By Jason Delgado
Spider-Man: No Way Home reminds me of a concert (I’ve been to hundreds, because I love live music) where for two-thirds of the show, the band plays songs that you don’t know or care for, but the last forty minutes are all of the hits that you know by heart, and the rest of the crowd comes alive. You leave feeling like you’ve been to a great show because of the high you had when you left, but it doesn’t mean that it “shook you all night long,” like an AC/DC show that rocks like a bolt of energy from start to finish.
The first two acts of No Way Home felt like an early rough draft of a script, with a bevy of jokes that didn’t work, low stakes, and bad pacing. The final act was hilarious, poignant, and simply amazing. It seems to go hand-in-hand with this new phase of Marvel movies, because Shang-Chi and The Eternals felt uneven to me as well.
Spoiler Alert: if you haven’t seen Far From Home and No Way Home:
Spider-Man hater J. Jonah Jameson shockingly revealed to the world on live TV that Spidey is Peter Parker during the end credits sequence in Far From Home, which is where No Way Home begins. Parker’s life has been flipped upside down with media scrutiny, and a large part of the population believes that he murdered Mysterio in Far From Home, so Spider-Man and Parker’s public persona is that of a “menace,” as Jameson likes to say.
Peter Parker (Tom Holland), his love interest MJ (Zendaya), and his best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon), are all feeling the weight of Spidey’s newfound infamy when they return to their high school. The three amigos then try to map out their future together, and their collective dream has been to go to college at MIT. Rejection letters pour in from other schools, until finally the letter from MIT comes, explaining that because of the controversy surrounding Spider-Man, they will not be admitted.
Parker then enlists the help of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), where all hell breaks loose, so to speak. This is when things start to get dicey in the script for me as well. Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, who has a heart of gold, is cool with using a dangerous spell to brainwash the entire world into forgetting that he’s Peter Parker, in order to get his friends into college (Where’s Lori Loughlin when you need her?).
Okay, so Peter is a kid who cares deeply about his friends, but what’s the excuse for Doctor Strange? Strange chastises Parker for the danger of wanting to use the Time Stone from Endgame to fix things, but then immediately after, suggests using a spell that he says is harmless. However Wong (Benedict Wong) says this spell will open the gates of evil, and wants no part of it. Strange casts the spell anyway, even knowing from previous experience that magic always comes with a cost.
The spell inevitably goes sideways, which Strange blames on Parker for distracting him. Various Spider-Man foes from the Multiverse (i.e. previous films) start to make their grand entrances. I thought that seeing these villains again would be much more exciting, but it turned out to be rather lackluster with the way they were introduced.
No Way Home then becomes like a game of Pokémon, where Spidey has to collect all of the bad guys for Strange, in order to send them back to their respective dimensions. While trapped, the audience gets to see a more human side of Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), Electro (Jamie Foxx), the Lizard (Rhys Ifans), the Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church), and the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe).
This sets up an intriguing theory in the movie that Aunt May (Marisa Tormei) plants in Peter’s head, which is that even the worst of us should be given another chance to turn things around. It’s not something that you normally see in a superhero flick. We’re all been conditioned to think that people don’t change, and bad guys should just be punished, but there’s an excellent documentary called Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo, that proves otherwise. I wish that this concept was fleshed out a bit more in No Way Home, but it’s exciting to see in a big budget blockbuster nonetheless.
Major Spoiler Alert:
My other major beef with this film is that Aunt May’s death seemed anticlimactic. She appears to be fine after a battle with the Green Goblin where she was knocked down by his glider, but then collapses in Peter’s arms and passes away (and for a minute I felt like I had missed something but it was a delayed reaction by May). I would have rather seen a more poetic and visceral scene, such as May being impaled by the Goblin’s glider.
