‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Delivers The Best Spidey In The MCU (Movie Review)

Spider-Man: No Way Home opens this weekend with the added pressure of possible leaks and spoilers that feel gargantuan even for the MCU. Tom Holland and the rest of the cast have remained tight-lipped over speculation regarding the plot and cast (though apparently, not producer Kevin Feige). Movies, of course, are not just about checking off cameos or plot points. The good ones tend to have characters we root for and stories that keep us invested long after Emperor Palpatine just somehow showed up. What gets any true believer’s Spidey sense tingling are the laughs, thrills, and maybe even a few tears starring our favorite wall-crawler from Queens. So let’s swing into this as only a spider can. As for spoilers, I’ll only discuss what’s been shown in trailers and posters. Cool?

Following right where Far From Home concluded, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has been doxxed by none other than J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons). A video from recently deceased Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) revealing Spider-Man’s secret identity is broadcast live on screens everywhere, including the ginormous ones in Times Square. Soon enough, Peter and MJ (Zendaya) are swinging through Manhattan, avoiding not a supervillain but public opinion. Has J.J. finally succeeded in painting Spidey as a menace to the Big Apple?

Right from the start, returning director Jon Watts and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers wisely focus on the human qualities that have made Holland’s run as the web-head work effortlessly. The first act is more about Peter, MJ, and Ned (Jacob Batalon) trying to get into MIT (or any university, really) than setting up a new big bad. Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) wants Peter safe, Happy (Jon Favreau) is mending a broken heart over his fling with May, and Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) suddenly wants to be Peter’s BFF. All of this is aided by humor and light touches. Yes, the spectacle is coming, but just hanging out with these characters has always been one of the strongest aspects of this series.

Anyone who’s seen the trailer or even the recent posters knows Doc Oc (Alfred Molina) from the best Spidey movie ever (Spider-Man 2) returns, along with a few others after Peter persuades Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to create a spell which will make people forget he is Spider-Man.

I’ll leave the specifics to the film, but there’s a great deal of hemming and hawing regarding the morality (and logistics) of such an endeavor with the right amount of MCU quipping. Peter has always been one of the few MCU heroes allowed to make mistakes because he’s still only a teenager. Holland’s enthusiasm as Peter Parker to do the right thing while sometimes cutting corners rings true to his zoomer ideals.

Over the course of 148 minutes are many big set pieces with explosions and mayhem (not the best or worst, more in the “serviceable” range), yet the best aspects of any Spidey tale is Peter’s journey into what exactly his great responsibility entails. No Way Home follows this formula with the added benefit of tailoring certain features over others.

Peter’s reliance on MJ and Ned is one tweak that proves to be a great strength. Yes, they’ve helped before, but the trio really is a team now. As Peter faces off against a villain from the Amazing era, Electro (Jamie Foxx) – in a dark forest with dangerous power tower lines – MJ and Ned guide him like their controlling Spider-Man on a PlayStation5. Seeing a smartphone haphazardly duct-taped to the Spidey suit so the ordinary teens can “play” as Spidey is both hilarious and functional.

My favorite MCU flicks tend to be the large double-sized installments that favor big ensembles over a single hero or baddie. The downside can be that if one isn’t already familiar with the characters, you could easily get lost as the legendary villains are given only a line or two of backstory. It’s not much for anyone that hasn’t seen all seven of the previous live-action Spider-Man films. Better to focus on how certain villains are from the Sam Raimi films while others like Dr. Connors’ Lizard are from Marc Webb’s entries.

Between these newly stranded monstrosities for Peter to try and cure, there’s also, at least, for a good portion of the film, Doctor Strange. I wondered if Strange would be a new father figure stand-in for Tony Stark. I think the script kind of splits the difference by highlighting Parker’s clear admiration for a real-life wizard versus his own determination (Tony could barely get Peter to listen to him until it was too late, so good luck with that, Strange). The perk for audiences is a clever mini-Dr. Strange boss level, full of twisty cityscapes and plenty of portal rings. It’s a trip.

As with most MCU outings, the cast is really all in. The strong banter between Cumberbatch and Holland is definitely one of the film’s highlights. Molina, Foxx, and returning OG Green Goblin Willem Defoe from the 2002 film also seem pretty stoked reprising their respective roles. Seeing a more sympathetic Octavius and Osborn, as well as some nefarious turns, is a real treat.

The dilemma for Peter is whether or not these previously fallen villains can be saved or merely put back in their universe to (most likely) perish. It’s the kind of situation only a hero like Peter could do as the older Avengers might be quicker to just open a portal and be done with it. The truth is a lot of these villains became evil by accident. The same can be said of Peter’s radioactive happenstance.

There’s going to be so much fun to be discussed once everyone’s seen the film. I’ll just reiterate that the biggest strength in this third outing starring Tom Holland are the interpersonal relationships. Some are new, like Peter meeting other Spider-Man villains. Others are old, like the close friends and family in his life.

Spider-Man: No Way Home delivers all the joys I’ve come to anticipate from this era of one of my favorite Marvel characters. It ranks relatively high amid a collection of superhero films that are all more or less enjoyable. I’m just happy to be caught up in the webs of this spider guy.


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