By Josh Reilly
It’s here, at long last. Audiences can finally watch Spider-Man: No Way Home, arguably the most anticipated film since Avengers: Endgame, and one that has excited moviegoers to levels rarely seen in the last decade or longer. For those who have seen the film, this review is for you. If you haven’t seen it yet, head on over to our spoiler free review!
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME
There are two (🕷 🕷) elements of No Way Home that fans will talk about for years to come, and we’ll go deep into those surprises (if they can be called that, given the rampant leaks that plagued the film, but actually ended up creating more hype and excitement for the last installment in the Homecoming trilogy) later on. But for now, let’s start at the beginning.
Peter Parker’s life has been changed forever (or so he thinks). Everyone knows who he is, but not in an Iron Man way, where Tony Stark became even more of a celebrity and an icon. He’s being hunted, criminalized, and brought in for questioning. Things could have gotten much worse if it wasn’t for a certain New York City based lawyer, who happens to have multiple talents…
Enter Charlie Cox’s Daredevil. Long since rumored, and even leaked through an image from the scene around a month ago, finally making his debut in the MCU. It’s unclear if this is the same exact version as the one in the Netflix show, or just the same actor, but fans won’t mind as long as Cox is back. The English actor played Matt Murdock so brilliantly in the three season run that it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the character now. Kevin Feige, always so good at knowing what the audience wants, understood the love for Cox’s portrayal and integrated him into this movie and the larger MCU. Although it’s only a brief scene, it shows off some of Murdock’s quick reflexes, and teases audiences that more is to come with this character, who is rumored to appear in Disney+ series like Echo and She-Hulk going forward, before getting his own series once again. A great scene, but it says something about the events of No Way Home that early reactions seem to almost forget Cox’s cameo, given what happens in the latter half of the movie.
Before that, though, Peter and his friends’ rejection from MIT is the final straw for Tom Holland’s Spidey. He goes to Doctor Strange to seek help, and the Sorcerer Supreme, who is no longer the actual Sorcerer Supreme (hello, Wong), casts a spell to make everyone forget who Spider-Man really is. Peter’s attempts to make some remember, like MJ and Aunt May and Ned, causes Strange to botch the spell, leading to the arrival of five very dangerous villains. The trailers already show this moment, but an important detail is saved for the actual movie: the villains who arrive on earth all know the identity of Spider-Man, which makes sense given that Strange’s spell was his attempt to make everyone forget Peter Parker’s alter ego. This saves the reason why the villains arrive from being extremely convenient, as the trailers make it out to be, to somewhat plausible.
On a broader note, this is where the film really branches away from most of the Peter Parker identity plot and movies into full blown multiverse madness. The writers clearly tried to link these two plots via the spell (there were more plausible explanations for the multiverse arrivals they could have used, after all), and this makes the film flow a lot more as one continuous stream, rather than a first act that addresses the Far From Home post credits before moving on to a completely different plot entirely. Still, it seems pretty obvious when watching the film that they weren’t exactly planning on a multiverse plot when making Far From Home, and this is backed up by Tom Holland’s recent comments detailing how the script for the new movie changed considerably as they weren’t sure who of the returning cast would return. This makes the spell, which is the link between the identity plot and the multiverse, a little unnatural to say the least. However, the film more than makes up for it as it nails the multiverse angle, particularly with the arrival of two familiar faces (again, more on that later).
After a bridge battle with Doc Ock, who gets transported to Strange’s prison, the mission changes to catching all the multiverse men and bringing them back to the Sanctorum so they can be sent to their own individual worlds once more. The bridge battle itself was impressive, and showed a cool fight between Ock and a new version of Spider-Man. Most of it was shown in the trailers, which was a bit of a shame as it was the only really action that Alfred Molina got to do in this film, but it was still a great moment. Many criticized the marketing campaign for the bridge scenes, not only for the amount they showed from the sequence but also the look of it. Some called it bland and stale, especially color wise, but it does look better in the actual film. The MCU often gets criticized for not prioritizing visuals or cinematography as much as other movies, which is certainly valid in many cases, but No Way Home actually stands up as the best looking of the three MCU Spider-Man films and one of the visually best of the franchise so far. That might not be saying much, but is still an improvement and an achievement.
