Movie Review: Spider-Man: No Way Home -slings together fan service and stakes in mostly successful fashion-Nolan Cleary

Written by on January 25, 2022

Spider-Man: No Way Home is the newest film under the ever-expanding Marvel umbrella. The film stars Tom Holland, Zendaya, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Fox, Marisa Tomei, and Alfred Molina.

Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up following the events of 2019’s Spider-Man: Far from Home, with the villainous Mysterio having revealed the true identity of Spider-Man to be Peter Parker. With the secret out, Parker must now navigate his superhero life with legal troubles, public scrutiny, and accusations that he was behind the murder of Mysterio.

As his double life begins to negatively affect those closest to him, Parker seeks the help of fellow hero Doctor Strange, played once again by Benedict Cumberbatch. Strange, using his magic, agrees to help Parker erase the public’s knowledge of him being Spider-Man. However, after Parker messes up the spell, multiple villains from other worlds emerge.

Parker must now take on these multiple villains from his past lives before the spell affects reality itself. No Way Home has long been one of the year’s most anticipated films, with plenty of rumors and leaks creating hype around the Internet. Fans hoping to see beloved characters from past films won’t be disappointed.

While its fan service comes as a welcome addition in many ways, it also comes as an inconvenience for the film’s story as well. Fans hoping for the return of certain iterations of other Marvel characters won’t be disappointed by the ultimate result. While many of the cameos and appearances tend to excel the film, others feel like an attempt to pander to comic book purists, forcing on forced gags and call backs to past films.

Some bits of dialogue feel pushed only to wink at fans familiar with past incarnations of the character and the Marvel universe at large. As the film attempts to introduce audiences to the concept of the multiverse, not every rule is tied up in a bow. The film creates rules for how its magic is supposed to operate, only to later betray those rules of a lack of convince for the plot. The film also suffers from an overabundance of plot holes, with certain established plot points not being followed through all the way.

What No Way Home gets right in its call backs to past Spider-Man films is in the ways it concludes the arcs of its beloved characters from past films. Appearances from past actors feel earned, rather than contrived for quick cameos. No Way Home is the third endeavor from director Jon Watts. Watts, who previously made his debut in the world of Marvel with 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming and 2019’s Spider-Man: Far from Home. While the films managed to leave some sort of impression, they never achieved the same razzle dazzle that the works of director Sam Raimi achieved with his original Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire in the starring role. His direction felt dry in past movies, lacking any sort of drive or unique passion.

In Spider-Man: No Way Home, Watts generally rises to the occasion, with more visual shots, and more memorable action scenes, though the film still lacks a distinct visual style. Two of the villains returning include Alfred Molina’s beloved villain, Doctor Octopus from 2004’s Spider Man 2, and Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, returning from 2002’s Spider-Man. Dafoe and Molina return with a vengeance, offering performances equivalent to their performances in past films.

Another returning villain is Jamie Foxx’s Electro, returning from the critically revolved 2014 film The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Foxx’s performance is often contrived and annoying, feeling more Foxx’s obnoxious personality spilling over into the character. However, his performance is still considered an improvement of the 2014 incarnation of the character. Other villains have flimsy motivations through the story.

Spider-Man: No Way Home also succeeds with its action set pieces. While the action in the past Watts’ Spider-Man installments were middling, the action is No Way Home is considerably more memorable, with more creativity being poured in the important fight scenes that the Spider-Man movies are considered iconic for.

Watts attempts to get back to the heart of what made previous Spider-Man movies successful; its balance of human drama, 60s Adam West Batman style camp and compelling arc for Peter Parker outside of his superhero antics. Watts attempts to right the wrongs of the other Spider-Man films with a more personal and often emotional take on the character. The storyline is also more interesting, with Parker having to struggle between his superhero identity and everyday life, seeing how it affects him, and the ones in his life that are closet to him. However, the plot only soars to a fault, with the film often getting caught up in plot holes and broken rules.

Another area where No Way Home flies is in its ability to separate itself from the expanded Marvel Cinematic Universe. A major issue with the traditional Marvel franchise is how it often feels too much like an extraneous TV series, with movies feeling too interconnected to other films. Now, with Disney+ shows in the line up, Marvel movies have become too hard to follow, often feeling too much like zingers and nods to other movies.

While No Way Home does pinch audiences with an appearance by Doctor Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, it succeeds in feeling more secluded from other MCU encounters. In many ways, Spider-Man: No Way Home feels like a love letter for the character, attempting to respect the legacy and mythology of the franchise. The film attempts to address fan gripes with past Watts installments, even when it often falls short.

Still, the stakes are higher, the ideas are grander, and consequences are more real than they were in other installments. While past Spider-Man installments felt bland, filler and pointless, this one feels like more is on the line. The film feels grander and more fulfilling in tone and goals.

Overall, Spider-Man: No Way Home is big dumb fun. While the film isn’t often an incredibly well written film, the film delivers a step above in the Spider-Man series and offers enough surprises and well directed action scenes to keep fans ultimately invested.

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