Movie review: Spider-Man: No Way Home

As the Doctor might say, there’s a lot of “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” shenanigans going on in Spider-Man: No Way Home. The plot is a complicated web (yes, I couldn’t resist, but at least I’m getting the inevitable spider puns out of the way early!) that weaves together the multiverse, magic, and people messing around with the fabric of the universe and then getting themselves into trouble.

With all this chaos swirling in the background, are there going to be plot holes in No Way Home? Of course there are. But ultimately, I found (at least for me personally) none of that mattered. Because No Way Home is packed with so much heart that it nails pretty much every emotional beat, and brings to a close not just Tom Holland’s Spider-Man trilogy, but Spider-Man’s overall onscreen legacy. 

There’s not much point in trying to give a spoiler-free review of this movie, because if you’re reading this article, you’ve probably already seen the movie or have made plans to watch it soon. Even if I said No Way Home was a complete disaster (which it isn’t), you’d still go to see it anyway. 

No Way Home is the first blow-out blockbuster of the COVID era; when I read it was the second highest domestic theatrical opening of all time (behind Endgame), I had to stop and re-read the headline. All the buzz beforehand apparently paid off, and everyone wanted to show up on opening weekend to see exactly how many Spider-Men (Spider-Mans?) would appear on-screen. 

I initially worried that No Way Home could turn into a shameless parade of nostalgia and fan service, but I’m happy to report that all the cameos felt purposeful and earned. There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia or fan callouts, per se, but an over-fixation on looking back rather than forward in storytelling can prevent creators from taking risks and trying something new. Obsessing over pleasing “true fans” is not a recipe for great art. 

However, No Way Home succeeds because its callbacks to past Spider-Men movies are meaningful. After months of speculation, we now know that yes, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield also appear as alternate universe Spider-Men alongside Tom Holland. Instead of a gimmick, their appearance brings closure to their own storylines, which are now sort-of canon again in the MCU (a fact that I love). 

While Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 might be less well-loved by fans and critics than the other Spidey films, No Way Home still treats those stories sincerely. I’m thrilled that they brought back all the villains from past films, and not just fan favorites like Doc Ock or Green Goblin. 

I tried to avoid much of the speculation and rumors surrounding this film, and I’m glad I did, because there are a LOT of plot twists and surprises in No Way Home. Watching Charlie Cox return as Matt Murdock/Daredevil for a few moments was a true delight, and I’m taking that appearance as a sign that soon we’ll be seeing other elements from Netflix’s excellent (for the most part) Marvel series making their way over into the MCU. 

I was pretty sure that Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire would be returning as Spider-Man, and I was thrilled that their appearances weren’t just brief cameos in the final battle. They actually had significant roles to play in the film’s story, and they helped Tom Holland’s Peter Parker through some truly devastating moments.

Aunt May’s death hurt – a lot – especially since I wasn’t expecting it. It was also hard to watch Peter make yet another sacrifice at the end of the film: asking Doctor Strange to cast a spell so that everyone in his reality would forget who Peter Parker was, thereby saving the multiverse but losing his relationships with his girlfriend MJ and his best friend Ned.  

Yet despite all that tragedy, Peter doesn’t fall to the dark side. He still moves ahead with his plan to rehabilitate all the villains before returning them to their separate realities, as Aunt May would have wanted. Redeeming the villains instead of killing them all in a final boss battle was a unique way to handle the story, and it fit well with the movie’s themes of hope, forgiveness, and second chances. 

Some final, miscellaneous thoughts: Doctor Strange is used well in the film (his spell gone awry sets off the entire plot), but he doesn’t take over the narrative. The movie always feels like a Spider-Man story at its core, and not just Avengers-lite. Neither does Tom Holland’s own Peter Parker narrative get lost in all the craziness. His journey, and his ultimate decision to sacrifice his relationships to save the multiverse, is one of the most emotional moments we’ve seen in the entire MCU so far.

In the months before No Way Home’s release, I wasn’t even particularly hyped about the movie, yet I walked away feeling like I’d watched one of the most epic and heartfelt superhero films I’d seen in a long while. Phase 4 of the MCU has been absolutely killing it so far, and we haven’t even scratched the surface of all the exciting storytelling possibilities offered by the introduction of the multiverse. I’d love to see a Spider-Man/Daredevil team up; I’d love to see Andrew Garfield play Spider-Man again; I’d love to see all kinds of trippy and mind-bending storytelling in future MCU films. Any of that feels possible now. 

I have to chuckle at my comments from about a year ago, when I confessed I was feeling a little MCU fatigue. As it turns out, the multiverse was just the shot of storytelling adrenalin I needed, and I’m fully invested again.

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