Released: 17 December 2021
Director: Jon Watts
Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing
Budget: $200 million
Stars: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx, and Benedict Cumberbatch
After having his secret identity publicly outed, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Holland) finds himself branded a murderer and hounded at every turn. In a bid to return his life to something resembling normality, he requests that Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) cast a spell to make everyone forget his identity. However, when the spell is corrupted, the walls between realities are fractured and Peter is beset by foes from across the multiverse seeking to avenge themselves against Spider-Man, no matter what world he’s from!
Following the massive success of the original Spider-Man trilogy (Raimi, 2000 to 2007) and the largely mediocre reception of the poorly-timed reboot films, Marvel Studios were finally able to achieve the impossible when they reached an agreement to include a new version of the iconic web-slinger in their interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Tom Holland took on the role of a young, fresh-faced take on the character and debuted in spectacular fashion in Captain America: Civil War (Russo and Russo, 2016) before spinning off (no pun intended) into the incredibly successful Spider-Man: Homecoming (Watts, 2017). Spider-Man: Far From Home’s (ibid, 2019) impressive $1.132 million box office proved that the MCU could sustain the success it had amassed even after the cataclysmic events of Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019) but development of a third outing for the character was initially stalled when financial disputes threatened to see the character once again pulled from Marvel’s control. After these issues were resolved, and following a delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic, production finally got underway in late-2020 and, almost immediately, rumours began circulating regarding the possible return of actors from the previous Spider-Man franchises. These were only exacerbated when Benedict Cumberbatch was confirmed to reprise his role as Dr. Strange, a character who was already scheduled to have his own multiversal adventure, and when the long-awaited trailer was finally released following a leak, confirming that Alfred Molina would be returning as Doctor Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus thanks to digital de-aging. Finally, after months of speculation and wild fan rumours, the film’s final trailers confirmed that this story would tackle Spider-Man’s varied cinematic multiverse and the film received an official release date. Thanks to bringing together elements from across Spider-Man’s cinematic legacy, Spider-Man: No Way Home was met by unanimous praise; critics lauded the performances and heart of the film, in addition to atmosphere and chemistry between the actors, and the film made a mammoth $1.916 billion at the box office.
I feel it’s only fair to emphasise here that I simply cannot find the language to talk about this film without using spoilers. If the title and various warnings aren’t enough for you, then this text should be: here be spoilers, and I’m not planning on holding back as I feel the movie deserves to be discussed in detail and the only way to do that is to talk about spoilers. Also, I was initially torn when it came to this film; the build up to it saw some really toxic opinions and members of the fandom rear their ugly heads, and the marketing has been a bit all over the place. Sony showed a surprising amount of restraint with their trailers, and maybe held them off a little too long, but it definitely built up a great deal of hype and intrigue surrounding it and it felt good to be excited and curious about a movie for a change. Having said that, though…be better, people, come on. If you have a favourite Spider-Man, that’s great, but don’t rag on people for having a different opinion. Spider-Man is really lucky as he has had so many adaptations and so much representation, so many live-action portrayals, and all of them have been extremely accurate to the source material and exciting outings in their own right, so maybe just be thankful that the web-head gets so much love and is so popular rather than being ungrateful or attacking others for their opinions?
Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up immediately where Spider-Man: Far From Home left off, with blustering, loud-mouthing online personality J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons) gleefully broadcasting edited footage sent to him by Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) that not only implicates Peter as a murderer but also outs his secret identity to the entire world. Naturally, this sends New York City into a bit of an uproar and, pretty much immediately, both Spider-Man and his new girlfriend Michelle Jones-Watson/M. J. (Zendaya) are swamped by a mob that is split between worshipping and condemning Spider-Man, paparazzi looking to get a sound bite, and cops seeking to question Peter’s involvement in Beck’s death. Despite his best efforts to escape the chaos, and to break the news to his beloved Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and his begrudging friend and handler, Harold “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau), Peter and his friends and family are soon apprehended by the Department of Damage Control (DODC), which has now extended its scope into being a federal agency responsible for such matters. Although M. J. and May remain tight-lipped on the matter, Peter’s bungling but loyal friend Ned Leeds (Batalon) and Peter himself don’t exactly help his case, and Peter is left overwhelmed by the barrage of accusations and the public’s awareness of his true identity. Any legal ramifications concerning these matters are quickly swept under the table, however; although Happy and May recently ended their fling (much to Happy’s dismay), the Parkers are given sanctuary at Happy’s secure apartment and an especially good blind lawyer is able to ensure that the charges against Peter are dropped. However, public opinion remains divided; since the world considers Mysterio a hero, many people condemn Spider-Man (which isn’t helped by Jameson’s continuing smear campaign against Peter) and Peter is treated with both awe, fear, and adulation by his fellow pupils. Thankfully, he has M. J. and Ned there to support him through it; despite the revelation uprooting their lives and thrusting them into the spotlight as well, they remain his loyal and understanding companions, which is always sweet to see. While Peter appreciates this, and could probably have adjusted to the major changes in his life with their support, his guilt and shame are magnified when neither her, Ned, or M. J. are able to successfully get into college.
