“WIth Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.”Marisa Tomei, Spider-Man: Now Way Home
Release Date: December 17th, 2021 | Director: Jon Watts
NOTE FROM ANIKA: I really really hope you’ve seen this movie (and the preceding movies) before reading this because I want to start slowly moving away from the typical review format that I’ve been writing for the last two years so this is going to be more a type of reflective essay rather than a review (though I will have some kind of rating at the end).
Easily the most anticipated Marvel movie of Phase 4, Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up moments after Mysterio reveals Peter Parker’s identity and doesn’t stop – or rather – it deceptively feels like a lot happens in this movie. This movie starts with a simple premise: Peter, MJ and Ned are waiting to hear from MIT to see if they got accepted. Only, with Peter’s identity being revealed and the fear mongering brought on by Mysterio’s video and J. Jonah Jameson’s reporting, the gang doesn’t really stand a chance of being accepted. When the rejection letters ultimately roll in, Peter, desperate to help his friends get accepted to their dream school, pays a visit to Dr. Strange who in turn helps him erase the knowledge that he is Spider-Man from the general populace. When the spell goes wrong (because of course it does), Peter finds himself fighting a gaggle of villains from different universes that all contain the knowledge that Peter Parker is Spider-Man; except, it doesn’t matter which Peter Parker they knew.
From there, the movie devolves into two and a half hours of pure fan service. Fan service is something that Marvel is known for and that usually makes fans of the comics really happy. But, in this case, Marvel may have been biting off more than they can chew. The appearance of the two previous Spider-Mans (Garfield and Maguire) really does feel like Marvel is spending more time trying to connect previous projects rather than moving forward in the current MCU. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it raises more questions than it answers (and if your response to that is: “you’re thinking too deeply”, a friendly reminder that media is supposed to make you think and ask questions). Obviously continuity has never been a priority for Marvel, but with No Way Home, it really feels like they threw all universe development out the window in order to garner a few cheers from the audience.
The first example of this is Charlie Cox’s return as Daredevil which was preceded by Vincent D’Onofrio’s return as Kingpin in Hawkeye. These are two different re-introductions to characters that the audience has come to know and love and only one of them is successful. Hawkeye builds up to Kingpin being a “big bad” in the show. Kate and Clint both spend time trying to take out villains and that ultimately leads to a confrontation with Kingpin. In No Way Home, the extraordinarily talented Charlie Cox is reduced to a quick dining room conversation and a glimpse into a fraction of his abilities. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t cheer like a madwoman when I saw him but ideally, this movie could have done more with him. I would have loved to see Daredevil and Spider-Man team up to face villains that the audience hasn’t already seen Spider-Man face. Instead, we get a promise that we will see Daredevil again. Great. How fun.
The second example is the re-appearance of Garfield and Maguire. Now, as someone who loved Garfield as Spider-Man growing up, I was ecstatic to see him on the screen and the appearance of these characters is – on a deeper level – representative of the growth that Peter needs to move on and have a different life, away from Tony Stark and some of the other Avengers. Now, per the ending, that nobody knows who he is, he can return to being the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man that audiences love to see him as. The question I pose now is: was the appearance of Garfield and Maguire necessary? Sure, it was fun; sure, it was nostalgic; sure, it was unlike anything the MCU has done before. But, ultimately, it was not necessary. Peter’s self-growth could have been shown through a multitude of things and the reappearance of these characters was pure fan service and that doesn’t necessarily make the movie fantastic.
From all of this, it may seem like I hated the movie. Fundamentally, this movie was dedicated to the MCU fans and as one, I enjoyed this movie. There were a few things in particular that I was quite interested to see. The first was the reworking of Aunt May being the loss that Peter faces and the whole “great power and great responsibility” line. Since this movie is meant to be expanding on the Multiverse, it was great to see that there is a universe in which it is May who motivates Peter and not Ben. The change in this particular staple in Parker’s arc is interesting even if Marvel had fridge another woman in order to do it.
The second was the idea of rehabilitating villains. I will say that despite the fact I like this idea, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t a whole host of problems that come with this. What about the redemption arcs that some of them got in their own movies? In this movie, rehabilitating the villains feels very on brand for Holland’s Peter. It’s clear – even in the earlier MCU Spider-Man movies – that Peter wants to see the best in all people. The highlight of this is Green Goblin. Peter chooses to believe that these people can be saved even though their acts are fundamentally bad. He chooses to see the gray area in matters of morality and I think that is a great commentary by Marvel on the idea that not all people are only good or only bad. I also thought that the end scene where Maguire stops Holland from killing Green Goblin at the end is also indicative of the growth and resilience that Peter Parker is meant to demonstrate in this movie.
This movie is a case of enjoying the journey and not the destination because ultimately, I loved this movie. Most of what I’ve written about is in retrospect and that is also the sign of a good movie. I continued to think about this movie long after I left the theater (both times). So yes, while this movie is built on fan service and there are hundreds of other ways that this story could have gone while raising less questions and still introducing the characters that the MCU wanted to introduce, it also was a great experience and was easily akin to watching Endgame in theaters. The movie also successfully distanced Peter Parker from Tony Stark, which was necessary if Spider-Man was going to continue to contribute to the MCU and the direction Marvel is taking it in.
Ultimately, while I would have written this movie differently, I still went in knowing that it was going to be one of the best Marvel projects and I was not disappointed. The reason that I feel as though this movie doesn’t hold up is because this is not a movie that anyone can watch. Anyone who is new to the MCU won’t understand most of what is going on and while this movie is not meant for them, it should still be accessible to them (an example is the new Top Gun:Maverick movie) and those who are very familiar should be able to just enjoy the easter eggs. There are those that compare this movie to Endgame and say that most people wouldn’t have gone to see Endgame without having seen Infinity War at the least and to them I say: you were right until Multiverse of Madness came out and Spider-Man is far more universally loved than some of the other superheroes. As someone who enjoys media, I enjoy when it is accessible to all people including those who were dragged to see this movie by their Marvel-loving family and friends. A movie should never make you feel bored or lost; and if it does, that’s the hallmark of a bad movie. I had the distinct feeling that my indifferent-to-Marvel family was bored when there were no fight scenes and the dialogue was purely referential. This is the problem with creating a movie where the plot is almost solely based on fan service.
This movie is solid in all other ways besides the plot. Tom Holland and Zendaya have both acted so well and I was happy to see that this movie gave Zendaya a little room to flex her acting muscles. Marisa Tomei as Aunt May is always welcome and since we spent two movies getting to know her, her death is one of the most wonderfully done scenes in the movie. Within the villains, Willem Dafoe proves that he can still be formidable and Alfred Molina easily made Doc Ock one of the most layered villains I’ve seen in a while. Aside from that, this movie retains its voice and proves that while Spider-Man movies have been around for a long time, Peter Parker remains one of the most compelling superheroes for fans everywhere.