Spider-Man: No Way Home is great. It’s magical. It’s complicated. It’s messy. Don’t think about it. It’s amazing. You’re amazing. Help me with my back?
I had a blast. I was screaming, I was gasping, I was pointing at the screen and shaking the person who came with me. It was so much fun. An unforgettable, surreal, magical experience.
The last 90 minutes whip by, stuffed with fun once-in-a-lifetime movie moments, and I’m still in shock that this is a real movie and not an insane fever dream. But man it kinda hurts my head to think about it critically. There’s a number of things I’m just not sure about. The story logic is kind of wack, the characters have some inconsistencies, and the whole first hour felt kind of sluggish and weirdly edited to me.
If anything, No Way Home reminds me of Avengers: Endgame: it’s big and it’s messy and it’s got some surprisingly radical repercussions for the MCU, but it is still a wild, emotional, smartly engineered action-filled feat flowing with fan love. If that’s what you need, then this movie has got it.
From the moment we got the opening logos, I was caught off guard because the movie didn’t start with a funny film recap. Spider-Man: Homecoming started with Peter Parker’s selfie video recapping Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Far From Home started with the student news recapping the Blip after Endgame. The news coverage of Mysterio’s revelation would have been an easy way to start the movie by recapping the end of Far From Home. But instead, director Jon Watts chooses to break the trilogy pattern with ominous music underneath news media voiceovers like the distress signal from the opening logos of Avengers: Infinity War. This stark difference from Watts’ other films sets the tone for a much darker, more dangerous Spider-Man movie. The soundscape creates a super-serious atmosphere that he again immediately subverts by playing Talking Heads’ fun, upbeat “I Zimbra” as Peter (Tom Holland) swings MJ (Zendaya) to safety in the first scene of the movie.
The deep-cut music choices like “I Zimbra” and Liquid Liquid’s “Scraper” bring a fresh and funky sound that no Spider-Man film has ever played with before. Homecoming had a few needle drops which spoke to Peter’s teen spirit, but in No Way Home, the music speaks to the surreal chaos of Peter’s dilemma. In fact, I would even say these two brief music scenes are the best stylistic moments in the first half because this was when the film was really flowing with a clear sense of personality.
The quirky music choices and consistent humor throughout the trilogy also exemplify Watts as a director. After No Way Home, for the first time, I can look back at these films and actually piece together what Watts’ personal style might be. Gruesomely dark, dramatic moments surrounded by uplifting childish excitement and absurdist modern humor – these are consistent stylistic elements of the Spider-Man: Home trilogy, but these are also the defining elements of Watts as a director. I think we could even expect these same traits in his Fantastic Four film in a few years, and that really excites me for a refreshingly bright and offbeat take on yet another franchise that’s already had two different iterations on screen.
While Watts’ juxtaposition of ridiculous fun with serious tragedy isn’t new to the trilogy, No Way Home is arguably the darkest Spider-Man movie ever made. But Watts controls the emotions within each scene perfectly, which is an incredible accomplishment even without considering the contorted script logic, insane multiverse plot, or the giant roster of supporting heroes and villains.
But even still, it did feel like Watts was struggling with the tonal balance between scenes, with adjacent moments sometimes flip-flopping on a dime; May’s death scene followed by the introduction of Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parkers is the most obvious example. Each scene individually still works but I think this is the most challenging aspect of the film, and each viewer’s opinion on the tonal clash might determine how much they love the movie overall.
I think Watts handled everything far better than anyone could have expected, yet still fell short of the perfect tonal control of Homecoming. And after Far From Home felt like a whole movie dedicated to the legacy of Tony Stark, I feel like this one could have justified a bit more time for Peter Parker and the audience to mourn his beloved Aunt May.
In fact, even with the huge loss of May and the sheer giddy joy of seeing the Spider-Men run and swing together, I felt this movie was still missing the warm emotional core found in the 2002-2007 Sam Raimi films or even the 2012-2014 Marc Webb films. Tom just doesn’t have the close relationship with Aunt May and his girlfriend that Tobey and Andrew had with theirs, and I think the Home trilogy really suffers because of it. In fact, I still feel uncomfortable whenever MJ and Peter kiss because they feel like only good friends to me. While both Zendaya and Tom Holland are at their best in this movie, their Peter-MJ relationship just never has the same romantic connection as the previous films’ Peter and Mary Jane or Peter and Gwen.
However, one of the biggest triumphs of the script is how smartly the film approaches the past films meaningfully, actively commenting on what worked and didn’t work and even improving on weaknesses and delivering the closure that those films never could have had. Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) is the most terrifying he’s ever been. Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock is absolutely true to his original character. Electro and Sandman joke about their similar silly accidents. Most appropriately, Andrew’s Peter saves MJ, and Tobey’s saves Norman. The villains get healed, even the most sinister of them, because of the goodness of Peter’s heart. The past Spider-Men mentor a young Spider-Man through heavy loss and help shape him into the best version of himself. It’s the perfect Spider-Man crossover epilogue even the most hardcore fans might never have envisioned.
More than any film before it, No Way Home challenges Marvel Studios’ ability to naturally synthesize and summarize the backstories of countless characters in the same movie. And miraculously, even with eight big-name new characters, No Way Home can be watched and enjoyed without having seen any of the pre-MCU Spider-Man films or even knowing what Netflix’s Daredevil is.
Without already knowing who’s who, the movie might be more chaotic and nonsensical than it already is, but writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers did a good job clearly defining the essential story and the general context of each new character. New audience members can still roll with the punches and have a good time, just like we all did with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Some of the pacing, logic, and character inconsistencies are messy, but the emotions stay true and the core message is unquestionably rooted in the truest spirit of Spider-Man. This is the ultimate Spider-Man story to create the ultimate Spider-Man hero. With typical Kevin Feige focus, every hero, villain, and fan service element of this movie is utilized to fulfill one simple goal: To make Tom Holland a better Spider-Man.
At the end of this movie, Peter Parker is no longer the “Spider-Boy” Tony Stark teased about in Captain America: Civil War, and he’s not the “Iron Man Jr.” the internet snarked about after Far From Home. At the end of this movie, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker has rightfully earned his title of Spider-Man, equipped with the lessons and blessings of the Spider-Men who came before him. In just one movie, Spider-Man: No Way Home brings closure to three eras of Spider-Man films, concluding one of the most unparalleled origin operas in superhero film history, and leaving us with a promise that the best stories are yet to come.
My rating for this film:
★★★★ / ♥♥♥♥ ½
* Rating scale is out of 5 stars (filmmaking & storytelling) and 5 hearts (love & entertainment)