Multiverse of Madness
(This is a NON-spoiler review of the film)
Spider-Man: No Way Home is finally here and rest assured to those that have not seen it yet, this review will be spoiler-FREE. I will be discussing the film in regards to some of the plot points and villains only if it was revealed in the trailers but will be sure to stay out of any major developments that occur throughout the film. This is the third film in the MCU Spider-Man films and one that has been hotly anticipated given that this film explores the concept of the multiverse and brings back past Spider-Man villains from other universes. Expectations for this film have been sky high, myself included, and its hard to let your mind wander as to what this film could be before going into it. The film must do justice to the multiverse elements, be a compelling film in its own right, and explore the themes and relationships this version of Spider-Man has been been wrestling with since his debut in Civil War back in 2016. I am ecstatic to say that Spider-Man: No Way Home successfully juggles all of these expectations well and delivers one of, if not THE BEST, Marvel films to date. It’s easily the best of the MCU Spider-Man films with superb character developments, high stakes, and an emotionally investing story that makes it stand apart from any Spider-Man or Marvel film to date.
At the end of the last film (Spider-Man: Far From Home), Peter Parker’s identity as Spider-Man was announced to the world leaving him in an interesting and tough spot. Given how vital his secret identity has been to him, he seeks out Doctor Strange’s help to make everyone in the world forget he is Spider-Man. But when the spell goes wrong, it unleashes villains from other universe’s leaving Peter and his friends with the responsibility of dealing with this fallout.
The Spider-Man “Home” trilogy has been about the journey of Peter Parker going from Spider-“boy” to Spider-“man”. No Way Home understands that journey and further explores that concept as Peter wrestles with his identity and how that affects the people around him. It’s nice to see Peter grow up and be a little more mature than he was in previous films. Upon rewatching Homecoming and Far From Home, I didn’t realize how young and immature this version of Peter was. That was not necessarily a bad thing, but the previous films lacked a certain gravitas and seriousness that kept it from being great films. No Way Home, on the other hand, elevates the stakes for Peter and really puts him through the wringer physically, relationally, and emotionally to foster his journey into the full-fledged hero we have seen before.
This is bolstered by the fact that this is a film concentrated more so on Peter Parker/Spider-Man and less so on the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, bringing it back to the root of who the character is. Spider-Man going up against Spider-Man villains who have a personal vendetta against Spider-Man, as Spider-Man deals with the morality of how he as Spider-Man will get out of this situation. The previous films had Tony Stark/Iron Man as a heavy presence in Peter’s life, being the motivation for villains like Vulture and Mysterio, gifting Peter with the resources and technology for his gadgets and suit, and being a father figure to encourage him in his journey to be a hero. However, this film focuses up on Peter and how the conflict affects him and those closest around him and how the villains view Peter and his sense of morality. It’s a classic Spider-Man story, one that concentrates on its hero and allows us to really invest in this iteration of Peter Parker and feel the weight of his actions and the inevitable triumphs and consequences that come through that.
Tom Holland is excellent in the film as he delivers his strongest performance as Peter Parker and Spider-Man yet. There are many dramatic and emotional moments in which Holland boldly rises to and evokes a strong sense of maturity and heroism. Yet, he also retains the youthful enthusiasm that made him so likable in his debut 5 years ago. He balances the line between being a senior in high school but also a duty to protect those he loves closest around him exceptionally, and never seeks to undercut a dramatic moment with a gag or joke (something that has become all too common in MCU films). It’s been great to see his character mature over the past few years and consistently see Holland tackle the challenge with confidence as he steps out of the shadows of other veteran MCU actors and into his own persona. His chemistry with the rest of the cast is also heartfelt, genuine, and absolutely entertaining to watch. Peter’s relationship with Zendaya’s MJ is given a little more development, allowing you to feel the burgeoning romance and chemistry the pair share together. Similarly, Ned and Aunt May’s importance in Peter’s life and the support they provide him also bolsters the film emotional component and how vital they are to his identity as the hero. However, it is Peter’s relationship with the villains that are drawing audiences in, and that aspect does not disappoint.
