Spoiler Free Section
In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Peter Parker learns that he is more than just his spider-suit. In Far From Home, Peter comes to terms with Tony’s legacy, and that he can’t (and shouldn’t) try to live up to it. He’s more than the suit Tony made, and he’s more than just his legacy.
In No Way Home, Peter has to finally figure out what it means to be Spider-Man, possibly at great cost to the world and to himself.
This movie is ambitious. It’s the kind of storytelling that only the MCU is capable of executing, uniting generational Spider-Man fans by bringing decades old characters to life as if they’d left the silver screen only yesterday. This is perhaps its greatest achievement; characters that might have been milked for nostalgia in other movies are given a tangible arc in this one.
That said, there were a couple of moments where a character delivers a line from an earlier movie in such an inorganic manner that it took me right out of the movie, even as I appreciated the callback and chuckled with the audience.
There are some quibbles I have, which I’ll dig into in the spoiler section. Briefly, while the multiverse premise affords some beautiful storytelling opportunities, the premise itself remains unexplored and leaves you with more questions than answers… perhaps by design. The mechanics and internal logic of certain events will leave you scratching your head. The movie lands a powerful ending by dint of character and exceptional acting. The plot itself however, is more a vehicle for storytelling and character studies than worthy of consideration in of itself. Which is not surprising. The MCU strengths lie in character-driven storytelling, rather than in internally consistent storytelling.
Some final remarks about the acting. It is phenomenal. Tom Holland knocks it out of the park, as does Zendaya, and as do many of the old Spider-Man villains that appear, with one particularly exceptional actor whom I shall not name. At the heart of the movie is the relationship between Peter and MJ, and their chemistry leaps off the screen.
You should watch this movie in the theaters. Once in a while a movie comes out for which the presence of an audience truly elevates the experience. This is that movie, dare I say it, even more so than Avengers: Endgame had been.
A final observation. After seven live action Spider-Man films and several animated ones, there’s always the question of whether there is really more to say about Peter Parker and Spider-Man. No Way Home, more than any other Spider-Man movie, demonstrates how universal and timeless Peter Parker’s hero’s journey is, and always will be.
The most dubious plot point in No Way Home is what it does to the original movies. The Peter Parkers that are pulled into MCU-verse are who they were after their respective movies. But the Spider-villains were pulled away during their movies. So what happens to the continuity of those stories? Does Maguire-Peter become who he is if Norman and Otto hadn’t died?
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best not to think about it too much. In my head-canon, these villains return to new parallel universes where the narrative is different… but the original continuity remains as it was.
In general, No Way Home appears to establish that important events can be changed in people’s lives or memories without fundamentally changing who they are, and without introducing problematic paradoxes. MJ is able to forget Peter Parker and still retain an internally coherent mental state. What do the old Spider-Mans remember of the events of No Way Home when they go back, given the forgetting spell? Best not to overthink it.
I’ll step away from the logic (or lack thereof) of the plot and into the character beats.
No Way Home gives Garfield’s Spiderman the closure that never came in his own movies. He saves MJ, and in a powerful, cathartic moment, an orchestra of emotion washes over his face, and a massive burden is lifted from his shoulders.
Doc Ock comes into his own as a Spider-ally at a crucial moment, much like Harry Osborn did in Spider-Man 3.
Green Goblin is the chief villain of this film. I’ll go so far as to say William Dafoe is even more compelling and menacing in this film than he was in the original. His acting is superlative. There is a brilliant moment in this film when Peter’s Spider-sense goes into high gear in a room with ostensible allies. The moment stretches on to build unbearable tension, until Peter realizes what was afoot and webs up Osborn’s hand. Osborn’s face transforms in seconds, almost as if a mask were coming off (or on) and the hammer is brought down on Peter’s naive optimism.
Some of the other villains are a bit more scattered. The premise of No Way Home is that Peter wants to ‘cure’ all these super-villains. While that may work for Doc Ock and the Lizard, and perhaps even for the Goblin, but I couldn’t quite see it for Electro or Sandman. Electro just seems like a problematic personality with powers. It’s unclear how his ‘powers’ were the source of his personality issues, but maybe I need to refresh my memory of the original movie. Sandman’s role is the most dubious. He wants to make it home to his daughter, I think? But how does undoing his power help him? In short, the notion of ‘fixing’ all these villains by taking their powers away seems a bit… reductive.
The three Spidermans were so well done, from action to character beats to story themes. Tobey-Peter comes in as a self-assured Spiderman who’s done it all, faced his demons and come out stronger for it. Andrew-Peter has faced an unthinkable failure and stumbled back onto his feet, but has let darkness seep into his fists whilst doing so. Tom-Peter for the first time has to truly reckon with the consequences of being Spider-Man and may well fall into darkness after losing May, but Tobey and Andrew act as guiding posts to help him reckon with the pain and responsibility that comes with being Spider-Man. They, more than anyone else, know what he’s going through.
It’s a bit unfortunate that internet leaks are such an unstoppable force. Imagine watching the former Peter Parkers appear on the screen with no suspicion that it was about to happen.
As an aside, I must make note of the hilarious end-credits scene with Tom Hardy’s Venom, who essentially drinks away the entirety of his time in another universe at a bar, only to be ejected unceremoniously back to his reality, leaving some venom fluid behind for future movies.
Peter Parker endures great sacrifice and loss in this film. He loses May trying to save these villains (he also likely costs the lives of quite a few hapless cops in his quest but since they’re not primary characters, their lives naturally matter less than those of murderous criminals). A more poignant sacrifice is toward the end, when he has the world forget him, making his path forward a solitary one… but he still retains hope that he would reignite his connection with MJ.
When he approaches MJ, you fear that things won’t be the same. But it’s even more painful than that. With the exchange of a few words, it becomes clear that things are the same. But Peter spots a bandaid on MJ’s forehead, and realizes that he has to walk away to keep her safe. Perhaps hearing Andrew-Peter’s experiences informed his choice. I wonder what Tobey-Peter would have to say about it.
Tom Holland does some brilliant acting in this film, but it’s the last few minutes that stick in my mind. The smallest of hopeful smiles on his face, even as pain and loss lurk beneath the surface.
A GED textbook on the table, rent due the first of every month, and a less tech-savvy Spider-suit indicating a more humble path forward from the fancy tech, MIT prospects and the patronage of a billionaire from the earlier films. But Spider-Man, still… or Spider-Man, finally.