Because of the media storm and controversy surrounding Peter, no college wants to risk being associated with any of them, and Peter is guilt-ridden at having cost his loved ones the chance of realising their dreams. Yet, even though this has happened, M. J. and Ned still take it on the chin and remain optimistic (or, at least, put on a brave face, in M. J.’s case) and neither of them blame Peter for this, but it does little to alleviate his guilt. Desperate for a solution, Peter seeks out the council of Dr. Strange (who, it is amusingly revealed, is no longer the Sorcerer Supreme thanks to being snapped away for five years; Wong (Benedict Wong) has assumed the position instead, which could potentially be explored to greater humourous effect in Strange’s upcoming movie). Although Wong cautions against it, Dr. Strange offers to cast a complicated and dangerous spell that will erase the knowledge of Peter’s secret identity from everyone in the world; however, Peter starts to panic mid-way through the spell and requests that May, M. J., Ned, and Happy be exempt from the erasure, which causes Strange to lose control of the spell and contain it within a jewel least it wreak havoc upon the world…and the multiverse. The relationship between Dr. Strange and Peter is notably different to what we saw between Peter and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr); Strange isn’t a mentor to Peter, he’s more like a work associate, and he’s willing to help the kid out because of his efforts at restoring half the population, but he’s easily frustrated by Peter’s naivety and ignorance, especially when it comes to the world of magic, and angered that Peter risked tampering with the fabric of reality before properly exploring all of the real-world options available to him or learning to adapt to the changes in his life.
Determined to make up for this, Peter tracks down a college professor to plead M. J. and Ned’s case, only to suddenly be attacked by a face very familiar to us but completely alien to him as Dr. Octopus attacks the Queensboro Bridge in a confused rage, ranting at Peter and demanding to know what happened to his “machine”. Though confused by the villain’s sudden appearance, Spider-Man holds his own in impressive fashion thanks to the advanced technology and gadgets built into his Iron Spider costume, saving lives while fending off Doc Ock’s mechanical arms; his genius mind addled by the corrupting influence of his mechanical tentacles, Doc Ock is intrigued by the Iron Spider’s nanotechnology but startled to find a very different face behind the mask. His confusion soon turns to manic frustration when Peter is able to use the suit’s nanotech to take control of Doc Ock’s arms and render him helpless, and Octavius’s rage is only incensed further when he suddenly finds himself a prisoner in a dark catacomb beneath Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. Although dismissive of the idea of magic and vehemently rejecting the idea that he needs help or to be fixed, Doc Ock is intrigued to see the evidence of a multiverse surrounding him; not only has he met the MCU version of Peter and M. J., but he shares his prison with Doctor Curt Connors/The Lizard (Rhys Ifans), a monstrous creature Dr. Strange was able to subdue offscreen and who is very clearly from another reality. Ock’s curiosity is only piqued further when he and Peter catch a fleeting glimpse of another Spider-foe Octavius knows all-too-well, Doctor Norman Osbourn/The Green Goblin (Dafoe), before being imprisoned.
