‘Spider-Man No Way Home’ Review: The Apex of Marvel Storytelling and a Love Letter to a Beloved Character

**Spoilers Ahead**

For those experiencing superhero fatigue from all of the seemingly endless choices of the genre, you may ask if we needed yet another ‘Spider-Man 3’ movie. On the surface, it could have been everything wrong with this genre: excess, gargantuan fight scenes that are visually appealing but that have no substance, and just constant references to other superhero properties so as to keep new fans far away. However, Spider-Man: No Way Home did the seemingly impossible: it balanced touching fan service with a heart-felt story that gave each character their due, and it was an absolute journey from beginning to end.

No Way Home begins moments after Spider-Man: Far From Home ended, with Spider-Man’s identity being revealed as Peter Parker (Tom Holland). Right from the beginning, we see what makes the friendship trio of Peter, MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon). The love they have for each other is so obvious, and we are reminded of what makes each of these characters great. When speaking to police about their knowledge of Spidey-related activities, MJ knows her constitutional rights like a boss, while Ned immediately incriminates himself, and there’s really nothing else that can sum up these lovable characters so perfectly.

We also FINALLY got to see the one and only Matt Murdoch (Charlie Cox) in his first official Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) appearance. We already know he is in fact a very good lawyer with incredible reflexes. Although we didn’t get to see him suit up as his alter-ego Daredevil, Hawkeye introduced his nemesis, Kingpin/Wilson Fisk, and they will no doubt be facing off in the MCU soon enough. Daredevil will make an amazing addition to the MCU, and giving us a tiny glimpse of the character was just the right amount of fanservice to buy in.

Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

We also saw the break-up of Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), and the bedroom scene was Marvel comedy at its very best. These two have done such a phenomenal job of supporting Holland’s Peter Parker and their influence on him is clear. Poor Happy is a sleep apnea King, and he and May just were just two people on different paths in life. Their relationship was fun to watch while it lasted.

No Way Home perfectly distilled the late high school experience, including the stress of applying for any post-secondary education. The movie also managed to magnify the experience of feeling like everyone is watching you at all times. We got to see Flash (Tony Revolori) experimenting with his look, a true high school experience. He even got the chance to reveal his new hair and new clothes in a scene very reminiscent of ‘The Princess Diaries’ glam-up sequence.

In an interesting twist, although Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) was featured prominently in No Way Home, he was sidelined and not a part of the entire movie. We got a preview of the dark version of the character as first introduced in What If…? Referring to Spider-Man’s villains, he says, ‘Their sacrifice means more than their lives’, a chilling look into the cold, calculating side of this character in contrast to Spider-Man’s selflessness. There is a lot of potential in this aspect of the villain, and it looks like fans will get to see even more in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness. I’d also really love to see that episode of The Equalizer that was filmed in his giant New York mansion in the 1980s.

Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

The re-introduction of all of Spider-Man’s villains across the multiverse was one of the strongest aspects of this movie. They were all given them all a chance to either remind fans of Spider-Man what made them so great, or to give weaker villains an actual story with something to do. J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) was given a topical update reminiscent of a certain radio show host who makes his living terrorizing victims of mass shootings and selling “supplements” to his listeners, and it worked brilliantly.  

Alfred Molina reprised his role as Doctor Otto Octavius, a physicist turned supervillain with the fusion of metal arms to his body after a tragically botched fusion experiment. His character represented the hope of redemption, and he was the villain that ultimately had arguably the most tragic end. He had sacrificed in the name of the greater good after regaining control of the synthetic arms that controlled his mind. Seeing him cured and working with the heroes of this movie to bring a cure to all of Spider-Man’s former villains was incredibly fitting, and shows how much Marvel deeply understands this character.

Seeing Willem Dafoe return as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin was breathtaking for so many reasons. The fact that his mask was smashed almost immediately after the character’s introduction proves that Marvel had listened to fans who had noted that in the first Sony Spider-Man trilogy, Dafoe was so often behind the mask. This impeded fans from seeing Dafoe’s face which, in the best possible way, was built to play a villain. The range of expressions he is able to show are an essential part of this character. He was corrupted by the lust for power, and Dafoe’s charisma absolutely radiates through every scene he’s in in this movie.

Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

Electro (Jamie Foxx), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), and the Lizard (Rhys Ifan) all made their returns as, shall we say, less than ideal villains. However, their stories all made sense in the context of this movie. No Way Home also showed it’s self awareness by poking fun at the ridiculousness that was the plot of The Amazing Spider-Man in the most loving way possible. Particularly Foxx, an exceptionally talented actor, was able to shine and show much more of his range than he was when he was first introduced facing off against his version of Spider-Man.

The real reveal in No Way Home, of course, was the return of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield reprising their roles as previous versions of the beloved superhero. Their appearances in this movie further proved Maguire was the perfect version of Peter Parker, while Garfield was the definitive version of Spider-Man. No Way Home proved once and for all that Garfield was always far too pretty and well put-together to play Peter Parker, and you know what? That is more than okay. Seeing all three live-action Spider-Men come together was fan service of the best kind, and we all got to fully appreciate what makes all of these actors great.

No Way Home also gave us a surprising, but not entirely unwelcome, meditation on grief and loss. Living in the middle of the pandemic, it was incredibly topical. It was absolutely devastating to see the loss of Aunt May after battling the Green Goblin like an absolute boss, and it was heartbreaking to see yet another MCU entry where Holland’s Peter Parker was faced with the loss of yet another parental figure. Tomei brought such a heart to this version of Aunt May, and it was so sad to see her go. Peter Parker has dealt with so much loss through every lifetime. From Uncle Ben, to Tony Stark, to Gwen Stacey, his fate is to lose those closest to him. Ned and MJ are there to remind Peter that real friends never let you cry alone, and it’s clear as with all of us, grief is a process best undergone in the embrace of community.

Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

The details of this movie were what really brought it together in the end. The score composed by the incomparable Michael Giacchino hit every emotional note every single time through the movie. It captured the fun, tragedy, and power all in one, a large task only the best composers are up to. Ned’s Lola (Maya Rivera) was a delight, and her Tagalog dialogue added such a richness to absolutely every moment she was involved in. The moment that Garfield’s Spider-Man rescued MJ from a fall from a building deserves an entire article of its own, and although the trailer may have given fans a hint of what to expect, it packed no less of an emotional punch when we all got to see it on screen.

There were definitely Jewish details that were spread through the movie, and although the Hanukkah decorations in the cafe were sparse, we know Peter Parker has a chanukiah somewhere. The words on Aunt May’s gravestone, “When You Help Someone, You Help Everyone” is the distillation of Judaism into a single line, and there is really nothing more Jewish than Peter’s quest to save everyone he possibly can and put life above all else.

The ultimate conclusion of No Way Home can only be described as bittersweet. Holland’s Spider-Man achieved his goal, and gave Spider-Man’s villains another chance, but at the expense of everyone he has ever known forgetting about him. Doctor Strange including himself in the long list of people who love Peter was the emotional cornerstone of the ending sequence, and phenomenal character development for both of these characters. The ending was very open-ended, which means that we could see Tom Holland reprise his role as our favorite web-slinger in both future Marvel or Sony projects.

Spider-Man: No Way Home was a tribute both to a beloved comic book character, and the fans who have loved him for generations. Wherever Peter Parker’s story goes next, Marvel can congratulate themselves on telling a beautiful story that is the best of the superhero movie genre and a self-contained tale of a hero who can inspire us all.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is in theatres now. 

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