December 31, 2021 Spider-Man: No Way Home (Movie Review)
Remember when Spider-Man: No Way Home nearly got left on the drawing board? That was a weird few weeks. Turns out the deal Disney and Sony had to produce Spider-Man films together ran out, meaning the two companies would have left their MCU Spider-Man on Far From Home’s cliffhanger. Then Sony’s SSU films about Spider-Man villains (2018’s Venom, 2022’s Morbius, and the upcoming Kraven the Hunter) might have actually had Spider-Man in them.
Still, a new deal was negotiated, and Spider-Man: No Way Home was back on the docket. Jon Watts (Cop Car 2015) returned to direct, while Chris McKenna (The Lego Batman Movie 2017) and Erik Somers (Drawn Together series) wrote the script. The film debuted on December 13th, 2021 at the FOX Village Theatre before spreading to cinemas stateside on December 17th, 2021. Within those few days, it already became the highest-grossing film of 2021, and the highest-grossing Spider-Man film in general. Not a bad run. But what is it all about?
Following the outing of his secret identity, the life of Peter ‘Spider-Man’ Parker (Tom Holland: The Impossible 2012, Uncharted 2022) has become a mess. The public is divided between thinking he is a hero or a terrorist, and it is affecting his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei: My Cousin Vinny 1992, The Wrestler 2008) and his friends MJ (Zendaya: The Greatest Showman 2017, Malcom & Marie 2021) and Ned (Jacob Batalon: Avengers: Infinite Wars 2018 The True Don Quixote 2019) by association.
In search of a solution, Parker consults Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch: Sherlock series, Dr. Strange 2016) to make everyone forget who he is. Dr. Strange obliges, except things go wrong. Not only do people still know him, but the spell brings in people from other realities who know ‘Peter Parker’. It is up to Spider-Man, Dr. Strange and his friends to send them back where they belong before reality threatens to fall apart.
So, how is it? Is it worth the hype? Well, it is unlikely to refresh anyone burnt out on the MCU, or turn the heads of anyone who soured on it. The action is good, especially with Dr Strange bringing his twisting buildings from his own film. Then the dialogue has the requisite amount of funny quips and one-liners. But fair action stunts and Whedon-esque remarks are the baseline of the MCU.
The film’s biggest selling point is it doing its own take on 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with the live-action villains. The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe: Spider-Man 2002), Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina: Boogie Nights 1997, Spider-Man 2 2004), Sandman (Thomas Haden-Church: Spider-Man 3 2007, Easy A 2010), The Lizard (Rhys Ifans: Notting Hill 1999, The Amazing Spider-Man 2012) and Electro (Jamie Foxx: Ray 2004, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 2014) all return to the silver screen.
Sadly they could not fit in an extra person to complete the Sinister Six, but this Fearsome Five might be for the best. That is a broad set of characters to keep track of, and some end up with less to do than others. Still, the actors do well with what they are given. Dafoe and Molina’s characters in particular look like they stepped right out from their original films.
Dafoe turns in a very good performance, alternating between hurt, confused Norman Osborn and the scenery-chewing, malevolent Goblin. While Molina has some nice bitter snark that the cast bounce off of well. Foxx’s Electro undergoes a redesign from 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and is all the better for it. His mini-arc of someone conflicted between getting a second chance and keeping hold of his powers is sold well by Foxx, and plays out nicely.
Second chance? Yes. It is one of the film’s moral conflicts- leaving the villains to their fate or helping them out. Which one is the right path? It plays out fairly well too, with the aforementioned Electro, Holland’s Spider-Man going through a moral dilemma, and Dafoe’s performance capping off its climax with entertaining malice (“No good deed goes unpunished!”).
That said, it is not the deepest dive on punishment vs rehabilitation. Spider-Man’s good deeds consists of sciencing up some quick fixes for the villains. It makes sense narratively- there is no time for Spider-therapy- and by design to bring in the drama and action. Still, this rehab angle ends up being less of a radical new ingredient and more a twist of lemon in a typical soft drink.
Bigger Spider-fans might end up comparing it to other Spider-media. Aunt May’s arc and the Alex Jones-style take on J. Jonah Jameson (J.K Simmons: Whiplash 2014) is still touching and funny respectively here, though they were arguably done better in the PS4 Marvel’s Spider-Man videogame. The multiverse character interactions are great, but does it beat Spider-Verse? The animated film does have a tighter plot and more bittersweet drama by comparison.
So, what helps Spider-Man: No Way Home stand out from its peers? Beyond acknowledging the Sam Raimi and Amazing Spider-Man films, it brings in a range of strong acting performances. Alongside Dafoe, Molina and Foxx, Holland bounces off everyone acting-wise like his Spider-Man does in the fights. Particularly with Zendaya and Batalon, as their characters’ bond feels like a natural friendship that has built up across their three films together, and makes the ending all the more touching.
The biggest highlight is technically a spoiler, though it might not be hard to figure out given where the villains come from. To be vague, two figures turn up, and they live up to the hype. They interact well with the cast, providing some nice Spider-banter and stunts. The second figure turns in a particularly impressive performance that not only elevates his character, but makes one wish his prior appearances worked out better.
Spider-Man: No Way Home has the usual MCU trappings of superheroes and snark. The plot is a little too wedded to the formula to expand out of its boundaries, and it is not quite a Spider-Verse beater. Yet the film does the classic characters well, and the cast turn in solid to great performances that sell the drama effectively. They give the film enough heart and substance to make it one of the best MCU films, and worth the hype. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives this Spider-Man: No Way Home 4 out of 5 stars.