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Review: Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Directed by: Jon Watts

Premise: Follows Spider-Man: Far From Home. Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s (Tom Holland) identity is exposed, putting the people closest to him at risk. Peter asks Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to fix the problem with a spell but it goes sideways and causes a rift in space and time.

What Works: In the last twenty years we’ve had four theatrical versions of Spider-Man (three live action and one animated) and No Way Home brings together characters from all of the live action films. For Spider-Man fans, No Way Home offers an enjoyable lap through the franchise’s past. Many of the film’s best scenes are not the action sequences but rather the comical and dramatic moments in which these people from different cinematic universes interact with one another. The filmmakers smartly bring forward Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), the villain of 2004’s Spider-Man 2. He’s a fan favorite and one of the better villains in the comic book movie genre and Octavius is one of the few characters who is used in an interesting way here. Other callbacks to the previous Spider-Man films add some moments of meaning for fans who have paid attention to these movies over the years. The relationship between Peter Parker and MJ (Zendaya) continues to be a high point; their romance feels authentic but so does their anxiety about the future as they approach high school graduation. No Way Home puts Peter Parker through an emotional ringer and the story hinges upon Peter making choices that have considerable personal cost. This makes the character heroic and demonstrates some risk taking on the filmmaker’s part.

What Doesn’t: Much like the animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, this new live action Spider-Man film uses the concept of the multi-verse and it brings together characters from different incarnations of this franchise. Of the two movies, Into the Spider-Verse did it better. The 2018 movie linked the different universes more creatively and more meaningfully. That reveals the key flaw of No Way Home. The new film brings together characters from the earlier movies but it doesn’t really do anything with them. There are funny in-jokes but there is no greater purpose to this collection of characters, especially the villains. These people could be anybody and No Way Home exemplifies the lazy intertextuality that is common in today’s franchise moviemaking which substitutes recognition for substance. No Way Home also suffers from logical problems in its ending. Without giving anything away, the film concludes on a significant twist that doesn’t withstand even basic scrutiny.

Bottom Line: Spider-Man: No Way Home is a fan service movie and as that it is ultimately superficial. But the movie does provide the action and humor that have made the Marvel Cinematic Universe so successful and Peter Parker’s story does have an emotional impact.

Episode: #884 (December 26, 2021)