SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME ½
PG-13, 148 mins.
2021, PG-13, 148 mins.
Tom Holland as Peter Parker / Spider-Man / Zendaya as Michelle 'MJ' Jones / Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange / Doctor Strange / Jon Favreau as Harold 'Happy' Hogan / Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds / Marisa Tomei as May Parker / Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius / Doctor Octopus / Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon / Electro / Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn / Green Goblin / Tony Revolori as Eugene 'Flash' Thompson / Angourie Rice as Betty Brant / Martin Starr as Mr. Harrington / Hannibal Buress as Coach Wilson / J.B. Smoove as Mr. Dell / J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson / Benedict Wong as WongDirected by Jon Watts / Written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers
The fundamental problem with the MCU's handling of their SPIDER-MAN films is definitely not with the man behind the wall crawler's bug eyed mask.
I'll be the first
to concede that Tom Holland has made for a splendid version of the iconic
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Marvel Comics hero. Alongside his
two main co-stars, Holland and company have infused a considerable amount
of dramatic heart and soul into the proceedings.
Holland's web slinger is just so bloody charming and likeable,
which makes it all the more disappointing that the three films that he has
occupied don't allow for the actor and character to carry them.
More often than not - and to a frustrating degree - these recent
SPIDER-MAN films feel more like larger assembly line mass marketed
products that are attempting to extend the larger MCU brand as opposed to
telling more insular storylines that just focus on Spidey and his world
one looks at, for example, the enjoyable, but problematic SPIDER-MAN:
HOMECOMING it was easy to see how poor Peter got a tad lost and
marginalized in the limelight of other higher marquee and veteran MCU
players; it came off more as an IRON MAN/Spidey
team-up movie that a solid film deeply entrenched in the latter's
surroundings (plus, the incomparable Robert Downey Jr. cast an awfully big
shadow). Then came SPIDER-MAN:
FAR FROM HOME, which had sizable shoes to fill as a larger
epilogue, so to speak, for AVENGERS:
ENDGAME in terms developing the MCU post-blip/Thanos defeat.
Now comes SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, which once again goes out of its
way to be a team-up picture (in vastly more ways than one), that not only
features Spider-Man becoming allies with Dr. Strange, but he also has to
face the multiple threats of a grander multiverse of villainous elements
that have appeared in past non-MCU Spidey films made by Sony Pictures.
This is unquestionably a bigger, more audacious, and sometimes
thanklessly ambitious sequel, but it also comes with the negative side
effect of overstuffing itself to the point that it's a miracle that Mr.
Parker and his non-super hero amazing friends manage to get any level of
did, though, admire the cliffhanger ending of FAR FROM HOME, and NO WAY
HOME starts off precisely just after the last film's shocking finale,
during which time that dastardly Mysterio conspired to make Spider-Man
look like a dangerously unstable vigilante murderer and - double gasp!!!
- revealed his secret identity to the world.
It's at this point in the opening of this new sequel that the
makers do understand one of the cornerstone curses of Peter's duplicitous
life: Despite his
extraordinary abilities and yearning to right criminal wrongs, he is,
after all, a young adult with ordinary young adult problems that wants a
normal life. Now that he has
been unmasked, having any semblance of a normal life becomes impossible
for not only himself, but also for his new love in Mary Jane (Zendaya),
his longtime BFF in Ned (Jacob Batalon) and his always supportive
Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Now,
the frazzled Peter has become one of the most famous outed Avengers in the
world, second only maybe to his mentor in Tony Stark.
Regretably for him, however, is that he's wanted for the false
murder of Mysterio and now the public - largely spurred on by J. Jonah
Jameson's (J.K. Simmons) podcasts - has started turning on him.
the constant media attention and having high school classmates recording
his every move was not bad enough, prestigious colleges that Peter, Ned,
and M.J. wish to get accepted into are getting cold feet because of
Peter's legal woes and thorny super hero status, which makes Peter growing
increasingly depressed with how his world is quickly imploding in on
begins to feel responsible for ruing his friends' futures as well, which
is a major bummer. As a last ditch option, he seeks out
Avengers acquaintance Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and asks him to
use his magical powers to cast a spell to make the world forget that he is
begrudgingly obliges, but then Peter - mid-spell - begs the sorcerer to
make some last minute amendments to the potion, like ensuring that his
family and friends are still allowed to know his double life.
