No Way Home: Flawed Yet Phenomenal
This review for Spider-Man: No Way Home contains major SPOILERS. If you haven't seen this movie yet, proceed with caution!
I haven't done a movie review on this blog before, but now seems like a good time. Not just because of how massive this film is, but because it displays instances of writing and characterization that are sometimes deeply flawed, and other times nearly perfect. It's unique in how it displays both the best and the worst of storytelling within a span of two-and-a-half hours. Let's start with the first half of the movie, where most of my issues are.
This story hits the ground running and has a very good setup. Deceased villain Mysterio (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) edits a video that reveals Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to be high-schooler Peter Parker and frames him as a killer. The video is released to the world by the Alex Jones-type journalist J. Jonah Jameson (JK Simmons), and Peter's life is turned upside down.
The early scenes do a great job at showing how immediately chaotic his life becomes. His best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) are all hounded by media outlets and federal agents. Protestors flock to his high school, and MIT rejected his application due to the controversy surrounding him. The breaking point is when he realizes that MJ and Ned also can't get into MIT simply because they know him.
Peter's desperation is well-established at this point, but some of my problems with this movie start when he visits the powerful sorceror Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Peter wants Dr. Strange to whip up a magic spell that can make everyone forget he's Spider-Man, but Strange warns him about the possible effects of messing with reality in such a major way.
Strange should be the adult in the room, but he quickly (and way too easily) gives in to Peter's pleas, despite how dangerous and reckless his spell could be. As he performs it, Peter keeps interrupting him, mentioning that he at least wants his close friends and his aunt to still know who he is. The fact that they didn't discuss this before Strange started performing the spell is one of the many frustrating instances where logical decision-making is sacrificed for plot convenience.
Another instance is when, after Strange messes up the spell (thanks to Peter's constant interruptions), he asks why Peter didn't call MIT before coming to him. That's a great point. Why didn't he? And the answer is once again: for the sake of plot convenience. The writers clearly needed this botched spell to happen for the rest of the plot to occur, but Strange and Peter had to act out of character in order for it to happen. Peter is young and impulsive, yes, but he's also intelligent, and these lapses in logic don't ring true for him.
As for Strange, he was the Sorcerer Supreme tasked to protect Earth, yet he was willing to risk all of reality so that a few kids could get into college. Not only that, but he does a complete 180 by scolding Peter for having him do that spell. He didn't take any responsibility himself.
The botched spell is the incident that really gets the plot rolling. Peter soon realizes that visitors from other universes are coming after him. Namely, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), who was the main antagonist from the 2004 movie Spider-Man 2. The movie really picks up steam here, as Peter and Octavius engage in a pretty great fight scene on a highway overpass. Peter bests Octavius, but is soon attacked by Norman Osborne/Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), who is probably the closest thing to the Joker that Marvel has.
Strange warps Peter and Octavius back to his place, and tasks Peter with containing these multiversal supervillains before they cause any more trouble. Peter recruits MJ and Ned to help him find Flint Marko/Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx), whom are quickly detained and sent to Strange's magical cages.
Peter learns that many of these people end up dying in their own realities, and he wants to help "fix" them before Strange sends them back with his magic box (I forget exactly what it's called, gimme a break). To Strange's credit, this time he puts his foot down with Peter and tries to tell him that they can't risk messing with reality any more. But Peter makes another reckless decision by stealing the box and engaging in a visually stunning battle against Strange.
Peter's desire to help the villains rather than sending them to their death is admirable and in-line with his character, but again, common sense is replaced with plot convenience. Rather than keeping these clearly dangerous characters contained while searching for a solution, he invites them all to his secret apartment. With his Aunt (and mother-figure) May. And unwatched, dangerous Stark technology. And no additional security measures.
While Peter's intentions are noble, he is being way too naive for someone who's already had characters like Mysterio stab him in the back. I can appreciate a flawed character who makes bad choices, as it's relatable and realistic, but Peter has been nothing but reckless and downright idiotic up to this point in the movie.
Alright, alright, I got all my complaints out of the way. Now comes the positive stuff, because MAN does this movie get good from here.
While Peter successfully cures Octavius's rage (by replacing the microchip attached to his metal arms), other characters like Dillon and Osborne like the idea of keeping their powers. The most chilling scene in the movie occurs when Peter's spider sense hits him hard. The troubled and docile Norman Osborne switches personas on a dime, transforming him into the Green Goblin. The movie doesn't need an elaborate costume or special-effects for him, they just need Willem Dafoe's terrifying voice and facial expressions. He brings his A-game here.