Angered at the incursions that have slipped into their world because of Peter’s ignorance, Dr. Strange demands that he and his friends “Scooby-Doo this shit!” and round up the visitors so they can be sent home; he grants Peter a magically-charged gadget that allows him to shoot a web that instantly teleports the villains to the prison, and Peter is forced to turn his suit inside-out after it gets ruined by paint thrown by a mob. Although he initially heads out to track down the Green Goblin, Peter instead finds Max Dillon/Electro (Foxx), who draws power from electricity lines to regain his physical form and alter the nature of his powers. Disorientated at having being violently ripped from his reality, Electro lashes out in anger, and Peter is only saved by the timely intervention of Flint Marko/The Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church), who helps Peter subdue and capture Electro. However, upon realising that he’s trapped on another world, the Sandman also grows antagonistic and winds up confined as a result, and Peter learns from each of them the nature of their personalities, their worlds, and their fates: Green Goblin, Doc Ock, and Electro are all fated to die in battle with Spider-Man, and returning them home would seal that fate, and that’s something Peter cannot, in good conscience, allow.
This brings him into conflict with Dr. Strange, who is determined to activate the jewel and send the visitors back home regardless since he’s weighing the fate and stability of the entire multiverse rather than the lives of a few villains. When Peter tries to take the jewel from him, a bit of a scuffle ensues in which we see Peter is able to control his body even while forced into his astral force thanks to this spider-sense, and his knowledge of geometry also allows him to figure out the mirror dimensions, web up Strange, and leave him stranded there while he works to cure the villains. While he has good intentions, and his friends and family support his efforts, and he is even able to convince the villains to trust him to help keep them alive, Peter underestimates the depths of Norman’s psychosis. Rendered a meek, bewildered scientist who is lost and in pain, Norman willingly works alongside Peter to help fix Doc Ock, returning the tentacled menace to his more good-natured self, but Norman’s dark half, the Green Goblin, soon resurfaces to throw Peter’s entire plan out the window. I got a real kick out of seeing Norman and Otto being familiar with each other, and the Lizard and Electro also having a familiarity with each other, it really helped to flesh out their respective worlds and deliver exposition regarding the characters to those who might not be familiar with them. While it’s disappointing that the Sandman was rendered entirely in his sand form for 90% of the movie, and the Lizard was basically a non-factor (there’s even a moment where he is simply confined to a van and forgotten about until the film’s big climax needs to happen), both Doc Ock and the Green Goblin play significant roles in the story. The Goblin wraps the remains of his God-awful suit in a tatter cloak and Dafoe’s demented facial expressions get to shine trough as he operates entirely unmasked throughout the film; he’s also far more vicious and deadly than ever before, cackling in Peter’s face and taunting him at every turn. While all of these returning actors slipped back into their roles perfectly (and even got a chance at redemption, in Electro’s case), Dafoe steals the show ones again as a maniacal and vicious villain who simply wants to cause Peter pain, no matter which Peter it is!
The Nitty-Gritty :
When I first heard that Tom Holland’s third solo movie was going to delve into the multiverse, I have to admit that I was disappointed and annoyed; I enjoyed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Persichetti, Ramsey, and Rothman, 2018) but even with that film I questioned the logic of confusing matters with multidimensional shenanigans. The MCU definitely seems to be gearing towards exploring the multiverse, but I expected this to be confined to Dr. Strange’s solo films and worried that bringing in faces from the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb films would just be pandering and confusing. Not only that, but I’m of the firm belief that every role can be recast: Dafoe, Simmons, and Molina were all fantastic in their previous iterations but who’s to say that another actor wouldn’t be just as good, if not better? I expected this third Spider-Man movie would be the perfect excuse to finally bring the Sinister Six to life using the villains already established in the MCU: Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton), Herman Schultz/The Shocker (Bokeem Woodbine), Mac Gargan/The Scorpion (Michael Mando), and even Mysterio (he was the master of illusions, after all) could all have returned and joined forces with two new villains (ideally an all-new Doc Ock) to collect a bounty on Spider-Man. Hell, I was more excited at the prospect of Charlie Cox returning as Matt Murdock/Daredevil or Spider-Man being forced to go on the run and teaming up with the Netflix Defenders than complicating things with multiverse hijinks, and I still maintain that it makes zero sense to have Eddie Brock/Venom (Tom Hardy) exist in a separate universe when it would have been far simpler to have him be based in San Francisco but still exist in the MCU (like how other MCU heroes and movies take place in different cities but those characters don’t have to be transported through time and space to interact).