Tragically for all, this messes up Strange's casting of said spell,
which has dire consequences of a galactic nature (when does it not in
these films?). Strange has
inadvertently opened up mystical doors to multiple dimensions that span
multiple universes, thereby allowing for a menagerie of super villains
from (I don't think this is a spoiler at all, based on the
marketing of the film) the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield SPIDER-MAN
films to come into the MCU of Holland's Spider-Man, which causes all sorts
of complicated issues. Peter
doesn't realize this at first, but after he crosses paths with a dimension
hopping Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina, returning to role after his iconic
stint in 2004's SPIDER-MAN 2) and
discovers that the tentacle villain doesn't recognize him as
"his" Peter Parker/Spider-Man then he begins to put the pieces
together. But it's not just
Doc Ock that passes through, but also William Dafoe's Green Goblin from
the first SPIDER-MAN film in 2002 as well as a host of baddies migrating
in from Garfield's two AMAZING
SPIDER-MAN entries from a few years back.
defend - albeit gingerly - this obvious fan servicing element in NO WAY
HOME by bringing in aspects of past non-MCU SPIDER-MAN films by stating
that the manner with which these antagonists are used is a fairly
compelling plot device (granted, a plot device nevertheless).
With an assist by Dr. Strange, Peter has to hunt down and nab all
of these newly arrived and dangerous adversaries, but after incarcerating
them all he has an epiphany: Instead of just zapping them back to their
respective dimensions, why not do everything that he can to rehabilitate
these monsters and turn them back to their once productive ordinary
citizen selves? In many
respects, NO WAY HOME evolves beyond its fetch quest/capture villains
element and becomes more engrained in Peter's ever-growing maturity as a
super hero with great powers and great responsibilities.
He actually wants to help these criminals, especially Dafoe's
personality skipping mad scientist, but this also sets up an intriguing
conflict between Peter and Strange, with the latter just wanting to zap
them back home and be done with them.
There's a legitimate arc here to these sinister bad guys that's a
lot more than initially meets the eye.
builds towards a protracted and climatic third act - which I will endeavor
not to spoil in any way - other than to say that this film doesn't simply
end with all of these villains popping in here to be a serious thorn in
Peter's side (anyone with some basic deductive logic can easily predict
where this film is heading in terms of more cameos from other past
SPIDER-MAN film properties). There's
is a relative tsunami of nostalgia bait that floods over NO WAY HOME,
especially with fanboy love (or criticism) of the Maguire and Garfield Spidey
adventures. This film is like
fan servicing on steroids, and there's an undeniable OMG-WOW!
factor in seeing many of these cherished characters from the Spidey film
canon that has spanned twenty years appear here. Unfortunately, this all but underlines my aforementioned
grievance with these three MCU Spidey efforts: Instead of allowing
Holland's hero to evolve organically on his own - as well as his core
world within the MCU world - the makers here instead just shoehorn him in
to propel Marvel's latest phase as well as cherry picking greatest hits
elements from past Spidey films for a pseudo reunion tour.
That does a great disservice to the hero and Holland's impeccable
work in these films; once again, he feels like a guest in his own solo
feature placating to the needs of larger forces around him.
scale of NO WAY HOME is indeed colossally epic in most respects.
Director Jon Watts deserves respect for managing to create visual
fluidity amidst all of the crazy chaos that permeates this sequel
(visually and technically, this is as grandly and pristinely orchestrated
as any MCU film before, and in particular I liked sequences involving a
standoff between Strange and Peter in a surreal and mind tripping mirror
realm as well as massive donnybrook featuring every single player
confronting one another at a retooled Statue of Liberty that's being
retrofitted with Captain America's shield). But a bigger and busier film doesn't
necessarily mean a better one.
Also, when one starts to modestly scrutinize and deconstruct Peter/Strange's
initial plans there are considerable logical loopholes.
It doesn't speak well to Peter's usual altruistic self to want to
tamper with the minds of millions upon millions of people, not to mention
that it reflects equally poorly of Strange for being a willing accomplice.
That, and for a dude with a high IQ and affinity for science, Peter
seems unable to deduce that a better and less stress-free spell would have
been to make Strange give Mysterio a mind wipe to forget Spidey's alter
ego. Wouldn't have that been easier and made more sense?
asked other questions while watching the film - maybe too many.
Did Strange's spell destroy all social media posts/footage of
Spider-Man's reveal...or mainstream media footage of him...or Jameson's
podcast ramblings on the public record?
I know...I know...exploring these queries and many more might be a
fool's errand. That, and without Strange's hand and fingering waving
tinkering with reality we wouldn't have a movie here.
That's a chicken and egg conundrum.
In terms of more concrete issues, this
film is also too long and suffers from pacing and tonal problems (once
again, we get the worst aspects of an MCU formula rearing up in terms of
setting up moments of gravity that are upended by cute gags and verbal
quips that feel more annoyingly incongruent than ever now).
But maybe - just maybe - NO WAY HOME needed smaller
stakes and less characters - and universes - vying for
attention and a more intimate focus on Holland's hero himself versus
kowtowing to MCU plot threads to come and the convoluted stakes of
involving other players from other past Spidey films not related at all to
It's ironic that the character of Peter Parker never seems to get a break in his comic book storylines because he also never seems to get one in these MCU blockbusters either.