by Christian Asdourian
January 27, 2022
How does one even begin to describe the experience that was Spider-Man: No Way Home? Do I call it the most anticipated movie of 2021? Or maybe I should just call it another chapter in the Marvel anthology. Perhaps talking about the records broken by the first trailer alone could make a decent starting point. Interestingly enough, this film first debuted over a month ago, and I’m still finding myself thinking about it every so often. I wonder if any of you who have seen it feel the same way. Regardless, I don’t think this review really needs a starting point. Instead, I’m opting for a less formal approach: focusing on the feelings of the film. After all, the best movies are always the ones that leave you feeling awestruck, astonished, and amazed.
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) is directed by Jon Watts, who has grown as a filmmaker in each entry of our Web-head’s trilogy, a recurring theme you’ll come to notice. The main cast also returns to deliver some lively performances that keeps things light despite the film’s darker tone. I was very happy to see MJ (Zendaya), Ned (Jacob Batalon), and of course Peter (Tom Holland) share more scenes than they had in the previous films. Their great chemistry really made you feel like they were a team, but more importantly, friends. This helped ground the conflict for the young Avenger, which I felt was especially important, considering the premise of the film. This movie has a massive cast and an even larger scope. As much as I’d love to cover every character and scene, I’m going to blatantly prioritize the stellar selection of villains Peter had to face off against, along with a vague summary of the plot. We start right where we left off: Spidey’s identity has been revealed to the world! This irrevocable act of Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) pushes Peter’s life into a spiral of mishaps and mistakes—but hey, at least he dodged the murder charges! Things come to a head when Peter’s friend’s college acceptance is in question simply because they are associated with Spider-Man. Desperate to fix things, Peter seeks out the help of Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to “reset things” and put his loved ones’ lives back on track. The spell is botched, however, and now the movie really begins. Villains from alternate realities flood into Peter’s world and immediately start causing chaos. The major antagonizing force comes from the returning wrongdoers Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina), and Electro (Jamie Foxx). These three gave some amazing performances and quickly became my favorite parts of the film. You could immediately tell that they were happy to be back and really wanted to iron out any kinks from their original performances. Things quickly veer into spoiler territory here, so I’ll leave it up to you whether or not this synopsis interests you enough to go see Spider-Man: No Way Home.
I’m happy to report that I have very few complaints about this movie and that they’re really just nitpicks that I thought were worth mentioning. If I had to describe it, the pacing of this movie felt irregular. I mean it when I say that this movie is a journey. You cover a lot of ground in two and a half hours, and that leaves me feeling ambivalent. I’m grateful to have had a story so jam-packed with the best parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and Spidey, but some parts definitely needed more screen time while others felt extraneous. Perhaps the issue mostly stems from the fact that this movie doesn’t set up its payoffs as well as it could have. The first two films in this trilogy are joys to watch but fail to distill the core parts of Peter’s character. The supporting characters in his life were not nearly developed as much as they could have been in the first two movies, and that leaves the responsibility for this to Spider-Man: No Way Home. Despite being dealt a bad hand in having to pick up the slack of the first two films, the final entry of the trilogy does its best to make up for it and then some. Another minor thing is that I felt some villains weren’t really necessary to the plot of the film. They were only there to add a more intimidating presence to the roster of villains. Maybe one day, Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Lizard (Rhys Ifans) can get the development they deserve. Aside from these minor grievances, the movie rocks!
I could honestly sit here all day and gush about everything this movie did right. I remember seeing memes about how fan expectations were so demanding that the movie was bound to disappoint in one way or another. I’m going to get into major spoiler mode for this section, so be warned. First off, Peter’s arc was so incredibly satisfying to watch unfold. Of course, it would’ve been impossible to pull off without Holland’s incredible acting chops. The range of emotions he shows in this movie alone is outstanding. From grief and rage to acceptance and optimism, he really puts Peter through the wringer, and you can feel the toll it takes on him. Peter as a character has come a long way from StarkTech gadgets, and his development doesn’t feel forced at all in this film. I’m also happy that the major villains are given enough screen time that really develops them in a way we haven’t seen before. Electro particularly stands out here, since he has a more pronounced personality and motivation. Foxx definitely augments his character’s growth by using his great chemistry with the rest of the cast.
However, it would be criminal to not give credit to the star of the villains: Green Goblin. Along with a cutting-edge redesign, Dafoe is somehow able to top the performance he gave in Spider-Man (2001) by letting loose. It was so refreshing to have a villain be evil just for the sake of it. No tragic backstory or relatable motivation is present, which sets Green Goblin apart. The nuance of Norman Osborn comes from his dual personalities. Peter sees a man trapped in his own body with a monster before he sees what the monster is truly capable of. It endears Norman not only to Peter, but to us as well. It really puts May’s (Marisa Tomei) lessons to Peter in a new perspective. Green Goblin poses such an overwhelming threat to Peter physically and, more importantly, emotionally. His cruel actions in this film alone cause Peter to question his own morals. Peter is faced with a dilemma of giving into his rage and avenging May, but at the same time he would be killing an innocent man not in control of his actions. How much better can a supervillain get?
And don’t even get me started on the heroes. Even a month later, I still can’t believe that we got to see all three Spider-Men swinging around together! What really surprised me, though, was how much time we got with them outside of the action. Seeing Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield play older versions of Peter was an interesting concept that was executed well. All three of them have great chemistry. At times, it feels like they’re brothers who have known each other their whole lives. If anyone was the most excited to be back, it would have to be those two. Honestly, it feels like they were there for the whole movie, since they poured so much energy into their performances. Maguire plays the oldest brother so well, and I’m glad they left his time after Spider-Man 3 (2007) vague. And the catharsis Garfield was able to convey when he caught MJ was one of the most emotional moments of the movie, and it was in the middle of the final battle! All three variants of Peter somehow have the same set of core values, yet feel distinct from one another. I really hope this isn’t the last we see of them. All of these combined efforts really made this movie an enjoyable experience for me.
Wow! I wrote a lot and barely even scratched the surface! It really is a wonder to see a movie produced and released during a pandemic do so well for itself and for its audience. A movie about a guy in red and blue spandex who can swing from buildings has been the object of my attention and excitement for the past three months, and honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m glad all of us have our own little things like this to look forward to. Small escapes like superhero movies are part of what makes life so flavorful, and I genuinely hope I convinced you to give this film a shot. If you enjoy it half as much as I did, you’re bound to have a good time.
And to the regular Marvel crowd: we really ate good this year, with a near constant stream of some of the funnest content the MCU has ever produced. I’m excited to see the future of NYC’s resident Wall-Crawler, and hopefully we can catch up with his older brothers at one point or another. Dr. Strange is the next big fish to watch out for, and you already know I’m going to be covering it. Cheers to a spectacular year of comics come to life and to many more full of new faces and familiar fun.