Once-in-a-lifetime films are pipe dreams for most studios, yet, here’s Marvel showing off the fact that they have us all in the palm of their hands yet again. Spider-Man: No Way Home is somehow a perfect harmony of a Saturday morning cartoon and the deep drama that we’ve come to expect from these epics. You’ll find no spoilers here, but the film will remind you repeatedly that there are a whole lot of reasons that Sony and Marvel kept the details of this one as close to the vest as possible. note: 2gether Movie Version Movie
Despite the fact that there’s so much we can’t talk about here, we can still find plenty of tidbits to discuss, because there’s truly never a dull moment in Spider-Man: No Way Home. That’s due in no small part to stellar performances across the board. The MCU as a whole has never been a slouch when it comes to casting. Some of the best actors in the world now hold their own respective Marvel roles. But, whether it be the pandemic or No Way Home’s lack of buildup from other installments in the MCU, the performances here feel like something different. Willem Dafoe nails everything he does, but his reprisal of Norman Osborn is something for the MCU history books. His character — like the rest of the villains who find their way into Peter’s (Tom Holland) universe — is given a new depth that was never explored in previous Spider-Man films. note: The Omen Movie
Built around performances like Dafoe’s — Alfred Molina’s Doc Oc and Jamie Foxx’s Electro aren’t anything to sneeze at, either — is the root of Spider-Man: No Way Home’s success. Amidst the laughs and the tears is a deep, heartfelt empathy that’s felt missing not just in the early MCU, but in the Spider-Man films that preceded this one. That’s not the fault of the creators or the performers of those respective series, but more a result of the times in which they were made, and what audiences were expecting at those times. The early live-action era of superhero fare was much more focused on thwip, thwip, bang, bang than the complex emotional impact of it all. Spider-Man: No Way Home’s empathy finds itself woven into the storyline in a way that doesn’t feel overly didactic or pandering, but instead truly drives home the ethos of Spider-Man: with great power comes great responsibility. Even when it freakin’ sucks. (Especially when it freakin’ sucks.)
The involvement of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) really helps to drive home the age difference between Pete and the rest of the Avengers, which furthers The Spectacular Spider-Man of it all. Underneath all of Tony Stark’s tech is a kid who just kinda wants to do kid stuff sometimes. Like, y’know, get into college or whatever.
It’s the Tony Stark of it all, though, that takes us to what may be the most exciting long-term effect of Spider-Man: No Way Home. In other canons, Peter’s involvement with Iron Man comes after he’s established himself. The scrappy kid from Queens didn’t need a billionaire to sort out his gadgets. He did it on his own. Now, we’re obviously well past that in this Peter Parker’s story, but now that we’re far enough from the fall of Stark, Spidey’s finally taking things into his own hands. Heck, the kid even uses math to get out of a desperate situation.
While there’s a real thrill in watching a story of this scope, which takes from and adds so much to the MCU as a whole, I’m not going to tell you that Spider-Man: No Way Home is without its flaws. When folks talk about superhero fatigue, they’re often not talking about audiences becoming tired of seeing people in capes. What they typically mean is an overall boredom with tropes that have been long-standing staples in the genre. The MCU has been forced to reckon with these tropes over the years to varying degrees of success, but there are some moments in this one that fall into one of the most frustrating hero habits of them all: the lone hero. This complaint and the specific fallout from certain choices made by our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man will undoubtedly see resolution in later films. But, for now, they’re annoying.
The vast majority of everything presented in this newest chapter works.
Spider-Man’s other tiny “pitfalls” are what you’ve come to expect from a Marvel film. Sometimes there might be a little more CGI than there should be, maybe some moments of dialogue will be considered a little hokey. But they’re our hokey moments, dangit! When I compare Spider-Man: No Way Home to a Saturday morning cartoon, that’s said in the fondest possible way. It has all the cheesiness you expect from a high school-aged Peter Parker, met with the silliness that comes along with a kid who uses web-slingers to swing around New York City to fight bad guys who are sometimes literal lizards.
Those tiny tidbits aside, the scale of Spider-Man: No Way Home is wild. Folks concerned that it was going to Spider-Man 3 itself with all the villains involved need not be worried. The vast majority of everything presented in this newest chapter works in such a way that you’ll leave the theater both thrilled and counting down the moments until we see Peter and his friends again.