**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME.**
With quite possibly the largest marketing campaign of any existing Spider-Man film, No Way Home has been inescapable for quite some time leading up to its release. The film’s trailers caused waves of speculation across the internet, but with the film finally released, the theories can finally cease.
As a life-long Spider-Man fan, the prospect of No Way Home was massively exciting. Seeing the return of five previous Spider-Man villains – some of which had been dealt a major injustice by their respective films – was a colossal draw for me personally, and Spider-Man: Far From Home‘s credits scene set up an exciting story in which the world knows Peter Parker’s secret. No Way Home wasted no time in jumping in, as between Far From Home and the film’s trailers, its story had already been thoroughly contextualized. This starts No Way Home off strong, as it was lent narrative momentum by previous films and its massive marketing campaign, and that translates well to the film’s pacing. A few opening scenes set up a multiverse-warping narrative that threatens to shake the MCU to its very foundations.
With such large-scale implications, it would be all too easy for No Way Home to become convoluted and a little confusing, but thorough, logical writing streamlines any potential messiness into nonexistence. No Way Home does a remarkable job of balancing its five major villains – it’s only really Lizard that feels a little neglected – allowing its actors to showcase their abilities. Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina reprise their roles brilliantly, and Jamie Foxx is finally able to remedy the issues with his version of Electro from The Amazing Spider-Man 2. He’s a far more comedic sort of villain, offering a little dry wit and lending a little realism to proceedings with a far more grounded (pun very much intended) point of view than other Spider-Man characters.
*SERIOUSLY, THERE’S SPOILERS HERE. IF YOU DON’T WANT IT RUINED, SKIP AHEAD.*
Now, after the rampant speculation, you’d expect the film’s reveal of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s return to their respective roles to be far less impactful, but there’s something truly magical in their appearance. Whether it’s down to the sudden realization that Ned can cast magic, or the abrupt manner of their arrival, it was a moment every bit as triumphant as Spider-Man fans could have hoped for.
Each actor was able to bring along some of the magic of their individual Spider-Man, and, be it Maguire’s quiet charm or Garfield’s sense of humor, it worked excellently alongside Holland’s blend of the two. Not only were the three Spider-Men excellent as a trio, but they each highlighted what’s so great about the MCU’s Spider-Man, reaffirming the quality of Holland’s iteration.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the wake of the film’s big twist – the death of Aunt May. It was foreshadowed a little, but Holland’s portrayal of Peter’s emotional reaction was powerful and deeply touching. It’s abundantly clear that Holland is one of the most capable young actors working today, and No Way Home puts his talents to good use. However, emerging from this emotional chrysalis forces Holland’s Parker to grow up, facing the same trials that previous versions of the character have faced (albeit in a different way). This subverts some of the criticisms leveled at Holland’s previous MCU appearances, forcing his Spider-Man into adulthood in a way that the previous movies couldn’t.
Between this, and the film’s final gut-punch of having the whole world forget Peter Parker, Holland is finally set up to play a more mature Spider-Man, isolated by his responsibilities and muddling through his everyday life.
Using alternate Spider-Men to act as stand-in mentors for Holland’s character in his time of emotional crisis was a thing of beauty. It brought the narrative arc of the trilogy to a satisfying end, and it righted some of the wrongs of previous films (and simply made fun of the rest). However, this fan service does go against the film in a few places, where the narrative felt like it was taking a back seat to the simple delivery of epic or comedic moments. While this does add to the film’s overall entertainment factor, it weakens what had been, for the first two acts, at least, a very sound narrative.
With a core cast of talented actors and more than a little creative writing, Spider-Man: No Way Home is a triumph of superhero cinema. By respectfully paying its dues to the movies that paved the way for such a large scale narrative, it manages to surpass them all in practically every way, and it also highlights Tom Holland’s outstanding ability to bring such an iconic character to life in a sympathetic way.
Summary: At times, No Way Home suffers from an embarrassment of riches – it’s stuffed with characters, themes, and outstanding visuals, and this detracts from the story’s emotional weight in some instances. However, it’s as much a love letter to the character of Spider-Man and his cinematic history as it is a continuation (and expansion) of the MCU, and mostly, it’s a testament to storytelling power of cinema. No Way Home is entertaining in practically every way, and will undoubtedly thrill Spider-Man fans everywhere with its scope and ambition.