Peter fights Electro, with Sandman’s help, before they’re both sent to the prison. Then, finally, Norman Osborn comes into it fully. His dark side takes over once more, and Willem Dafoe is able to remind audiences why his portrayal of the iconic villain was so beloved in the first place, especially with two stunningly acted scenes. The first, where Dafoe talks to himself in an alleyway before being turned fully evil once more, is a throwback to Norman on the floor of his apartment in Spider-Man 1, talking to the mask and shaking with fear. The second seed Norman talking to Aunt May, where Peter becomes convinced that this is a good person who’s been transported here. This scene serves as a nice foreshadow to the Goblin killing May, a moment that happens after Peter tries to cure all the villains (more on her death later).
The actual plot of curing the villains is a tad peculiar, but again, the film gets away with it due to their success with returning characters and epic moments. Curing the likes of the Lizard, Doc Ock, and Green Goblin seems fine, especially as all three have some sort of illness or tech (in Ock’s case) that is making them evil. The other two, however, never had that moment that turned them evil. Electro was mad at the world after he fell into a pool of eels, but it’s hard to say that the eels themselves did anything to turn him bad. Same thing for Sandman, as he was already a criminal before he got his powers, and was guilty of being mistrusting of others rather than anything else in this movie, as he only wanted to return home to his daughter. Still, it’s not implausible that Electro and Sandman could use some curing, so they get away with it, just about.
This, of course, goes wrong, and Peter notices this as he senses Norman’s evil. Chaos ensues as Norman lets Electro, Sandman, and Lizard all loose. This is a fight that shows Peter all alone against villains far more powerful than he has ever faced in his own solo movies in the MCU, marking a stark contrast from the likes of Vulture and Mysterio, who didn’t actually possess any powers or abilities. This gets the ball rolling on truly challenging Tom Holland’s Peter in a way he never really has been before, something that some fans were critical of before this film.
This is expanded upon even further when the Green Goblin kills Aunt May. Finally, Spider-Man suffers in a way that he never has before in the MCU. Yes, he lost Tony Stark, but that pales in comparison to Aunt May. Not only did he lose her, but she was killed by a man that Peter trusted and had the power at one time to stop and send back to his own world. This was a moment that was needed for the character in the MCU, as it forces him to evolve into the Spider-Man we all know and love. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield both suffered considerably, and this is a theme of the character in the comics and overall, and is a big part of what makes Spidey so relatable. So while it was fine that they did something different in the first few films (but arguably overdid it in Far From Home), No Way Home certainly amends any issues people have in that regard and serves as a true transition for the character, starting with the death of May. Beyond that, she was never really too important of a character in this version, and certainly is not as prominent as in the Raimi or Webb films. Her death therefore gives her a true point of uniqueness beyond just being younger than the other live action May’s, and a defining moment and overall purpose that she didn’t really have before. This is furthered by her “with great power comes great responsibility” line right before she dies, and again improves the character and gives her a true arc.
After her death, Peter goes missing for a brief time, hiding from the world after a devastating loss. As Ned and MJ attempt to summon him using Strange’s sling ring, they bring in the two characters that people have talked about continuously for well over a year: Peter Parker and…Peter Parker.
Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. It was fairly obvious they were going to appear, but that doesn’t make it any less amazing to see them both on screen once more. For both, they slipped right back into the roles as if it had only been a few weeks since their last outing, while still accurately portraying that time has passed and that, while they are the same character, they have changed in the years since. Garfield comes out first, fully in costume, the same one from The Amazing Spider-Man 2. His big, glowing white eyes are a dead giveaway of who is on the other end of the portal that Ned opens, and is a great way to introduce him as it truly builds tension. Tobey enters in normal clothes, and is as wholesome as his last shot in Spider-Man 3.
