Spider Man: No Way Home ****
One Liner Review:
Packed full of nostalgia and Easter Eggs, this movie has so much going on, including getting nearly every villain from past Spider Man movies together, the result is a whole lot of fun.
Talk about a movie that fires on all cylinders, this is Marvel really pulling out all the stops, showing why nostalgia and legacy are so important. Here we have a movie that continues the story of three recent characters we have come to love (Peter Parker, his best friend, and his girlfriend,) but also manages to bring in tons of characters from past films as the villains. And we’re not talking about villains from the same trilogy. We’re talking about the history of Spider Man on film. The movie is packed full of references to characters and ideas from the past movies, but it also tells its own story complete with some fantastic twists and turns and excellent storytelling moments. This movie showcases lots of great performances by actors who know they are a part of something big here, and who are really giving it their all. The action is fun, the jokes land, and this is an overall very entertaining movie.
They did it. They actually did it. Inspired by the animated movie, “Spider Man: Into the Spiderverse,” the third of the Tom Holland MCU Spider Man movies is a massive success. It’s a movie that not only ends the “Home” trilogy, but also brings in characters and storylines from every single Spider Man movie that came before this one. We’re talking about the Tobey Maguire Spider Man movies of the early 2000s, and the Andrew Garfield Spider Man movies of the decade after that. Into the Spiderverse had this idea about bringing characters from different universes together. The MCU is one thing, but in the multiverse, a term that Into the Spiderverse really brought to the mainstream,) we get to see different incarnations of the same character. In that movie, it was all different “variants,” of Spider Man from different worlds. Well, Spider Man: No Way Home takes that to the next level bringing back the different villains from all of those movies, while also pushing the story of Tom Holland’s Spider Man and his group of friends forward.
There will be spoilers ahead. This is a warning…The MCU is.a pretty incredible place, and one thing amazing about it is that despite their massive success, the people behind these movies never become arrogant. Now, what that means is that they don’t think they can do everything better than what was done before. Sure, they thought they could do Spider Man better, and clearly they were right, but they also know when something that another studio made worked, and are not trying to make everything their own. That’s why we have Charlie Cox’s Daredevil now appearing in the MCU and Vincent D’onfrio’s Daredevil. These are actors who already played these characters for rival studios. The official start of this was with Marvel brining in JK Simmons, at the end of the last Spider Man movie, (Far From Home), to reprise his role as J Jonah Jameson, from the Tobey Maguire Spider Man movies. That was Marvel saying, “we don’t need to make our own version of this character. Simmons did it perfectly. The fans love him. Let’s see if we can get him back again.” And of course, Marvel was right. Not only are they being modest with a move like this, and admitting that other studios did some things pretty good, but they are also giving something back to the fans in terms of nostalgia, getting the fans excited. From J Jonah Jameson, it led to Daredevil and Kingpin from the Netflix shows. And from there, it led to the villains in this new Spider Man movie.
Long before the villains arrive, however, this thing is already great. The opening ten minutes or so are incredibly fast-paced and exciting. It begins with a black screen and hearing voices from the last movie. We hear Mysterio (Jake Gylenhaal) announcing to the world who Spider Man is. Then we hear Jameson commenting about it on his newscast video. And from there, we pick up exactly where the last movie left us off. We are literally watching the same scene that ended the last movie, with Spidey catching the broadcast on the Times Square Jumbo Tron billboard, and then now seeing the continuation of that scene. It’s always great when a movie can do this… pick up exactly where the last movie ended, literally in the same exact scene. The Bond movies did that once, moving from Casino Royale to Quantum of Solace, but most movies don’t have the ability to pull it off. Here, in No Way Home, it is handled flawlessly. And it gets us up in the air with Spider Man as he swoops down to pick up MJ (Zendaya,) and lift her off the ground. The flying through the New York City skyline never looked better. And even if the way they stand on skyscraper scaffolding is a little unbelievable, (she stands with perfect balance, and no fear, as opposed to a more realistic version which might have included sitting on the beam, holding on with not just hands but also legs wrapped around tight, trying not to look down,) it’s still pretty great.
