Since the breadth of what constitutes a spoiler is pretty wide these days, and the MCU prides itself on preserving whatever twists, turns, Easter eggs, and cameos may occur for as long as they can, there’s very little that I can write about Spider-Man: No Way Home in any sort of depth without breaching some sort of social contract. It’s a movie that’s packed with characters, plot, and recognizable IP, but which manages to successfully tie almost all of it to theme and story. The way that Peter Parker changes and matures throughout the course of the film is what sticks with me most, and the catalyst for these changes is…
…I’m not allowed to say.
But I can say one thing for sure. My review for this one is almost identical to my review for just about every MCU movie of recent memory (except Black Widow, which blew):
“Pretty good, but the next one is gonna be nuts!”
Because really, that’s where we are with this never-ending blockbuster experiment. The movies are typically good enough to fill a few hours, and it all ends in a promise for the next movie to be even bigger and better — and to include more and more IP. No Way Home is no different from the rest in this regard, but with the added bonus that it’s the first time since Endgame that a promise of EPIC BIGNESS was not pushed off onto the next film. No Way Home is huge.
But I can’t really say why.
From the trailers, we know that Peter Parker, having just been outed as Spider-Man by J. (Alex) Jon(es)ah Jameson, has enlisted Dr. Strange to cast a spell on the entire world to make them forget his identity. In his haste to magically fix his woes, Peter fails to consider the friends and family who should remain in the know. He interrupts the spell, and as a result, a handful of supervillains from other universes show up. Spider-Man must now work to get these guys back in the box while Peter works to get his civilian life together. It’s standard stuff until it isn’t, but I can’t really say anything about that.
So we know from the trailers that a bunch of Spidey villains from across multiple universes (studios) appear, each with a reason for seeking Peter Parker — namely, that in each of their worlds, he killed them. I forget some of the faces that were featured in the trailer but I do remember Dock Ock, so let’s use him to talk about how visuals of the film do and don’t work.
Played here by Alfred Molina, Dock Ock is performed exactly the way you remember him. What’s different is that his tentacles are entirely CGI now, whereas back in Spider-Man 2, they were primarily a practical creation. This leads to a different feel overall. When the tentacles are digital, they can certainly do more, but they also don’t get as intricately woven into the shot (you’ll notice that Molina’s face is never behind one). Noticeable as well is the fact that Molina is clearly acting from a rising/lowering platform in a green cube in Georgia. It’s not distracting per se, but if you know how these things are made, you can see the seams, and it lacks the flavor of in-camera effects. But that’s just how it is anymore, and luckily for us, director Jon Watts does manage to make everything as cinematic as possible. Also, there’s no better special effects than Willem Dafoe’s impossibly expressive, improbably leathery face (this is not a spoiler, Green Goblin is in the trailer and on the poster). Smartly, the Goblin mask is discarded early, so we get full-on Dafoe (who only agreed to the role if he could do the bulk of the fighting himself) who gives 4000% in every scene.
For the first half of the film I found myself mostly unmoved by the visuals. The flat house style of the MCU is in play. But once (thing I can’t talk about) happens and (things I can’t talk about) start happening, the look of the film becomes much more inspired. It’s still a mixed bag, and it’s a shame that earlier MCU entries are almost universally so much more alive than the current spate, but No Way Home is definitely a cut above the rest.
Across the board the cast mostly does great work. This being the first iteration of Spidey to operate with a team, it’s important that the team be made of fully fleshed out characters. Both MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) bring the same energy to this entry as they have the previous ones. Their friendship feels real, as does the romance shared by Peter and MJ. For this reason and for about 100 others I can’t talk about, No Way Home is the most emotionally satisfying Spidey movie since Raimi’s Spider-Man 2.
That said, Jamie Foxx is uniquely terrible in this, his second turn as Electro (in the trailer!). His original take on the character in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was perhaps the most successful part of that mehhhh movie (alongside some great Spidey action), but there are alterations made to Electro in an effort to “cool” him up and make him more expressly villainous. It’s a smart characterization on paper, but the execution is just terrible. Fox is tasked with delivering a parade of jokey lines, none of which land. Weird, given Foxx’s career as a comedian. Unfortunately, he’s so powerfully unfunny here that I felt embarrassed for him a few times. Credit where it’s due: when he’s tasked with being scary, he’s terrifying.
There’s so much more I want to say, but I can’t. That’s okay, however, since you already know whether or not you’re going to see this movie. If you’re into this sort of thing, you’re going to love it. If not, it will make your head hurt.
Me? I’m a fan. This is easily the best and most ambitious of the new Spidey flicks, taking big ideas and marrying them to the standard thematics that come with everyone’s favorite web-slinger, furthermore taking the power/responsibility theme to new, refreshing levels.
But mostly I’m just excited for the next one. It’s gonna be nuts!