The decision to have Garfield in the suit and Maguire in regular clothes is an interesting one that provides fans with an insight into their individual mindsets. For Garfield, the death of Gwen Stacy led him to drift further into Spider-Man and slowly abandon the Peter Parker side of his life, as he talks about briefly while working on a cure for the villains. Maguire, meanwhile, seems to be semi-retired, or at the very least not quite as active, as he was in Spider-Man 3, hence his plain clothes look. It’s a relatively subtle detail, but one that will still be appreciated by fans.
The interactions between the three Spider-Men that ensue once the multiverse versions come into the film are arguably the highlight of the entire film. It’s a Spidey mega fan’s dream: talks about the different villains they’ve faced, the Avengers (or lack thereof in the Raimi and Webb universes), and even Maguire’s organic web shooters that come right out of his veins. It’s pure fan service and in the absolute best way possible. If they’re going to be in the movie, why not go all out with it? There’s even a subtle reference to the famed Spider-Man pointing meme that originated from the 1960’s cartoon. The three have great chemistry, and based on that alone it would seem plausible and almost natural if they made a whole Spider-Verse film with them three as the co-leads for the entire movie (please, Marvel/Sony).
Maguire and Garfield still absolutely serve a purpose beyond just fan service, though. Not only do they both get their own individual arcs that add to their overall character greatly, but they also help Tom Holland’s Peter grow as a person and as a hero. Maguire turns mentor as he utters the famous words that Uncle Ben said to him, and Aunt May said to the MCU Peter, a role that suits him so well that one can only wish and hope that he continues to return in some capacity to advise this new version of Peter. Garfield, meanwhile, saves MJ from falling in a scene eerily similar to the sequence where he lost Gwen, arguably the defining moment in the two films he starred in prior. This is a great full circle moment that adds to his character on such a deep level and gives some satisfactory of a conclusion for fans who wanted to see Garfield have some sort of redemption for not being able to save her back in the 2014 film.
Maguire’s mentor role in particular is complete when he stops Tom’s Peter from killing Green Goblin in a hand to hand combat sequence that resembles the amazing fight between Spider-Man and Osborn in Sam Raimi’s first film. This comes even more full circle as Maguire is stabbed with the Goblin’s glider (but not killed), a reverse of sorts of Osborn’s death in that movie. The initial fright aside (don’t scare us like that, Marvel!!) this was a great moment that is a culmination of Holland’s suffering in this movie. It was really needed for his character, and now he can turn into more of the Spider-Man we know and love.
Maguire and Garfield say their goodbyes, for now anyway, as it seems very likely that they’ll reappear at some point. Holland saves the world from imminent invasion of villains from other universes, but only by making everyone forget who he is, even MJ and Ned. To them, he no longer exists. He promises the two closest to him that he’ll come find them and make them remember, and goes on his way.
Once again, this presents another challenge for Peter. He goes to greet MJ and reintroduce himself, but decides against it in the moment. He sees that she and Ned are at peace, living simple lives that are very different from the chaos that ensued when Peter’s identity was revealed at the beginning of the film. And once again, this presents Peter with another hardship: needing to walk away from MJ and Ned in order to protect them, just as Maguire’s Spidey did in his first film. Heartbreaking, but exactly what this character needs to evolve.
The film ends with another moment of evolution, Peter moving into his own apartment and tracking police scanners. Completely disconnected from the world, even the Avengers, with no other heroes to help him. No guy in the chair, no support from anyone, just himself. He crafts his own suit, which seems to be a sleeker version of the Stark suit minus the black straps and light lines on the legs and torso. The suit, which was conveniently kept out of focus, probably to avoid showing it too much in case they decide to make changes before the next installment, seems to be Holland’s best out of the many that he’s worn. It’s also uniquely his own, having made it himself with no help or Stark tech at his disposal, marking the start of a true independent Spider-Man.
In a way, this ending, and the movie more broadly, serves as the end of Peter’s origins story in the MCU. From being recruited by Tony Stark, guided by him, dealing with that loss and having to be out on his own, to finally growing into the independent, almost tragic, Spider-Man from the comics and previous live action iterations.