And yet….man, was it a thrill to see Alfred Molina return in the role! Bringing back these iconic actors in their most famous villain roles might be unapologetic fan service but it was fan service executed almost to perfection. I say “almost” as we were one villain short from an iteration of the Sinister Six; Eddie doesn’t show up into the mid-credits scene and he is teleported back where he came from without having any impact on the movie (though he does leave a part of himself behind…) and there was no secret sixth villain added to the roster. However, that’s not to say that the five villains we did get were disappointing…far from it! Since the MCU is different to where he came from, Electro is able to not only reconstitute his body, but also alters his powers; the addition of an Arc Reactor only pushes his powers even further, allowing him to resemble his traditional comic book appearance far closer than in his original iteration. The Sandman may be in sand form for the majority of the film, but he remains an emotionally conflicted character; at first, he helps Peter, and even tries to talk sense into some of the villains, but the idea of being kept from his home world and his daughter pushes him against the web-slinger out of pure self-preservation. This motivation is the driving force behind many of the villains, as they have either accepted their monstrous new powers or have no wish to be sent away to die. In the case of Doc Ock and the Lizard, this is due to technology or mutation clouding their judgement; when Peter repairs the inhibitor chip on Ock’s neck, he becomes much more agreeable and even helps Peter to hold off the villains in the finale, and when the Lizard ingests the cure and returns to his human form, he returns to his more docile personality.
The same is also true of the Green Goblin, however Norman’s psychosis is far more manipulative, calculating, and violent. He has no desire to return home to meet his end and absolutely brutalises Peter to keep him from trying to cure him; the Goblin quickly re-establishes himself as Peter’s most dangerous and notorious foe not only by swaying the other villains into turning on Peter, but delivering a massive beatdown on him that leaves him helpless to keep his Aunt May from harm. Although Peter manages to shield May from the Goblin’s pumpkin bomb, the glider blindsides her and leaves her with a fatal wound, and she tragically dies in his arms, leaving him heartbroken and with her final words of encouragement ringing in his ears: “With great power, there must also come great responsibility.” May’s death devastates Peter, and drives him into a quest for revenge against the Goblin; no longer merely satisfied to cure or help the villains, he wishes nothing less than the Goblin’s death at his hands, and it’s a true moment of despair for the young Avenger. No Way Home really puts Peter through the wringer, pushing his morals and optimistic outlook to breaking point, and really burdens him with the guilt of having indirectly caused his mother-figure’s death by trying to help the villains rather than allowing them to return home and potentially die as fated.
Desperate to find Peter and give their support, M. J. and Ned mess about with one of Dr. Strange’s sling-rings and discover the presence of two more familiar faces who slipped through the dimensional barriers and are determined to help and let me tell you…I have never seen a cinema explode into rapturous applause before but my screening blew the roof off when Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire made their long-awaited, and long-rumoured, return to their famous roles. Both arrived due to Strange’s spell and have been trying to track down MCU-Peter, and both have arrived from later in their careers, finally giving us a coda to their stories: Webb-Peter reveals that he struggled to cope after failing to save Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and almost lost himself to his rage at one point, and that he has thrown himself into his duties as Spider-Man to cope. Raimi-Peter is noticeably older, but still in good shape, and, though haunted by his failures and losses, maintains that he and M. J. (Kirsten Dunst) found a way to carry on). The scenes with the three Peters are an obvious highlight and they share some fantastic line sand banter together; Webb-Peter is elated to have found “brothers” and they work together to synthesise cures for the villains based on their previous experiences and scientific acumen. They also share stories of their adventures and powers, with Webb-Peter and MCU-Peter both being astounded (and a little disturbed) by Raimi-Peter’s organic webbing, Raimi-Peter extending a much-needed pep talk to Webb-Peter, and both Webb- and Raimi-Peter being impressed by MCU-Peter’s space adventures. Seeing them work together, offering MCU-Peter support and understanding, is fantastic as Webb-Peter delivers an emotional soliloquy about his failures (and gets to make amends for it by catching M. J. in a truly emotional moment) and Raimi-Peter relates the messages passed on to him by his beloved Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson), and MCU-Peter is even able to help them get past being solo heroes and work together using his experiences of teamwork as an Avenger.
