The cat’s out of the bag as Peter Parker (Tom Holland) deals with the aftermath of Far From Home: Mysterio is dead but has revealed Spider-Man’s secret identity, and now he’s wanted for murder. Unless he can call in a favor from Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to conjure a spell that will make everyone forget this debacle, including his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya). The spell goes array and now villains from alternate dimensions are making their way into his reality, including Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina) and the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe).
Spider-Man is one of the most popular characters of all time, proving that even those with supernatural abilities need to pay bills, get a job, have a social life, and stay in school; it can be hard to handle. During the nineties, Marvel sold off their movie rights to different studios which sealed the fate of crossovers until Disney became the biggest corporation in the world. Anyone who’s a longtime fan has had to endure the reset button after the Sam Raimi trilogy ended with a whimper. It wasn’t helped by Sony’s lust for creating their own universe following the success of The Avengers that preemptively ended Andrew Garfield’s run. Once Tom Holland arrived, there was a sense of fatigue in what could be done with the character. Was Uncle Ben going to set a world record for the most reoccurring deaths? Would this new Spider-Man prove just as disposable as those who came before him? It seemed that way in 2019 when both companies couldn’t reach an agreement, and Sony threatened to pull the character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Over the years, people have argued which of the three incarnations is the best, but aside from Into the Spider-Verse, none of them are the definitive version. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but only a video game as long as 2018’s adventure by Insomniac Games could do justice to the lore. Cut to a pandemic society two years after the release of Far From Home which ended on a cliffhanger that’s never been explored, and you have a recipe for one of the best Spider-Man stories in twenty first century multimedia. This will be a spoiler-free review covering everything that is only seen in the trailer, followed by a spoiler talk session marked by a picture of Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. If anyone complains about in-depth details in the first half, here’s evidence proving my innocence:
This is the most dramatic of the Jon Watts trilogy with the previous two relying more on comedy. Some saw this as refreshing from the overly emotional Raimi films while others thought it butchered what made him an icon. Spider-Man has never shied away from comedy, but at his core Peter uses humor to deal with traumatic life moments. All of this culminates in a test that forces Peter to rely on his personality and grit rather than his inherited Stark gadgets that fans have detested. These scenarios reflect some of the most iconic storylines from the comics that’ll make you laugh, cry, and drop your jaw when it finally embraces both sides of the panel.
This also fully encompasses both High School and College connecting the characters on a humanistic level like 2004’s Spider-Man 2, in addition to the action sequences that set a new bar between a mirror dimension chase with Doctor Strange and a game of bridge with Doctor Octopus. The sorcerer supreme is a worthy supporting character contrasting Peter’s idealistic views on life while coming to terms with a younger Avenger. Then there’s the past villains that sent shockwaves around the world the moment Alfred Molina rose from the smoke. There’s also Jamie Fox, Thomas Hayden Church, Rhys Ifans, and of course Willem Dafoe, who thankfully follow the trend of modern Marvel villains by being just as interesting as the hero. The interactions with one another, the clashing powers, the changes from their first incarnation makes for some of the best dialogue exchanges in an already powerful rogues gallery. Everyone reprises their roles like refitting an old glove, as if all seven films were released only yesterday. But with or without the nostalgic villains, the connection between Peter and MJ is sweet, partially due to Holland and Zendaya dating in real life (Ned in the movie possibly turns this into an unspoken polyamorous relationship). All three of them have grown over the course of their introduction along with their chemistry that could fully stock a science lab. It does have a lot of awkward comedy, but at this point what Spider-Man media doesn’t? For a two-and-a-half-hour-long story, there’s a lot of plot and character banter to squeeze in. But unlike Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it doesn’t feel overstretched because of their legacy within the Spider-Man franchise. Not only does it utilize the knowledge of the past for Peter’s development, but it also connects to the growing multiverse dilemma that was established in Loki. It knows how to cater to fans of the previous incarnations as well as those who are only familiar with the MCU. There are a few minor plot conveniences that don’t make sense, but thankfully they don’t stack up against the outweighing positive qualities. This is what should be mandatory in a Spider-Man adaptation going into the future, especially with the possibilities never explored with an adult Peter Parker after confining him to a purgatory of repeated high school life.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is now in league with some of the best Spider-Man media next to Into the Spider-Verse, the recent PlayStation video games, and The Spectacular Spider-Man. In fact, it’s the best Spider-Man threequel, which is saying both a lot and very little considering the competition. The story edits out all the criticisms of the past seven films by focusing on the human elements of the characters, balances comedy and dramatic challenges, stages inventive action sequences, and goes in new directions with varying twists on several iconic storylines. If you’re not into Superhero movies like James Cameron or Ridley Scott, nothing here is going to change your mind. And I wouldn’t say it’s the best Marvel Cinematic Universe movie as both Infinity War and Endgame are hard to topple. But after enduring one too many reboots that ended in failure, this is the definitive live action adaptation every Spidey fan deserves.