It would have been easy for Marvel to bring back villains like Doc Ock, Green Goblin, and Electro for a simple cash grab, nostalgia, fan-service gimmick. While there certainly are some callbacks to previous films, No Way Home gives these characters added depth, emotion, and motivation that wasn’t previously seen before. It honors the legacy of where they came from while also building upon those foundations to bring insight into who these villains are in the grand scheme of Spider-Man. None of the actors are simply phoning it in for a paycheck, they are here giving it their all delivering knockout performances in such iconic roles. Willem Dafoe stands out amongst the pack, reveling in the scenery, and being the menacing yet humane psychopath we saw him be in his first appearance. The film certainly understands what these characters represent, and how that rivals Peter’s views on morality and being a good hero. These villains serve a purpose to the story and seek to challenge Peter in how to handle this situation, the call backs and references to other films is just icing on the cake. I’m glad that gave these characters and relationships justice, and gave them purposeful incorporation into the story.
The action in this film is also more confidently helmed and directed, giving a greater sense of ugency and tension that was absent in previous MCU Spider-Man movies. Given that you feel the relationships Peter has with those around them, whenever a character is in danger you most certainly feel the danger. That anticipations of how something will be handled delivered some of the best sequences I’ve seen in the MCU. The bridge fight between Doc Ock and Peter shown in the trailer most certainly is tense and exhilarating because the film is taking itself more seriously. Before, we would have seen Peter screaming or running away from situations like this, but he embraces them more boldly knowing what’s at stake if he doesn’t stop them. It makes there be weight to more of the action in the film and certainly towards the end when things start to be a little more chaotic. I love how director Jon Watts has grown in these three films in filming more large scale sequences as time goes on. One thing that is certainly a nit pick detail, is how Jon Watts directs and edits certain character moments. For instance, when Willem Dafoe is first shown in the film, it doesn’t have the dramatic build up or reveal that you would expect it to have. This is the same when Peter puts on a new Spider-Man costume in the middle of the film, we never get a good look at it to take it in and enjoy the design. It certainly did not detract from the experience, but I do wish the camera and editing lingered a little bit to give more of an impact in certain moments.
However, this film does take itself more seriously than previous Marvel films and it is one of its greatest strengths. When there is a dramatic moment happening on screen, you feel the impact and weight of that scene. There were many instances in this film where I was surprised as to how emotional and deep things were starting to get. It got pretty real and gut-wrenchingly moving, and I loved seeing how these characters all matured and progressed through those moments. It is also a darker film, and I appreciate that it didn’t pull its punches. Peter is starting to grow up more and enter a new stage of his superhero career, and it is only natural that things become more difficult as he balances the line between being a kid and a dutiful hero. Yet, the film never loses its fun and humorous sides allowing the audience to both have a blast with lots of jokes and situations, while also raising the bar for the heroes to tackle. Its a perfect balance that I hope more Spider-Man films and MCU in general tackles as it moves along, because this is what makes films great.
Where the film leaves Peter and his friends makes me excited for what’s to come. This most certainly concludes Peter’s personal journey into becoming Spider-Man and I am curious to see the new directions they will take him in future films. Spider-Man: No Way Home is the definitive Marvel and Spider-Man film that recognizes the roots of what makes the character iconic while delivering one of the best emotional and satisfying stories I’ve seen in a while. Everything here coalesces beautifully, and paves the way for new and exciting stories to come in the future. All of the performances are top notch, specifically Holland and Dafoe who bring their all to these roles and makes this a treat to watch. I’ve already seen this film twice and theaters and I can’t wait to go see it again and again! Be on the lookout for a more detailed review containing spoilers in the days to come!
For spoiler thoughts, click here: https://rajreviews.com/2021/12/23/spider-man-no-way-home-spoiler-review/
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