With three Spider-Man working together, the Lizard, the Sandman, and Electro are all subdued and returned to their human forms, presumably alleviating them of their madness and violent tendencies, in a mind-blowing final confrontation around the Statue of Liberty (which is being refurbished to hold Captain America’s shield aloft). Despite the best efforts of his alternative counterparts, though, MCU-Peter is driven into a rage and attacks the Green Goblin mercilessly and even prepares to deliver a fatal blow with his own glider, only for Raimi-Peter to intervene (and get stabbed in the back for his efforts). Ultimately, MCU-Peter delivers a cure, rather than a kill, to his newest foe and Norman is left an emotional and remorseful wreck, though this pales in comparison to the threat unleashed by one of his pumpkin bombs as Strange’s spell is blown free and miscellaneous, vaguely-defined villains and intruders from all across the multiverse threaten to converge on the MCU. Dr. Strange struggles to contain the spell and, determined to make amends for his previous mistake, MCU-Peter decides to make the ultimate sacrifice and has Strange cast a new spell that will make everyone, everywhere, forget all about Peter Parker. He thanks his counterparts for their help and bids an emotional farewell to M. J. and Ned, promising to find them and rekindle their friendship/relationship after the spell is cast, but hesitates upon seeing how happy and better off M. J. and Ned are without him in their lives. Ultimately, Peter chooses to leave them be and fashions a new, 100% comic accurate costume for himself using his counterparts’ suits as inspiration and finally gets his big, triumphant final swing as he begins a new life safe in the knowledge that no one knows his true identity any more…and that he’s not alone in the vast, dangerous multiverse.
After viewing that first trailer and seeing Doc Ock show up once again, my mind was pretty much blown when it came to this movie; it raised so many questions, many of them being concerns that Tom’s third solo outing would get overwhelmed or bogged down by multiverse shenanigans and blatant fan service. Subsequent trailers helped shed a bit more light on the film, and I began to calm down a bit and predict that these returning characters wouldn’t be as integral to the narrative as many were making out. This turned out to be true, to a degree; the villains are definitely a big part of the film, but Spider-Man: No Way Home still does a fantastic job of focusing on Peter, his relationships, his growth, and his identity crisis. Could we have seen a grittier, more grounded film that dealt with him being on the run and learning to adapt to his tumultuous new public life? For sure, yes, and I would also argue that many of these villains could have been recast and reimagined as MCU characters and it would have worked just as well, but again there is such a thrill to be had at seeing these actors return to their iconic roles and, in many cases, reinvigorate their characters with the benefit of hindsight.
I loved that Peter’s focus was on others the entire time; his selflessness is a driving force of his character, and every decision he makes is to try and benefit either his friends or family or to save lives. This is motivated by his guilt, of course, as they would only be in danger because of him, and he remains a flawed character trying to make amends for his mistakes, which is the quintessential essence of Spider-Man for me. More than any other Spider-Man, MCU-Peter tries to help even the most villainous characters rather than condemn them to death, it was truly heart-breaking to see him o devastated by Aunt May’s death that he was willing to cross that line. Of course, the undisputable highlight is seeing Tom Holland share the screen with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield; while it’s painfully obvious that all three actors weren’t on set or in the studio at the same time for every shot (whether due to Covid or scheduling), it’s still a blast to see them interacting, hearing those iconic themes, and seeing them in action. Once I accepted that No Way Home was going to be a multiverse adventure, my hope was that the film would go all-out to deliver on its potential…and I’m happy to say that it went above and beyond! Action-packed, emotional, and amusing throughout, Spider-Man: No Way Home may very well be in the top-tier of Spider-Man adventures and I am very excited to see where Peter’s journey takes him now that his status quo has been so dramatically changed.
Have you seen Spider-Man: No Way Home? Did I completely spoil the film for you? Were you excited at the idea of iconic Spider-Man villains making their return or do you think that the multiverse stuff should stay in the Dr. Strange movies? What did you think to the way the film handled the public’s knowledge of Spider-Man’s identity and would you have preferred to see this explored a little more in-depth? Which of the returning villains was your favourite, and how excited were you to see Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield return (and Charlie Cox finally be incorporated into the movies)? Were you disappointed that we came so close to the Sinister Six and that Venom didn’t have a role in the film? Where do you see the MCU-Spider-Man’s story going from here? Whatever your thoughts on Spider-Man: No Way Home, sign up to leave a comment below or leave a comment on my social media (but be mindful of spoiling it for others!)