Pros: uncharted dilemmas, relatable characters, villain conversations, cute comedy, sturdy supporting cast
Cons: plot conveniences
This section will discuss spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film yet, this is your only warning to turn back even though the internet has already leaked many photos to the public (a pox on those who spoiled the surprises). Stop right here if you don’t want to be spoiled. You have been warned!
With everyone connected to Peter Parker lawyering up since the newsbreak, guess who comes in on everyone’s behalf. None other than the man without fear himself, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), also known as Daredevil. Fresh off the cancelled Netflix series, this coincides with Vincent D’Onofrio’s return as Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin in the Disney+ series Hawkeye, solidifying the continuation of the character with the same actors. Curiously, Foggy Nelson is nowhere to be seen unless there’s an in-joke reference to Jon Favreau who played the character in the 2003 film starring Ben Affleck.
Since the second trailer, the villains have been the headliners in marketing from Dr. Octopus, to Electro, to the Lizard, to Sandman, to the one and only Green Goblin. Some of them even improve on their original roles, like Electro is no longer blue and is more muscular compared to his stereotypical nerd attire from The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Yes, some of them are treated like stepchildren in their attention, but when they’re interacting with each other, that’s when they justify their existence. Jamie Fox’s Electro talking to Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman about their similar origins gets a chuckle. Molina and Dafoe have a surprising organic connection despite never meeting in the Raimi trilogy. The latter utilizes the now famous I’m something of a scientist myself meme to great effect, though probably as compensation for destroying the mask that people either love or hate. Even the Lizard gets to scrap with a hero who didn’t get a chance to fully evolve one character in their universe. Every time they’re on screen, they give the fans what they want with new material.
The Death of Aunt May
After being double crossed and double suplexed by Osborn, Aunt May tries to save Peter by injecting Norman with a revealed false cure. This prompts the green menace to run his glider into May while Peter protects her from a pumpkin bomb. All fine and dandy following the line with great power comes great responsibility, but May collapses with her blood now on her hands as she slowly loses her life saying that she’s just catching her breath. You read that right, Aunt May dies at the hands of the Green Goblin, which is probably the best screen adaptation of the death of Gwen Stacy. Don’t get me wrong, Gwen’s death in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was superbly executed in an otherwise obsolete commercial, but shoe-horning the Green Goblin into the climax dents the end product. This Green Goblin has more history which makes the moment more impactful. In the comics, Aunt May had to raise Peter by herself after Ben’s death and usually lived a long life before natural causes took their toll. We’ve gotten to know her more in this trilogy despite being paraded as a milf joke, and this installment showcases how much Peter relies on her in between shielding him from the police and trying to appeal to his conscience when he adheres to Doctor Strange’s instructions. Considering how Peter also lost his MCU father figure Tony Stark a few movies ago, this adds more salt to the wound. It hits even harder when J. Jonah Jameson, being a cold-hearted bastard of a journalist, blasts Spider-Man on a giant news screen for all the damage while Happy Hogan is arrested. Heartbreak doesn’t begin to describe the outcome.
Fans have shunned this scene for not being faithful to the entire scenario but hear me out. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has never been about faithfully adapting the comics to the screen; they instead try to reinvent them to fit the universe while keeping the emotional elements intact. Second, after everyone complained about the fan service in Ghostbusters: Afterlife, how is this on the same level? Everything that is connected to the past serves a purpose in Holland’s journey who goes all out in his role from fairly optimistic to deeply scarred following May’s death. It just proves that you can’t please anyone anymore.
