You have a gift. You have power. And with great power… there must also come great responsibility.
Spider-Man is, arguably, one of the most beloved superheroes on the planet; and even more arguably, the most beloved of Marvel’s superhero roster. 60 years of comic books, TV shows and movies; the latter starting with Sam Raimi’s highly-regarded Spider-Man in 2002, have had no small part in building that love for the character to the point that unparalleled excitement gripped Marvel fans when it was announced that Sony and Disney had reached an agreement that would allow Peter Parker to appear in the MCU, debuting in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. The five years and five movies that built up to 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home was exciting enough for most; until it was revealed that Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx, Willem Defoe, Rhys Ifans and Thomas Haden Church would all be reprising their roles from the Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the two Amazing Spider-Man films; drawing the other big screen outings for the webhead into the Marvel Cinematic Universe by means of multiversal shenanigans. So… did they pull it off?
Following Mysterio’s final act of revealing Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) secret identity to the world and sullying his name; we join Peter, MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) as they tries to figure out how to deal with Peter’s unexpected notoriety, and sudden murder charges. Distraught, he reaches out to Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help; but when Peter interferes in the spell Strange creates to make the world forget that he is Spider-Man; villainous visitors from other parts of the multiverse begin to appear in New York City, putting everyone’s lives at risk…
As regular readers will already be aware, I endeavour to keep my reviews entirely spoiler-free so that you can go away and enjoy the film for what it is in terms of narrative, with my own recommendations being based more on the technical and performative aspects of the film to present a recommendation. For Spider-Man: No Way Home, this really does leave me with a much smaller amount that I can talk about, certainly less than I want to talk about with this movie, so I’m going to get the recommendation in now before I carry on – if you like Spider-Man movies, or if you like superhero movies; you need to watch this film. Ideally, if it is safe to do so, you would go and watch it on the biggest cinema screen you can find (though I am aware that right now, that is a considerable ask); but this is arguably the best live action Spider-Man film ever made; and it quite likely is the best live action superhero film ever made (that “live action” addendum is in there because I still think Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is the pinnacle of both categories). Now, this recommendation does rely somewhat on nostalgia, as the inclusion of the previous two series’ villains does mean that this outing has essentially had 20 years of build-up, and the sheer intrigue around how they managed to make the narrative work with any villains from entirely narratively disconnected Spider-Man movies, never mind with five of them (when we all know one of the worst things a superhero movie can do is shoehorn in too many villains) was one of the driving factors in me wanting to see it as earnestly as I did, but the writing duo of Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers absolutely knocked it out of the park in that regard. While not every villain gets an equal amount of screen time, with Dr. Octavius (Aflred Molina), Norman Osbourne (Willem Defoe) and Electro (Jamie Foxx) really getting the focus of the narrative (which may potentially have been caused by scheduling issues around the pandemic, if press reports are to be believed); all 5 actors get their moments to shine and nobody feels like they were there by accident, and everyone definitely seemed to be having a lot of fun with reprising their previous roles, with Defoe in particular absolutely chewing up the scenery whenever he gets the chance.
While the returning villains are a lot of fun, it’s the central cast of Holland, Zendaya and Batalon who make this outing what it is, and demonstrate they have the chops to keep Spider-Man going further into the journey of the MCU, if that is what the future holds for them. While the debate over who the best Spider-Man actor is will likely never end; McKenna and Sommers provided Holland with a script that he could really get his teeth into in this outing, and director Jon Watts somehow manages to bring even more of that trademark Parker hope and earnestness out of Holland for their third project together. A lot happens to Peter, and to Spider-Man in this film; and Holland holds on to all of it with both hands and wrings it dry of depth and emotion at every turn, with a few scenes in particular demonstrating that Holland has so much more to offer as Peter Parker beyond cool flips and goofy one-liners, as all Spider-Man fans would be expecting from a character whose history is bound to numerous deep, emotional moments.
Zendaya and Batalon benefit from the extended runtime of this film, with more screen time allowing them to flesh out their characters that little more, and the fact that neither of them have to hide that they both know that Peter is Spider-Man allows them to get closer to each other as well; something which elevates the “guy in the chair” moments as they support Peter on his journey. However, it’s when Peter is not wearing the mask that these two come into their own, and the film’s opening act (before Spider-Man puts in his request to Dr. Strange) sees the three dealing not only with Peter’s unexpected infamy, but also with the normal aspects of being a high school senior; applying for colleges, dealing with schoolwork and part time jobs. We get more insight into the home lives and backgrounds of Ned and MJ here, and it does a lot to solidify their connection to Peter beyond the fact they go to the same school, and the two actors make the most of their time as both emotional guides to Peter, and as comic relief when needed.
Comic relief also comes in the form of the rest of the extended cast from the MCU Spider-Man trilogy; primarily Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), with other small appearances from the likes of Betty Brant (Angourie Rice) and, of course, J.K. Simmons reprising his role as J. Jonah Jameson, still reimagined into his new podcasting/Info Wars-esque persona (though his return comes with its own Raimi-trilogy easter eggs and references). Marisa Tomei reprises her role as Aunt May, and while her relationship with Happy Hogan continues to provide comedic interludes, she steps into a bigger role as an emotional focal point for Peter in this outing; providing guidance and assistance for him as he struggles with the weight of his ever-changing circumstances, and with the difficulty of dealing with his inter-universal adversaries. Dr. Strange is also on hand to help Peter deal with the latter; though, as some people were concerned that he is simply replacing Peter’s bearded father figure now that Tony Stark is gone; I will put minds at ease that Strange is not here to take that place; and his relationship with Spider-Man is actually much more complicated, in a very positive way for the narrative.
Aside from the strong (and numerous) central performances; this film is also visually and atmospherically breathtaking. While a lot of it is down to the ever-improving CGI coming out of Marvel Studios; Jon Watts uses his set-pieces very well, especially during the battle scenes – not only do they look impressive, but they’re an excellent opportunity to show off exactly what Peter is really capable of; both as Spider-Man and as Peter himself (who, lest we not forget, is an incredibly intelligent young man in his own right). Fans of the recent Spider-Man games on the PlayStation systems will get a kick out of some of the moves executed in the fight scenes; and this is the first time in this trilogy (and possibly in every Spider-Man film so far) where I felt that we truly see the power that Spider-Man possesses, as there are various moments where he is much less restrained in his own attacks. The action is beautifully complimented by the score from Michael Giacchino; who takes the playful MCU Spider-Man theme and dials it up to 11; layering greater depth of emotion at all points (even if the actual soundtrack has some very silly track titles, presumably to avoid any spoilers in itself. Check that out on your favourite streaming service if you want to see what I mean) and turns the soundtrack into an epic score befitting such a huge movie.
To get into anything else would be to tempt spoilers, so once again; I highly recommend this film. It is one of the best of Marvel’s outings so far, and if you’re a Spider-Man fan, it’s packed with so much great stuff that it’s going to be almost impossible not to love every second of it. I’ve never been more excited to see what happens next.