Goblin engages in a brutal fistfight with Peter while the other villains flee, and May tries to escape the apartment. The fight between Peter and Goblin may the most visceral one that we've seen in the MCU. The impact of every punch is really felt here. The two break through several floors of the building, and the moment where Goblin cackles after being punched several times sent a chill down my spine.
The fight moves to the lobby and, just as Goblin gets the upper hand, May intervenes to save Peter. Goblin rams his flying glider into her, drops a pumpkin bomb in the lobby, and flies away.
This was one of the most shocking scenes I've experienced in a theatre. May was like a mother to Peter. She was a philanthropist with an altruistic outlook on life. Even as she died, she assured Peter that he still did the right thing by trying to help the villains gain redemption and new life. Then she dropped that iconic line: "With great power, there must also come great responsibility."
That was the realization that we haven't seen Uncle Ben in the Tom Holland trilogy because there is no Uncle Ben in this universe. May was filling that role the entire time. This truly subverted my expectations in the best possible way, and it was the moment that elevated this movie into greatness. Peter sees what his selfishness, recklessness, and mistakes caused, and he realized that no magic spell could fix it. He had to own his mistakes while the woman who raised him died in his arms. For a franchise that had been so happy-go-lucky, this is easily the darkest moment I've seen in these films.
The movie does a great job at giving the audience time to let this moment sink in. While other deaths in Marvel movies are grazed over or reversed, May's death feels impactful and establishes heavy emotional stakes for our protagonist.
Before I forget, there were two other people showing up in this movie, right?
Now THIS is what proper fan service looks like. As Ned and MJ try to find the distraught Peter, they discover that Strange's sling ring can open portals to Peter Parkers from other universes. They inadvertently bring in Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield's versions of Spider-Man, filling theaters around the world with cheers and nostalgia.
Maguire and Garfield's characters agree to help Holland's Peter through the most difficult time in his life. Not only does he carry the guilt of what happened to May, but he's essentially declared public enemy #1 by the media. Peter gets a much-needed pep talk from his older and wiser counterparts, who have had experienced their share of mistakes, loss, regrets, and rage. The way this is done is perfectly written, because Maguire and Garfield's characters are the only ones who could truly understand what Peter is going through.
Peter wants to live up to May's words and cure the escaped villains, despite his vengeful rage toward Goblin. The final showdown at the Statue of Liberty has everything a Spider-Man fan could possibly ask for. The banter and chemistry between the three Spider-Men is incredible, and the scene of them all swinging together put a huge grin on my face. They are able to cure every villain one-by-one, until only Goblin is left.
Peter and Goblin have another mano y mano brawl, and Peter, fueled by rage, comes out on top. Just as he's about to deliver a death blow to Goblin, Maguire stops him. What I love is that Maguire doesn't need to say a word. The look in his eyes expresses his sentiments perfectly. Spider-Man doesn't seek vengeance. He doesn't seek to kill out of blind rage. Spider-Man's job is to help people, and that's a lesson that Maguire's Peter teaches Holland's Peter with the simple act of saving Goblin's life.
When Strange returns, we realize that more villains are trying to make their way in from the multiverse. The only way to stop them is if the world completely forgets Peter Parker. Holland's Peter knows the implications of this spell, and is willing to sacrifice himself for the safety of his loved ones. He shares an emotional goodbye with Strange, MJ, Ned, Maguire, and Garfield, and then goes off into the world alone.
Although Peter initially planned on winning back MJ after her memory was wiped, he notices the bandage from her head wound (from the Statue of Liberty battle), and realizes that she will be safer without him. This is a great, subtle moment where the writing for this movie truly shines. Peter started the movie as an impulsive, immature kid and became a scarred but matured man by the end of it. May's death, along with his experience with Maguire and Garfield, helped him realize that he is meant to put the needs of others before his own. He is finally fulfilling his responsibility at the expense of his own personal life, and it's the first time in the Holland trilogy that he truly feels like a fully developed Spider-Man. While this seems like a somber ending for our main character, it's also incredibly inspirational to see him push forward and take up this mantle despite being truly alone in the world.
For as many gripes as I had about the first half of this movie, the second half definitely made up for it. It gave us a story that was emotional, poignant, and heart-pounding. I genuinely can't wait to see where they take Holland's character from here, and this movie gets an 8/10 from me.
What did you think about Spider-Man: No Way Home? Let me know in the comments!