Before we get into this, we need to establish one important rule: NO SPOILERS. Well, sorta. I will discuss certain events from Spider-Man: Far From Home in the next paragraph. I am so paranoid about spoilers that I don’t even watch teasers or trailers for movies that excite me. My imagination runs wild and either I uncover details on my own or I amp things up so much that I get crushed by disappointment. While expecting disappointment is a great way to ensure you never get disappointed, it is just easier to let the material wow you once it’s available. Luckily, that is exactly what the creative team for Spider-Man: No Way Home did!
While your best cinematic option is to watch Spider-Man: Far From Home before watching No Way Home, you will not be at a disadvantage for skipping straight to the third movie. The fancy Marvel Logo opening sequence is played with audio clips from Far From Home. Mysterio has revealed Spider-Man’s secret identity and the subsequent events lead to no end of headache and heartbreak for Peter Parker, MJ and Ned. With friends and strangers divided, Pete has to navigate a public life as the most famous (or infamous) person alive.
In classic Lennon & McCartney fashion, Peter gets by with a little help from his friends. The trio are in lock-step through the upheaval even as their entire world crumbles around them. When Parker reaches the end of his rope, he reaches out to Doctor Strange in hopes that the “wizard” can fashion a spell to make it all go away. Reluctantly the Sorcerer Supreme agrees to assist by casting a spell that would make everybody forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Oh, except MJ. Oh, and Ned has to know. Oh, and don’t forget about Aunt May…
As a father of four excitable children I can empathize with Strange’s frustration and subsequent fumbling of the incantation. The result of the misfired finger-wiggling is potentially catastrophic, but Strange is able to contain it and save the day. Leave it to the day to find herself in more trouble as interdimensional visitors appear: Doctor Octopus, Green Goblin, Electro, Sandman, and The Lizard.
Fans of the previous Spider-Man franchises will recognize these characters instantly. Reprising the roles of these villains from previous movies are Alfred Molina (Doc Ock – Spider-Man 2), Willem Dafoe (Green Goblin – Spider-Man), Jamie Foxx (Electro – The Amazing Spider-Man 2), Thomas Haden Church (Sandman – Spider-Man 3), and Rhys Ifans (The Lizard – The Amazing Spider-Man). This crowded cast is enough to trigger PTSD responses to anyone that suffered through the villain smorgasbord that was Spider-Man 3 and it was a valid concern to see it revisited here in No Way Home. Screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers did an amazing job in ensuring each antagonist had his own voice, however, with director Jon Watts weaving a cohesive narrative through them all. Every character had his own motivation for staying in the MCU or returning to their home universe.
Fans of Marvel’s Spider-Man for PlayStation 4 will recognize some of the moves Spidey uses in the game. These special combat sequences were an unexpected surprise! I’m not sure if that was a creative decision by the director or a push from Sony, but those of us that have played the game immediately perked up a little bit in our seats when we saw these iconic maneuvers.
Every single Spider-Man movie has seen Peter explore a central lesson: responsibility. So often have we heard the phrase “with great power comes great responsibility,” but this is the first movie that has accurately quoted the original lesson: “With great power there must also come great responsibility.” There is a powerful philosophical deviation between the two quotes and I am happy to have that conversation with you another time. While the theme of this film may seem to be responsibility, further examination will reveal it to be redemption. So many characters see growth through this film, including Flash!
The spectacular performances by everyone involved in this film deserves applause. Zendaya’s MJ has probably seen the greatest character development arc over the course of the trilogy. Progressing from disaffected to nurturing without sacrificing her independence and ideologies, she is a steadfast rock for Peter. Jacob Batalon’s Ned maintains a pathological need for approval that fuels his ambition in this story and perhaps foreshadows a dynamic shift in his and Peter’s relationship in future films. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange seems to regain some humility and compassion and it looks good on him!
While it had a slower pace than previous installments in the trilogy, the tempo allows the movie to find its feet, dig in, and support every thread of this enormous web. Jon Watts has directed all three of the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies and No Way Home was a huge directorial flex for him. I cannot recommend this movie enough.
Spider-Man: No Way Home releases in theaters only on December 17th, 2021.