The Spider-Man Reunion
When Ned conveniently learns to open portals, he and MJ try to locate Peter after the apartment battle. They find him, but it turns out it’s another Spider-Man played by Andrew Garfield, and the audience went wild. After another attempt, they summon the one and only Toby Maguire now playing and older version of the character, which brought an even louder reception. The two heroes square off in a web shootout until they realize they are from different universes. They then comfort Holland about his loss and show how they had to endure their own turmoil, and what it means to be a superhero. For years, people have fought over which actor is the best incarnation of this character and yet this movie treats everyone equally in both drama and comedy. Every opportunity to work off each other is brought to the forefront like how Holland and Garfield have web cartridges when Maguire has organic webbing (they even question if it comes out in other areas), or how Maguire has back problems and Garfield doesn’t have as many memorable villains. This doesn’t take sides and instead takes the best of all three incarnations for a new experience. Some might think it goes on a little too long but considering how once in a lifetime something like this happens, it can go on as long as it wants since they’re not just quick cameos. Maguire even stops Holland from killing the Goblin with his own glider, going so far as to take a stab in the back before Holland injects Osborn with the cure. Garfield on the other hand gets to exercise his dramatic chops by reliving the turmoil of losing Gwen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which leads to a breathtaking and tearful redemption arc when Goblin almost offs MJ. No one would’ve thought that this could ever happen in the early 2000’s, but it’s amazing how both technology and storytelling has allowed Sony to correct all of their past mistakes to deliver fan service that progresses the story in every aspect.
The Final Resolution
As the multiverse starts to rip the fabric of reality, even with Doctor Strange holding his ground, Peter decides to wipe the memories of everyone who knew Peter Parker. Doctor Strange shows more humanity here than he did in his solo film knowing the consequences going forward. Ned and MJ have a heart to heart with Peter, who claims he will find them and tell MJ he loves her when they meet again. All the villains and the two Spider-Men return to their realities, and everything goes back to normal. Peter attempts to keep his promise but after realizing how much trouble he put both of them through, he orders a coffee and leaves. Not even Happy Hogan knows him anymore when they cross paths at Aunt May’s grave. Peter gets an apartment room (hopefully from Mr. Ditkovitch) and using his aunt’s sewing machine to create a new costume: one that’s closer to the iconic red and blue suit we’ve all come to know and love. Some claim this erases all the character development, but when looking back on Far From Home, this is a stark (no pun intended) contrast to the Peter Parker who wanted to shrug his responsibilities and focus on himself. Now that he’s been through some tough life changing events, things are different, and he knows the risks of revealing his identity. Even Garfield and Maguire discussed how difficult it is for Peter Parker to have a social life when dealing with Spider-Man’s responsibilities. If you want proof, just look at the ending of Amazing Fantasy #15:
So, while it might look like a soft reboot, it could still progress the characters in the future like they did with Daredevil.
The Sixth Member
In a mid-credit scene, a drunken Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is interrogating a bartender on the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe history when Strange’s spell sends them back to the Sony universe while a drop of black goo is left behind. Because Venom knew that Peter Parker was Spider-Man he was affected by the final resolution which has its share of manifest and latent functions/dysfunctions. On the one hand, it’s nice that the alien costume saga has a chance to reinvent itself after Spider-Man 3 and the botched Venom films, but on the other hand teasing a crossover with two companies only to retract it in the next film is borderline criminal while also creating more questions than answers. If Venom is sent back to the Sony Universe, where does that leave Mobius, Michael Keaton’s the Vulture or any future plans from both studios? Will this also involve Jameson’s son John who originally brought the symbiote to earth from a space mission? Will there be two Venoms in the future? Given how the black suit storyline plays out and the MCU’s track record for reinventing iconic storylines, only time will tell what happens for both companies.
The Post Credit Scene
After waiting patiently with a sold-out crowd, the post credit scene revealed a teaser for the upcoming film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. This is the directorial return of Sam Raimi for a superhero film who was recently quoted about his long absence from the second genre that made him a household name alongside Evil Dead:
“I didn’t know if I could face it again because it was so awful, having been the director of Spider-Man 3. The internet was getting revved up and people disliked that movie and they sure let me know about it. So, it was difficult. But then, I found out there was an opening for Doctor Strange 2. My agent called me and said, ‘They’re looking for a director at Marvel for this movie and your name came up. Would you be interested?’ And I thought, ‘I wonder if I could still do it.’ They’re really demanding, those types of pictures. And I thought, ‘Well, that’s reason enough.’ I didn’t think I would ever be doing another superhero movie. It just happened.”
The trailer sees Doctor Strange enlist an isolated Wanda to help with a multiverse problem stemming from former colleague Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the evil Doctor Strange from the Disney+ series What If…? With all the complaints about how Doctor Strange’s abilities are treated here, this looks to bring the consequences of the spell full circle. Question is what does the multiverse hold beyond the cracks? Where does Wanda fit in all of this? This brings up more questions than answers, but that’s trailers for you. Unless they want to pull a Terminator Genisys in the future.