Relive and Redeem
(This review contains major spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home)
Now that Spider-Man: No Way Home is officially out, its time to delve into the plethora of plot points, characters, and major developments from a spoiler-filled perspective. In my original review, I gave the film an A+ saying that it is a definitive Spider-Man film commenting on how much more mature and serious the film was while still retaining the youthful enthusiasm of the previous entries. I can’t stop thinking about this film and re-watching certain scenes upon second viewings confirmed to me the valuable and emotional impact this film had on me. It was more than just a great Marvel movie, it honored the legacy of Spider-Man both from the comics and previous films and utilized everything to its greatest advantage. There are a few minute gripes I have with the film in terms of a directing perspective, but nothing that truly took away from the fun I had with the film in its entirety.
Peter’s journey throughout the MCU has always been in the shadow of characters like Iron Man and Captain America, and I loved how they focused in on his character growth personally without feeling the need to tie it in to something larger. Sure Doctor Strange is involved, but he’s a fairly minor role in the film and is only present for about 10 minutes of screen time. The central conflict that Peter must go through is the decision of whether or not the villains from other Spider-Man universes can be redeemed or whether they fated to be evil and die in their respective timelines. Its a classic Spider-Man dilemma that prioritizes the morals he holds close and what the cost of choosing responsibility over what is easy may end up causing. Helping these villains become better people and fixing their ailments is the right thing to do, but what does that cost him when he easily could have sent them back to die? This morality choice is supplemented by the fact that these are villains which the audience is mostly familiar with and has personal attachments to, allowing us to feel the weight of that choice. We know what happens if they originally go back, and we are okay with that, but Peter has a higher sense of duty here to be a better hero and redeem the villains to the end. That’s a remarkably bold and noble choice, and one that undoubtedly has consequences.
The return of previous villains was an absolute highlight with Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, and Jamie Fox’s Electro all delivering insightful performances. The joy of seeing these characters on screen was delightful, as each of the actors easily slip back into their iconic roles. None of them phoned it in, and each one’s inclusion was purposeful for the overall story. Each of these villain’s is looking to obtain something and continue their arc from the previous film such as Doc Ock’s downfall from greatness or Electro’s new found life, Green Goblin’s Jekyll and Hyde act. Easily the best among them is Willem Dafoe who brings his all to the performance and is so great at being so evil. He balances the humanity and pure evil of the character and gives me a more comics accurate suit that strips away the cheese from the original Raimi film. The film gave Green Goblin his due as being Spider-Man’s most iconic villain and how he’s technically the main antagonist of the film and the one who ignites the growing conflict for Peter’s journey.
Green Goblin’s murder of Aunt May was profoundly impactful, as we have seen Peter process and struggle through the death of Uncle Ben before, but not Aunt May. Her mantra that all people are worthy of redeeming and that it was on her behest to cure the villains instead of sending them to die makes her death all the more powerful. It’s an excellent showcase of how Peter’s choices, no matter how good the intentions, can have dangerous consequences. Peter’s choice of responsibility over what’s easy always seems like the right and moral thing to do, but it ends up hurting him and those around him. It shows how tough those choices are, and I loved how May’s final words to Peter were the catchphrase “with great power comes great responsibility”. Peter needed this lesson and he learns it in such a hard and brutal way in this film. Its a dark and bleak outcome for Peter, but one that retains the core of who the character ultimately is. The film gave him the same impact and journey with Aunt May’s death without having to rehash the origin story from the other films. But those other films do come into play very soon…
The greatest moment of this film, the moment I screamed for, the moment I have been waiting to see if it would, the moment that had me on the edge of my seat, the moment that had me tearing up with a giant grin on my face, and the moment I never thought I would actually ever see on the big screen was the return of Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man! They didn’t just cash in for cheap cameos, they were actually full fledged characters with an impact on the story and character development of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. I was immensely surprised with how long they were in the movie for and how craftly the actors denied their return, to the point where I doubted we would see them in this film. But they do show up, and it is a big load of fan service but one of purpose that sends this film to new heights beyond anything Marvel has achieved before.
Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire’s interaction with Tom Holland balance the perfect amount of emotional mentorship and guidance with genuinely hilarious banter and meta-commentary. We know what these previous two Spider-Man have gone through, so when they console Peter on the death of Aunt May, you feel the impact of each of those lines. Garfield failed to save Gwen Stacy, and that clearly weighs heavy on his character and his journey after the events of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. In a similar vain, we know the rage Maguire felt when chasing Uncle Ben’s killer and Flint Marko in Spider-Man 3 and how that hurt the people around him. That consolation and understanding provided yet another highly effective moment in the film, where you actually feel the loss all three of these characters share and the responsibility to keep moving forward and help those in need. Who better to understand that struggle than the previous two Spider-Man, and it shows that the creative team didn’t just want them for fan service, but to actually have an impact on the story they were telling and how that will shape Tom Holland moving forward.
They do have a lot of fun with the characters too, which provides some of the most hilarious moments of any Marvel film. Whether that’s commenting on the various villains the three have fought or the differences in web shooters, each of these meta jokes and references work so well that you can’t help but love what’s happening on screen. The three of them all had excellent chemistry with one another, riffing off of each other beautifully and teaming up for the higher purpose they are called towards. However, it is Andrew Garfield’s performance and character that really won me over in this film. Garfield had an unfortunate experience with his films due to bad writing and being cut off so soon, but you can clearly see how great he can be with better writing and a more meaningful drive. Like the villains, he is bringing his top performance, being so charismatic and likable, stealing the show with some of his jokes, and having a stand up and cheer moment when he caught MJ from falling. If for nothing else, this film gave Garfield the well deserved redemption that he needed both as an actor and for the character within the films. Now I can watch The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and know that it leads to this triumphant emotional and hilarious redemption. He’s “amazing” in this film, and honestly I would love to see him again if possible.
Maguire also gets his moment to shine as well when he stops Holland from killing the Green Goblin. Simply with just a powerful look in his eyes to convey to Peter the choice he is making and what that will do. It required no words, no music, and no unnecessary action. It was beautiful visual storytelling as you understand what Maguire has gone through and how he is mentoring and guiding Holland through this difficult choice. It certainly isn’t easy for Holland, but It’s one that brings the origin story full circle and completes the arc that was started in Homecoming.
We have now seen Holland’s full origin story across three films and what a whirlwind it has been. He went from an eager youthful boy wanting to be an Avenger, to handling the responsibility of being a hero, and now a Spider-“Man” realizing the true cost and the price to pay for doing the right thing for the greater good. It’s a beautiful arc, and one that ends on a melancholic note but one that is perfectly Spider-Man. Peter is now alone, with no one in the world remembering who he was including MJ and Ned. That scene in the coffee-shop was powerful as Peter wants his friends back but sees the bandage on MJ’s face and realizes that those around get hurt. Electing to go it alone, with a more comics accurate suit and a comics accurate position as Spider-Man, he chooses responsibility in the end even thought that choice is undoubtedly hard. It’s not yet confirmed if Holland is going to continue with a fourth film, but I would love to see where they could go next with him especially given his new status quo.
The post credits scene do seem to hint that the symbiote/black suit is coming, and given the rage and aggression we saw Peter channel in this film it would be awesome to see a more accurate take on that character arc. Additionally, it’s a good decision to bring Tom Hardy’s Venom back into his own universe just given that they have established him as more of a hero in that universe and it would be hard to convert him to a villain. The new Doctor Strange trailer definitely teases that we have only begun to scratch the surface of the multiverse, highlighting that bigger and more exciting things are just around the corner for Marvel fans to enjoy.
Spider-Man: No Way Home was simply spectacular, amazing, and down right one of my new favorite Marvel movies. They brought back legacy characters with a purpose, and utilized them to the best of their ability for an emotional and hilarious payoff. But even without them, it still manages to tell a compelling Spider-Man story, one in which our hero is confronted with the fallout of his decisions and the consequences of choosing responsibility. The moral problem of curing versus killing villains is one that works, especially given the top notch performances all around. While it remains to be seen what is next for our favorite web-head, what they have accomplished now is nothing short of pure joy and fun!