Those first ten minutes are all about what happens when the world finds out that Parker is Spider Man. The momentum here launches at a rapid fire pace. Parker and MJ swing into the brick wall of his apartment building and then climb through the window. Here they are greeted by Aunt May (Marissa Tomei,) and Happy Hogan (John Favreau, playing the returning character who goes all the way back to the very first Iron Man, over ten years ago.) Talk about an all-star cast, and this is before we even get the villains. In the apartment, the camera tracks and moves all around in a continuous shot, showing off director John Watts skills in a way that is a little jarring, but certainly a good fit for what the characters are going through and experiencing in this moment. These characters watch helicopter news footage on TV and realize that the choppers are right outside their windows as they speak. This moment of watching something on the News and realizing the news is showing live video of the house they are in right now, is a call back to Iron Man 3, right before Tony’s house got bombed by choppers outside. Here, it leads to the police busting in and taking all of our characters away. We now watch the interrogation scenes as both May and MJ (Zendaya) tell Peter not to talk without a lawyer. MJ is onto the interrogation tricks, like being asked “why would you want a lawyer, unless you have something to hide?” While Ned just spills the beans on whatever he knows, like the bursting of a dam. It’s all a lot of fun. So is the scene that follows, with our first cameo and returning character from outside of the MCU. When a brick goes flying through the window, we get to see superpowers in action, just to catch it.
We continue to see how Spider Man’s identity being Peter Parker affects Parker’s life as a teenager, and that means issues with school. He and MJ hang out on the roof of a building overlooking the school, but when it’s time to go down there and join his fellow students, chaos ensues.Kids have their cell phones out and are recording videos of him, everywhere he goes. Flash Thompson, who has been comic relief in each of the other movies, continues the trend here by announcing a book he is writing called Flashpoint, about his friendship with Parker. And even the teachers from each of the other movie return for one great scene where they all share their feelings about Parker and confront him face to face. We’re talking about Martin Starr, JB Smoove, and Hannibal Burress. Again, fantastic casting all around, and especially great that these are all returning faces who have been in the other movies, reprising their roles. Things get worse for Parker and his friends when they apply to colleges and get rejected by every single one. Every letter they get back from admissions says the same general message. In light of recent events involving their high profiles, they can not be admitted to the schools. Parker can’t believe it. Not only is his life being messed up because of the identity reveal, but now the lives of his friends are as well. This is what prompts him to go and visit Doctor Strange in the Sanctum Santorum, (Strange’s magician mansion in New York City.) Parker asks Strange to create a spell that will turn back time so that people don’t know who Spider Man is once again. And while Strange can’t do that because he no longer has the time stone (a nice call back to the latest Avengers movies,) he does have the ability to create a spell where everyone who knows Parker’s true identity will forget it. And so he does. Or almost does, before his spell casting is interrupted by Parker again and again. Parker just keeps thinking of more people who he would like to still remember… MJ, Ned, May, Happy. It all leads to Strange not being able to control the spell and to the whole thing kind of breaking apart.
And that leads to the villains showing up. First there’s the attack by Doctor Octopus on the bridge. The action here is great. The use of nanotechnology on the Spider Man suit is great. The only problem here is the college admissions Dean who isn’t nearly scared enough consider the life-threatening situation she is put in. When she is freed from a car that was dangling off the side of a bridge and has the chance to run away, she goes back to talk to Parker about his application instead of running away screaming. It’s a little ridiculous. And of course, he did just save her life, but even still… get out of there and send him an email a little later from the safety of her home. The lack of characters acting terrified when they should be (the same problem that happened with MJ on the skyscraper earlier,) is a nitpick, and other than that, this thing is pretty cool. Dock Ock’s mechanical arms absorb Parker’s nanotech from his suit, and then Parker uses that to control Dock Ock’s arms. All the while, Dock Ock asks questions like “where is my machine?” that make you realize he has been plucked out of his last movie appearance (in Spider Man 2 with Tobey Maguire, the 2004 movies,) from the moment right before he died.
