If there ever was a film with an entire (or multiple) planet’s worth of expectations on its back, it’s Spider-Man: No Way Home. The third solo film in the wall-crawler’s third rebooted iteration in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is directed by Jon Watts, and despite my concerns, it’s a big win.
Note – this review will be free of spoilers.
Taking off directly from the end of 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, the new film throws a new challenge at Peter - the entire world knows he is Spider-Man. While that may not be as much of an issue for literally every one of the original Avengers, Peter’s life gets even more complicated than normal by getting framed for Mysterio’s murder. With college just around the corner, Peter decides to get some help from Doctor Strange, hoping to use magic to make everyone forget he is Spider-Man. Of course, like any comic book story, things always take a turn for the worse. With a reality ripped apart, multiple villains from the previous Spider-Man iterations show up in the MCU, and it’s up to Spider-Man and Doctor Strange to put a stop to this madness.
No Way Home has a lot of characters to manage, and it does so about as well as I could have hoped. While not all five villains are given the same amount of attention, almost everyone has a big enough change in their motivations to have them stand apart from their original versions. In some cases, like with Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, we learn a whole lot more about them, to the point at which I’ll see the original films in a completely new light. Everyone from Dafoe to Alfred Molina and surprisingly Jamie Foxx brings their A-game, although it is a little shameful to have Rhys Ifans’ Lizard and Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman largely relegated to voice roles. As much as I adore every single character’s return, it’s Dafoe’s Goblin who cements himself as one of Spider-Man’s most important nemeses, both in the comics and the big screen.
With so many villains in the mix, it could have been easy to put supporting characters like Zendaya’s MJ, Jacob Batalon’s Ned Leeds or even Marisa Tomei’s May in the background, but No Way Home gives all of them a bigger role here than in previous outings. Considering how Peter’s identity being public has its own impact on his loved ones, it’s great to see these characters take an active part in the story, with each getting their own moment to shine. While I’ve found Peter and MJ’s romance in these films to be cute but without a strong emotional basis, No Way Home perfectly adapts the how and why of Peter Parker’s failed relationships from the comics to the big screen. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange, who has been front and centre in the film’s marketing, also plays a big role here without derailing the narrative.
One of my biggest issues with Jon Watts’ handling of the character’s films has been a distinct lack of personality. While the previous films took inspiration from the Harry Potter franchise, they never felt tonally consistent or focused. Spider-Man: No Way Home changes that, with a certain sense of dread that wasn’t there in Spider-Man’s previous MCU adventures. One of the best aspects of the film is the fight choreography, which is much cleaner and more impactful, with every punch feeling as strong as the characters throwing them. This is something I really cherished from Sam Raimi’s original trilogy, and Watts has certainly taken cues from the same.
As anticipated, the film does contain multiple surprises, some of which even the biggest fans won’t see coming. While it’s easy to shake off most of these as just fan-service, which they definitely are, it would also be quite cynical to say they are just that. Like Avengers: Endgame before it, No Way Home’s biggest surprises more often than not feel earned, and not forced.
Peter Parker goes through a life-changing journey here, and as often goes in the comics featuring the wall-crawler, it’s one full of pain and guilt. The film has its humour moments for sure, with some of them sure to get the loudest cheers in theatres, but at the end of the day, Spider-Man: No Way Home puts Parker in a place where Spider-Man purists have wanted to see him ever since his introduction in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Spider-Man: No Way Home releases worldwide on December 17, 2021.