I had an interview with comic book writer extraordinaire Mark Waid back in 2019, where he brought up an interesting point about this version of Spider-Man. Waid said, “It doesn’t feel like Spider-Man to me in some ways because Tony Stark has taken the place of Uncle Ben in that mythos. It’s all about living up to Tony’s example, you know, live on for Tony, which is not the case in the Spider-Man comics. For instance, Far From Home, I really enjoyed the movie, but I came out of it thinking it didn’t feel like my Spider-Man. And that’s okay, everyone has their own Spider-Man. It just didn’t feel like mine.” I thought about Waid during this movie, because Aunt May uttered the famous Uncle Ben line, “With great power, comes great responsibility,” before she died. Aunt May is essentially the third version of Uncle Ben now, which is strange for comic fans to think about.
Some of these issues I bring up with the film may seem trivial, but it reminds me of a quote that Giancarlo Esposito used at LA Comic Con which was, “How you do anything, is how you do everything.” It speaks to lazy writing, and a lack of care for the audience by the studios, which irks me to no end. Another example of this was in another otherwise entertaining movie, Ghostbusters: Afterlife. (Afterlife Spoiler Alert) The Ghostbusters have the famous saying in a commercial that says, “We’re ready to believe you!” Yet they didn’t believe Egon about paranormal activity, and had a falling out over it? Absurdity. Studios have access to some of the greatest writers, filmmakers, and tools in the world to easily fix issues like I’ve outlined, yet choose not to, until we as an audience demand better (Marvel, Sony, Paramount, call me, I’ll fix these scripts!).
No Way Home really kicks into high gear in the third act, and elicited huge cheers from both audiences with whom I saw it. This begins when former Spider-Men Andrew Garfield and Toby Maguire show up to help Tom Holland’s version. I particularly enjoyed watching the redemption of Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man in No Way Home, because his two Amazing Spider-Man films were the poorest received films in the franchise, and fans surely let him know about it at the time. Garfield seems more mature and self-deprecating here, especially during a meta conversation with Maguire, where Maguire’s Spidey tells him that he’s special and reiterates that point, and Garfield’s reply is that he really needed to hear that. The highlight of Garfield’s redemption and of the film itself is when Holland’s MJ falls from a high tower, in the same way that Garfield’s love Gwen Stacy fell to her death in his movie, but this time Garfield saves MJ. This heroic act is an emotional catharsis for both the character and the audience, and draws the biggest cheer.
The original big budget movie Spider-Man, Toby Maguire, is outstanding in the film as well. He exudes a quiet sensitivity in both his gaze and gentle smirk alone. Maguire has his own meta moment when he talks about his bad back, and has it humorously cracked by Garfield, like a couple of old Spider-Man. Maguire was famously almost replaced by actor Jake Gyllenhaal in Spider-Man 2, because of his back issue (which some sites speculated was a negotiating ploy). A third meta moment comes when both Holland and Garfield comically marvel at Maguire’s ability to produce webbing from his body naturally, which was another huge conversation piece among fans when the first Spider-Man came out in 2002. Maguire gets to have another nice moment with Church’s Sandman from Spider-Man 3, but his real moment to shine is when he stops Holland’s Spider-Man from killing the Green Goblin. It’s the wise, seasoned Spidey, stopping his younger self from making an impulsive mistake. Maguire wears his age well, being more cautious and seasoned than the other two.
All three Spider-Men have instant chemistry together, as if they really are different incarnations of the same person. Another scene that hits the emotional mark is when Garfield and Maguire console Holland about Aunt May, sharing their wisdom over their own experiences with death and responsibility when it comes to Uncle Ben and Gwen. It really was a joy to watch all three of them together, because the humor was firing on all cylinders, along with the added depth.
Willem Dafoe, Zendaya, and Jacob Batalon also did sensational jobs with their characters. They brought the heart and soul of the film (along with the Spider-Men). The final heartfelt scene that stuck with me was at the end, after Doctor Strange used a spell to make everyone, including Parker’s friends, forget he ever existed. When Holland sees MJ and Leeds in the diner after the spell takes effect, you can feel the pain in his eyes that they don’t recognize him, but at the same time see Peter’s emotional maturity to accept that they’re happy now because they’ve been admitted into MIT.
I give Spider-Man: No Way Home four out of five hot sauce packets. It was fire at the end, but only mild sauce until all the Spider-Men joined the party.
FYI – it still amazes me that some people walk out before the very end credits to Marvel movies. They almost always have something special in store, so stick around!