We now start to meet the villains one by one as they show up in Doctor Strange’s basement, or as Parker has to go get them and bring them to the basement. He is given a special gauntlet that allows him to zap the characters and use the zap to transport them into cages in the basement. And so Parker uses this to get Electro and the Sandman. Lizard is already there. And that just leaves the Green Goblin, as played by Willem Dafoe. He is fantastic here. In fact, everyone is really doing a great job in this one. Every villain who got side-lined or whose story and character went off the rails in their original movie is given a second chance to redeem themselves here. Jamie Fox as Electro, for example, is no longer blue, and is no longer a goofy clumsy baffoon. And the movie even references that, discussing how he no longer has a comb over or a giant part between his two front teeth. Not only do these villains gets redeemed here, but they also get to all join together. And not as a villain team up Sinister Six kind of thing, but as a bunch of guys trying to cure themselves and work out their problems.
Now this is a fantastic move. Getting all of these supervillains into the apartment that Parker is now staying at, (a place Happy set him up with, that used to belong to Tony Stark,) is pretty cool. So many superhero movies over the years tried putting multiple villains together for team-ups and ended up suffering because of it, from Batman Forever on. The Spider Man movies were some of the biggest offenders of this, from Sandman teaming up with Venom in Spider Man 3 (the worst of the Tobey Maguire films,) to Elector teaming up with Harry Osbourne’s Goblin, and then Rhino showing up while blatantly trying to build toward a Sinister Six movie, in the Amazing Spider Man 2, (Garfield’s worst outing.) So how does this movie, No Way Home, take way more characters than any of those movies ever dreamed of, put them all together, and still get it right? By making them not all bad. By actually have them work together, with Parker, to fix their problems. Now the cliches and evil villains trying to take over the world go right out the window. Not to mention, spending time with these characters during regular conversations instead of just menacing threats leads to tons of fun call-backs and references to the original movies.
Putting the villains together, and having them not just be a threat is a very smart move. And it leads to so many great references and ideas that we can easily look over the more minor flaws of the movie, like how Parker is so powerful here (he not only defeats Dock Ock with the nanotech, but then defeats Doctor Strange twice, first when he punched out of his body into an astro plane, floating in the air, and then just a few moments later, when he uses math and angles and geometry to determine where to place his webs in order to trap the Sorcerer. But if it starts seeming like Parker is a little too invincible here, the movie balances that out by having him get bruised, beat, and bloody in some of the fights that follow. There’s even a situation where he can’t react in time to save a loved one from meeting death. So there are some real consequences here. And if you think the references and dialogue between the villains is cool, just wait until more heroes show up in the second half of the film. Everything from past villains each of them have fought (in previous movies,) to different types of webs that are used and how strange it is that some web is actually organic as opposed to manufactured, gets brought up.
This movie isn’t afraid to call out how ridiculous ideas of the past films were, and has a good time making fun of them,. And yet it is also a love letter to those movies, redeeming both the heroes and villains for their mistakes, giving the actors a second chance to really shine. And they do. All of them. The ending of the movie has a real character arc, where Parker is clearly different than he was earlier on in the movie. And it also has some fantastic show downs against the villains. Yes, these bad guys do get to team up to fight our heroes after all. And that’s fine, because we need a climax and some action excitement at the end. But it’s also great that we got to see another side of each one of them earlier on. It’s fantastic that character who knew each other from other movies (or knew of each other,) show it here. Dock Ock knows about Norman, Sandman knows what happened to both Norman and Dock Ock. And Electro knows what the Lizard tried to do to New York,. Even characters who weren’t in the same universes get to share moments discussing commonalities. Like Sandman and Electro discussing who they were both transformed after a fall in an unfortunate location. The movie does it all, including references to the future (Hobgoblin with Ned, Venom and the symbiote suit,) and even has a clever ending for the three friends. This one is a real winner.