment. A scene when Spider-Man tries to run away from Doctor Strange features some very trippy visuals and Spider-Man combats the wizard with the power of math and numbers. Electro’s first appearance is absolutely loud and bonkers. The finale battle features a bunch of amazing sequences leading to a climax that pays off the entire Spider-Man series.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is an ambitious and sprawling epic that keeps the stakes personal, and the character dynamics are fantastic. It is a joyous celebration of the entire Spider-Verse and a fantastic superhero movie on its own. Spider-Man has been around for awhile and this proves there’s still a lot left in the web-head.
Spider-Man: No Way Home
Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Benedict Wong, Tony Revolori, Marisa Tomei, Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire