Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei
Run Time: 148 mins
Spider-Man: No Way Home is not just the latest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but a culmination of the live-action films to date to feature the webbed slinger. Both director Jon Watts and Spider-Man star Tom Holland return for this third entry in the MCU-positioned trilogy. Spider-Man: Homecoming was a surprisingly excellent first solo outing, with a John Hughes feel and a menacing villain in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. Sadly, despite critical acclaim, I found the follow-up Spider-Man: Far From Home to be an abomination. It strikes an incredibly smug tone and completely wastes Jake Gyllenhaal as a villain. Naturally, there was a sense of trepidation heading into Spider-Man: No Way Home.
The film opens immediately at Far From Home’s close when Spider-Man’s identity of Peter Parker is revealed to the world. No Way Home explores the prospect of the Multiverse, first introduced in Avengers: Endgame, when Peter Parker asks Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to make the population forget the impromptu identity reveal. The spell goes awry as Peter realises he doesn’t want his close friends, MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) to forget his identity. Thus, Spider-Man villains from the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb era inadvertently enter the fray, such as Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) and Electro (Jamie Foxx).
Spider-Man: No Way Home is a mostly thrilling ride with some excellent surprises in its narrative. It perfectly melds with the Raimi and Webb era and irreverently integrates the included villains with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film clearly takes inspiration from Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, which was rapturously received and although I admired the film’s effort to metatextualise its story, it runs into a raft of problems.
No Way Home features some excellent interactions between characters, particularly in the second act, and the script penned by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers is sharp. It is not an easy task to meld the past and present in a film, with other tentpole films such as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker cheaply capitalising on nostalgia.
No Way Home naturally barrels towards a large CGI set piece in the final act, which is well-handled due to some plot revelations that allow the film to explore what it means to be Spider-Man. The narrative choices are generally well-judged and attempts to mirror or contrast other entries in the MCU or prior Spider-Man films.
The performances are generally excellent – Holland is genuine as the webbed slinger and the film reminds us that he is still a developing teenager as he makes some poor choices. This is the best Zendaya has been in the trilogy as MJ and both actors share a palpable chemistry. Molina and Foxx’s villains receive interesting developments and aren’t just featured as one-dimensional villains. Foxx received mixed reviews for his performance as Electro in the divisive The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which I preferred more than most, and this is less risky. I would like to comment on other performances but to do so would be to spoil some surprises.
As for the film’s low points, Jon Watts’ direction is again, anonymous and he doesn’t allow any of his personality to shine through. Watts knows how to create an atmosphere with both Clown and Cop Car interesting and gritty pieces of work but with all three of his Spider-Man films, his authorship has been sucked into the Marvel vacuum. No Way Home could have been directed by anyone.
Michael Giacchino’s score isn’t particularly memorable and while he briefly revisits his own themes from previous entries and Doctor Strange, as well as those by Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer from previous Spider-Man films, there’s not a lot of substance to the score.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is a satisfying round-up to the trilogy and amalgamation of the entire MCU and Spider-Man oeuvre thus far. It’s a relief that it takes some narrative risks and takes its time to focus on character interactions compared to the cynical tone of Far From Home. I’m not sure how well No Way Home will hold up to repeat viewings, as a lot of the film rests on its narrative surprises, but on an initial viewing, it’s a thoroughly entertaining ride with unexpected depth in places.