In the wake of Mysterio revealing his identity to the world, Peter Parker (Holland) and those closest to him find their lives in complete disarray. Endeavouring to return everything to normal for the sake of his friends, Peter seeks out Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who offers to cast a spell to make the world forget that Peter is Spider-Man. However, the spell goes awry and instead of making everyone forget, it pulls in all those who know Spider-Man’s secret identity from across the multiverse, leading to the return of some familiar villains for Spider-Man’s greatest challenge yet.
A common criticism often levelled against the MCU’s interpretation of Spider-Man is that he lacks the working-class, every man touch that Stan Lee imbued the character with. Even with his brilliantly original superpowers and insidiously impressive rogues gallery, what has traditionally made Spider-Man so popular was that he dealt with relatable issues on top of being a superhero. While we certainly haven’t all fought the Vulture or tangled with Electro, many of us have struggled to pay rent or to maintain relationships with our loved ones.
No Way Home finally explores this aspect of the character, with getting into college being Peter and his friends’ main concern at the start of the movie. This more personal approach continues throughout the film, with interactions between certain characters being arguably more entertaining than some of the action sequences. Even when the film slows down slightly in the second act, the interplay between the villains is engaging enough to keep even the most impatient of viewer’s interest until the next bombastic action set-piece.
As to be expected, there is action aplenty. Whilst the finale set atop the Statue of Liberty is a riveting and crowd-pleasing affair, an unfortunate amount of it is simply weightless CGI. However, there is a surprisingly visceral brutality to the confrontations between Spider-Man and Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin. Unquestionably the standout performance of Spider-Man: No Way Home, the veteran character actor portrays the Jekyll and Hyde dynamic of his character beautifully. His Norman Osborn is scared and sympathetic, yet still emanating the same paternal affection he displayed all the way back in 2002’s Spider-Man. Motivated by nothing other than the desire to cause Spider-Man as much pain and misery as possible, No Way Home’s Green Goblin is truly evil. With his performance no longer stifled by a ridiculously obstructive mask, Dafoe astonishes with a haunting portrayal of the unhinged antagonist. Furthermore, Jamie Foxx’s Electro crackles with the actor’s signature charisma, redeeming himself after a questionable performance in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Exploring consequence, second chances and responsibility, No Way Home forces its protagonist to pontificate these themes. With Tony Stark firmly out of the picture, Peter can no longer rely on his billionaire mentor to bail him out of any mistakes. Over the course of the film, Peter has to accept responsibility for his actions and the consequences they cause. In his best performance in the role, Tom Holland masterfully navigates Peter through various hardships and crises of consciousness, balancing grief and anger with hope and optimism. Guided by those around him, Peter matures throughout the film as he truly learns what must come with great power.
Leaning heavily into the intertextuality of the franchise, Spider-Man: No Way Home is a film best enjoyed having watched all previous Spider-Man movies. While still a captivating watch regardless, particular crucial moments won’t quite merit the same response from a moviegoer unfamiliar with the Raimi or the Webb films than one who is. Currently, all but Spider-Man 2 are on Netflix; it might take you a while to get through all of them but it’s undeniably the best way to experience No Way Home.
A celebration of the character’s cinematic history, Spider-Man: No Way Home is a thoroughly entertaining experience guaranteed to put a smile on the face of any Spider-Man fan. With some thrilling action sequences, real emotional weight and a moving amount of heart, along with terrific and committed performances, Marvel may have just delivered the greatest cinematic crossover and the ultimate Spider-Man film.