Spider-Man: No Way Home is everything I hoped for and then some, surpassing my expectations and sticking the proverbial landing from start to finish.
No Way Home caps off the Tom Holland Spider-Man trilogy and really the entire modern Spider-Man cinematic era perfectly. It’s the best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in years, combining lots of web-slinging action, laugh-out-loud humor, truly powerful nostalgia and some deeply emotional moments into a tour de force of superhero cinema.
I say this as someone who has grown a lot more cynical and jaded about superhero movies these days. The genre has begun to feel too formulaic, too predictable and too ubiquitous, with too many shows and movies to even keep up with.
Many comic book movies feel too long and poorly paced. Even the good ones often fall apart in the third act and would be better-served with 20 or 30 minutes shaved off. There’s a sort of decadence in these films lately—too many action-packed scenes and battles and you start to feel a bit numb.
No Way Home avoids all these pitfalls. There wasn’t a moment I felt bored or antsy. Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch and the rest of the cast—some of whom I won’t mention to avoid spoilers—are all absolutely terrific. Dr. Strange is a very different father figure to Peter than Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) was, though they’re both larger-than-life mentors with a penchant for making rash decisions, valuing their own judgment over anyone else’s. Both brilliant, but deeply impatient, men.
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No Way Home picks up right after the very end of Spider-Man: Far From Home when Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) reveals Spider-Man’s identity to the world in a last-ditch attempt to frame him for Mysterio’s own crimes. It’s a vicious final act from an otherwise kind of lame villain. But it feeds right into the Daily Bugle’s J. Jonah Jameson Jr.’s (J.K. Simmons) narrative about Spidey.
So we open to a world that suddenly knows Peter Parker is Spider-Man and a large population of people who believe that he’s a criminal and a killer. It’s a bad spot to be in, and one that Peter feels especially bad about since it has a direct impact on the people he cares for, like MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon).
This brings Parker to Dr. Strange’s Bleeker St. mansion, the Sanctum Sanctorum, where he asks for some magical help. Without revealing too much of the plot, things go awry and Strange’s spell has the opposite effect of what Peter is after, opening portals to other universes and drawing in characters who know Parker to his universe. This is our first glimpse into the MCU’s multiverse, which we’ll learn much more of in Dr. Strange And The Multiverse Of Madness next year.
Some of the characters who enter Peter’s universe are sworn enemies of other Peter Parkers. Dr. Octopus, Green Goblin and a handful of others. Each one spells trouble for Parker and his pals.
What follows is a funny, exciting, nostalgia-fueled trip through Spider-Man cinema that will delight and surprise fans, though if you cry at movies get ready to cry at this one, too.
One thing I really loved about the film, beyond its humor and nostalgia, was that at its core it’s a film with a pacifistic message that values redemption over revenge, reconciliation over rivalry. Not that there aren’t plenty of fight scenes, but the point of this movie isn’t about destroying your enemies but rather finding ways to help them instead. It’s quite powerful and quite unique for a genre that’s all about toppling larger-than-life foes.
It’s shaping up to be a monster hit, too, with the third-largest opening weekend box office of all time domestically and fourth internationally, and incredibly high Rotten Tomatoes scores from critics (94%) and audiences (99%) alike.
I really only have one negative thing to say about the movie, and it’s something that any Marvel movie or show with any degree of seriousness suffers from: When something tragic or terrible happens, we move back to cracking jokes too fast. The emotional trauma is dealt with so quickly it almost doesn’t feel real.
Then again, I’m not sure how to change that in a picture like this. The timeline of events is incredibly short, and after the film’s big tragedy occurs, there’s not a lot of time left to dwell on it. At least No Way Home’s ending doesn’t wrap things up with a nice and tidy bow. It’s a bittersweet ending, with victory coming at a cost that’s almost too much to bear.
Go see Spider-Man: No Way Home on the big-screen. It deserves all the screen real estate you can find. Just prepare yourselves for the busiest movie theaters you’ve seen since the pandemic started. Oh, and stick around for the post-credits scenes. You won’t regret it.