One of the major critiques that many observers have noted over the course of the MCU Spider-Man trajectory is that he simply hasn’t encountered the kind of struggles that have traditionally defined the character. Spidey’s familiar origin story was skipped over, which was probably a smart move to avoid treading the same ground for the third time in 15 years, but that decision also handicapped the character’s development. The Peter Parker of Marvel Comics, and the pre-MCU films, grapples with a lot of heavy personal issues like dealing with (Rent!!) poverty, losing people close to him, and sacrificing his own desires in order to be a hero, protect those he cares about, or maintain his secret identity.
Conversely, MCU’s Spidey is the beneficiary of Tony Stark, who builds him million-dollar suits and leaves him the proverbial keys to the kingdom.
Most of the attention for Spider-Man: No Way Home centers on its multidimensional crossover aspect which pulls in familiar characters like Doc Ock and Electro from other previous Spider-Man movies, but one of its most impressive feats is addressing this valid criticism head on, delivering a story that in many ways brings Peter Parker back to his roots. When we last saw Peter he’d just been outed as Spider-Man by J. Jonah Jameson, and this new personal crisis puts not only his life, but those of his closest friends and family — Aunt May, MJ, Ned, and Happy Hogan — into a state of extreme upheaval that can’t be solved by Tony Stark’s toys or coattails.
That’s not to gloss over the crossover, though, which is, for the most part, handled much better than I expected. In desperation, Peter seeks the help of Doctor Strange, but the spell backfires and causes a rift in multidimensional reality.
There’s undeniably a sort of formulaic approach to the ensemble of villains that appear (from a sprawling multiverse of infinite possibilities, we get one baddie from each Spidey movie from 2002–2014), but once you accept the premise, it’s an absolute blast — especially in the film’s second half which, having dispensed with the setup, goes for broke with delivering a pleasing mix of fan service, emotional depth, and plenty of surprises— anchored by Tom Holland’s strongest performance yet.
Fans of Doctor Strange will also be pleased to enjoy that character’s supporting role, and particularly the return of the jaw-dropping “mirror dimension” action sequences pioneered by Scott Derrickson and his team, the effect of which combines well with Spidey’s web-swinging.
Perhaps the best compliment I can pay to the film is that it enriches the two prior Spider-Man series — they’re better for having this followup.
If you look for the multiversal plot holes you’ll surely find them, but overall I really loved this movie. The MCU has gotten better as it goes, with some of its best films like Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Guardians of the Galaxy all being relatively later entries. There’s a sort of expectation that the culminating events of the Infinity Saga represented a natural peak that would be difficult to maintain with fan favorite characters like Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Widow out of the picture, but No Way Home directly challenges the idea of diminishing returns. It’s easily the best of Jon Watts’ overall pleasing Spider-Man cycle, and among the best Marvel films.
As an aside, the screening I attended was presented in ScreenX format, which expands the image to project on the theater’s side walls to emphasize the action or drama for certain sequences. Some of my colleagues commented that they considered the effect distracting, but for me it was very immersive and enjoyable.