One-off movies are a dream come true for most studios, but here’s Marvel showing they have us all back in the palm of their hands.
You won’t find any spoilers here, but the film will repeatedly remind you that there are a ton of reasons why Sony and Marvel kept the details of this one as close to the vest as possible.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is somehow a perfect harmony of a Saturday morning cartoon and the deep drama we’ve come to expect from these epics.
Despite the fact that there this much we can’t talk about this, we can still find plenty of tidbits to discuss because Spider-Man: No Way Home never gets bored. That’s thanks in no small part to great performance across the board. The MCU as a whole has never been slow when it comes to casting.
Some of the best actors in the world now have their own respective Marvel roles. But whether it’s the pandemic or No Way Home’s lack of build-up from other parts of the MCU, the performances here feel like something else.
Willem Dafoe nails everything he does, but his retaliation for Norman Osborn is something for the MCU history books. His character – like the rest of the villains who make their way into Peter’s (Tom Holland) universe – takes on a new depth never explored in previous Spider-Man movies.
Built around performances like Dafoe’s — Alfred Molina’s Doc Oc and Jamie Foxx’ Electro aren’t something to sneeze at either — is the root of Spider-Man: No Way Home’s success. Amid the laughter and tears, there’s a deep, heartfelt empathy that was lacking not only in the early MCU, but also in the Spider-Man movies that preceded it.
That is not the fault of the creators or the performers of those respective series, but more a consequence of the time in which they were made and what the public expected at the time. The early live-action era of superhero fare was much more focused on thwip, thwip, bang, bang than the complex emotional impact of it all.
The empathy of Spider-Man: No Way Home is woven into the storyline in a way that doesn’t feel too didactic or over the top, but instead really brings home the Spider-Man ethos: with great power comes great responsibility. Even if it sucks. (Especially when it sucks.)
The involvement of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) really helps widen the age gap between Pete and the rest of the Avengers, furthering the spectacular Spider-Man of it all. Beneath all of Tony Stark’s technology is a kid who sometimes just wants to do kid stuff. Like, you know, go to college or whatever.
However, it’s the Tony Stark of it all that takes us to what is arguably the most exciting long-term effect of Spider-Man: No Way Home. In other canons, Peter’s involvement with Iron Man comes after he establishes himself. The scruffy kid from Queens didn’t need a billionaire to tidy up his gadgets. He did it on his own. Now we’re clearly way past that in Peter Parker’s story, but now that we’re far enough from Stark’s fall, Spidey is finally taking matters into his own hands. Heck, the kid even uses math to get out of a desperate situation.
While it’s a real thrill to watch a story of this magnitude that takes so much out of the MCU as a whole and adds so much to it, I’m not going to tell you that Spider-Man: No Way Home is without flaws. When people talk about superhero fatigue, they often aren’t talking about the public getting tired of seeing people in capes.
What they usually mean is an overall boredom with tropes that have long been staples of the genre. The MCU has had varying degrees of success with these tropes over the years, but there are some moments in this one that fall into one of the most frustrating heroic habits of all: the lone hero. This complaint and the specific consequences of certain choices made by our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man will no doubt see resolution in later movies. But for now they are annoying.
The vast majority of everything presented in this latest chapter works.
Spider-Man’s other minor “pitfalls” are what you’ve come to expect from a Marvel movie. Sometimes there might be a little more CGI than there should be, maybe some moments of dialogue will be considered a little hokey. But it’s our crazy moments, dangit! When I compare Spider-Man: No Way Home to a Saturday morning cartoon, it’s said in the most precious way.
It has all the cheesiness you’d expect from a high school-year-old Peter Parker, combined with the silliness that comes with a kid using web slings to swing across New York City to fight bad guys who are sometimes literal lizards.
Those little tidbits aside, Spider-Man: No Way Home’s scale is wild. People who were concerned that it would go to Spider-Man 3 itself, with all the villains involved, needn’t worry. The vast majority of everything presented in this latest chapter works in such a way that you’re both excited and counting the theater until we see Peter and his friends again.