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By on April 11th, 2022
Spider-Man: No Way Home is the type of movie that could only exist in this new media environment. The draw is the spectacle of connecting reboots and pulling in actors to reprise long-gone roles. It has the same appeal as a Doctor Who special or those Power Rangers crossovers.
And in this way, how good the movie is as a story is incidental. To see Willem Dafoe ham it up as the Green Goblin or Andrew Garfield quip his way around, you’ll sit through the rest.
This is fortunate. As a story, No Way Home shows the wear and tear of comic book logistics. In a world with magic spells, absurdly powerful characters, and matter fabrication machines, the machinations to make the conflict even happen are getting strained. Why does the spell work that way? So we can have this story. Why bring in Doctor Strange and then remove him? Because he could easily stop multiple villains. This problem has been present since Captain Marvel and arguably even earlier. And, though I don’t envy the writers forced to play this game, it’s getting distracting. If you think too hard—No Way Home falls apart.
Instead, the reason this review is ultimately positive is the cast. There are no weak performances here.
Let’s start with the standouts. To my mind, three take the cake. The first is Willem Dafoe. He’s playing the Green Goblin as bombastic and destructive as always, but he’s also killing it as the softer, confused Osborn. Like Iron Man before him, he acts as a possible father figure to Peter, which only makes their fights more intense.
The second is Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus. An operatic, ruthless, and sneering villain terrifying in his doggedness. The tentacles as demonic AI are as good an idea as they ever were. Alfred is my generation’s Doc Ock, and I would love to have him at least voice the character again.
And finally, we have Tobey Maguire. Now, I mean no knock against Tom or Andrew—they did a great job—but seeing Tobey reprise this role was heart-wrenching and heart-warming. He’s the soft-spoken, dorky Spider-Man that helped comic book movies become a phenomenon. In this story, having a mature, aged Spider-Man who’s come to terms with who he is, and found hope within it, adds so much depth to the plot.
Again, the rest of the cast did a great job. Zendaya plays M.J. excellently, and it was nice to see her get scenes with just Ned (Jacob Batalon). He often feels like the third wheel in group scenes, but his magic plotline was delightful. Benedict Cumberbatch also is a lot of fun with subtle exasperation and biting snark. Seeing his portal shenanigans reinvigorated my excitement for Multiverse of Madness. I also got to give credit to Marisa Tomei, who delivers a charismatic performance as May Parker. That one scene hit me harder than I would’ve expected. And, again, Tom and Andrew both bring different takes to the Spider-Man character, with different energy, but both feel at home in the role.
But this movie existed for a purpose beyond showcasing live-action Spider-Man canon: they brought Spider-Man fully into his comic book persona. Major spoilers ahead. Skip the next paragraph if desired.
The big function of this movie is to finally get Spider-Man to his classic version. Spider-Man’s character is defined by how he’s constantly forced to make personally hard choices for the greater good. He loses everything, has no money, and still keeps going because that’s who he is. I was delighted by the different places they took his character in these movies, but this return to form felt almost cleansing. A Spider-Man with money, power, and extreme fame is not Spider-Man. There’s a reason he’s the “friendly neighborhood” superhero. He exists best on smaller scales. The only issue I can see is that they’re running out of living villains that people widely know. It foreshadowed Venom—which means we can also get Carnage—but of the other big players, it’s getting thin on the ground. A second trilogy will be interesting.
If it wasn’t for its gimmick, Spider-Man: No Way Home would be simply a tad glutted, a tad contrived, but fun regardless. A solid enough Marvel entry, with mid-level if sometimes hard-to-follow action, a comprehensive story, and the usual sprinkling of light comedy. With its gimmick in mind, once the plot is whirring, what it achieves in quiet scenes makes the whole movie worth it. The dialog between Spider-Men could’ve lasted another ten minutes, and I would’ve been on board. The human moments of superheroes often are the most powerful, without all the opera and explosions.
I can’t speak to if No Way Home is better than Spider-Verse on this metric. But what’s important is they both understand aspects of Spider-Man. They get the energy, the fun, and the inherent tragedy that has kept the character present in pop culture for so long. For those that have been with this character since they were a little kid and grew up with the various reboots and spin-offs, this is special, this is glorious. No Way Home is something you need to see—because they made it for you.
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