As much as most of us adore the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I wouldn’t blame people if they had even the most minuscule of doubts. The first three phases of the MCU were largely defined by Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Both epic cinematic experiences in their own right, which arguably have heightened what people have come to expect from Disney, Marvel and the world of cinema as a whole. Is the great Marvel machine capable of living up to the high standards that it has previously set?
Spider-Man: No Way Home allows you to throw those doubts away and revel in two hours and 28 minutes of bliss. It is quite literally an emotional rollercoaster ride. Marvel’s head honcho Kevin Feige and Sony executive Amy Pascal partner up to produce the film, whilst Jon Watts returns for his third stint as director of this Spider-Man franchise.
The film picks up from the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home. Tom Holland resumes his role as Peter Parker and joins high school love MJ (Zendaya), his best friend Ned who shines as he naturally delivers some of the film's funniest moments (Jacob Batalon), and Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). The true identity of Spider-Man has been revealed to the world, and Peter seeks the assistance of Doctor Strange, played by the ultra-talented Benedict Cumberbatch. An early issue with the film is the ease at which Peter was able to convince Stephen Strange to aid his quest in ensuring the world forgets who Spider-Man is. As arrogant as we know Strange can be, surely the Master of the mystic arts would need a better reason to be swayed to help his fellow Avenger? Apparently not.
Peter is now braced with managing the ramifications that come with such a reveal, whilst having to navigate the fact that his actions will have life-changing consequences for those he loves most. The chemistry between Holland and Zendaya is evident throughout and with so much on the line for Peter, Zendaya is forced to dig deeper into the character of MJ, and this is certainly her most multifaceted portrayal yet. Previously, we knew MJ to be a witty yet awkward school kid; however, MJ’s relationship with Peter means she now has to bear the burden that both Peter and Spider-Man carry & she does so with a believable grace.
With Sony in the process of creating their own Spider-verse, and Marvel delving into the world of the multiverse, both entities are now fully exploring the benefits of their deal to an extent that hasn’t been seen previously. Fan service is widespread in this film but is executed in a way that makes it rewarding and purposeful rather than just for the sake of it.
Jamie Foxx reprises his role as Electro and brings his own charismatic and comedic touch which was missing in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Alfred Molina also returns as scientist Otto Octavius from Toby Maguire’s franchise, and it was great to see a modern version of Doctor Oc on screen. His fight scene with Spider-Man was full of enticing action, where both went toe to toe combat wise, and it was thrilling to see Oc in full flow, utilising his tentacles against the Iron suit’s mechanical arms.
Yet, the star of the returning villains was undoubtedly Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin. It was a mesmerising performance from the 66-year-old, who quite literally picks up where he left when we last saw him in the first Spider-Man. In a clip from an interview that went viral on Twitter, Dafoe explains why he was adamant that he is allowed to be involved in the stunt scenes if he was to return as the Green Goblin:
“I wanna do the action because that’s fun for me. It’s really impossible to add any integrity or any fun to the character if you don’t participate in these things because all that action stuff informs your relationship to the characters and the story. Also, it makes you earn your right to play the character”.
Since Holland first appeared on-screen as New York’s adored web-slinger, conversation has been rife about which depiction of Peter Parker/Spider-Man has been the best and most accurate. The stories in the solo films of Holland’s predecessors required more from the respective actors. Granted, Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield were not required to fight in space, nor take on a humanoid alien capable of wiping out half of humanity with the click of a finger. Yet, as a 'friendly neighborhood' Spider-Man, the stakes in their personal lives were higher.
No Way Home necessitates that Holland carries the weight of the plot and such a highly coveted film on his shoulder, and he does so with absolute conviction. We see a Peter Parker that is forced to take on a greater responsibility, as well as accepting that you can’t have it all. To be Spider-Man, heart-wrenching sacrifices are simply a part of the job. The third act of the film does a great job of balancing the archetypical action-packed fight scenes we have come to expect from the MCU and Holland, with some real emotional moments of pain. Furthermore, some of the more casual conversations between characters afford us insight into the interpersonal relationships between characters and how they are feeling at that moment
No Way Home is a film that the MCU needed after the mixed reception to The Eternals. It is a film that Sony needed after the mixed reception Venom 2 received, and more importantly, it’s a film that Tom Holland’s Spider-Man needed. With such a congested, yet highly acclaimed cast, tons of fan service and a nostalgia-filled plot, a lot could have gone wrong with the film. Yet they managed to make it work. The film also does a good job of pointing out that no matter how intelligent or powerful these superheroes are, they are also supremely flawed and can make very stupid decisions. Just like us. In typical MCU fashion, the film has moments where aspects of the humour used ever so slightly compromise the seriousness of the situation at hand. However, the film is an outright hit. It sets up uncharted territory for the next bulk of the MCU films to come, and creates a new character arc for Tom Holland’s more mature web-slinger.