It’s hard to think of a recent movie that has been more awash in speculation, leaks, and rumors than Spider-Man: No Way Home. Every tidbit, every morsel, every TV spot or teaser trailer, has been scrutinized and poured over, like the Zapruder film for nerds. Part of this has to do with the relative scarcity of big event movies, especially after the end-all be-all event movie, 2019’s era-culminating Avengers: Endgame. (Obviously, the pandemic, its variants, and continuing unease around watching movies in a theater, have put a major strain on things.) And yet, somehow, Spider-Man: No Way Home lives up to the hype, in some of the ways you were expecting and in many ways you are not. And the experience of seeing Spider-Man: No Way Home, in a theater, surrounded by strangers, only adds to its power.
This review for Spider-Man: No Way Home will be spoiler-free; if you’ve seen any of the trailers, you’re safe.
Spider-Man: No Way Home takes place immediately after the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home. Like immediately. Spider-Man (Tom Holland) has just been doxxed by the MCU, Alex Jones version of J. Jonah Jameson (played again by J.K. Simmons); it throws his world into chaos – his friends (Zendaya and Jacob Batalon) are ostracized and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is put out. In an hour of desperation, Peter visits the Sanctum Sanctorum, home to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). He asks Strange to cast a spell – make most of the world forget that he is Spider-Man. Of course, spells have a way of backfiring and, while Strange tries to control the situation, it has an unexpected side effect: villains from Spider-Man’s past arrive to wreak havoc. Only, these aren’t villains from our Spider-Man’s past, but rather villains from the previous two “cycles” of modern-day Spider-Men – folks like Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) and, of course, Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). There are also villains from Andrew Garfield’s short-lived run as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Truly he was the Timothy Dalton of Spider-Man actors.
That’s all they’ve marketed and truly that’s all you need to know. There are surprises to be had in Spider-Man: No Way Home, even if you have been following along with every paparazzi photo or set report. And while these surprises are loads of fun (most were met with uproarious applause at the world premiere), the bigger surprise is how much of an emotional punch Spider-Man: No Way Homesqueezes in between the big reveals and supersized twists.
Most of Spider-Man: No Way Home is Peter dealing with what he’s done in the past, even if he himself hasn’t done it. These multiverse scenarios often serve as a kind of narrative shortcut; lessons are learned quicker, realizations achieved faster, conflict exponentially intensified. But here, it’s used for introspection, reflection, and growth. The three movies in the Tom Holland cycle have always saddled Peter Parker with a kind of mentor or father figure (in the first film it was Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark, in the sequel it was Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterioand Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, and here it’s Doctor Strange). This seemed like the major knock against these movies – why couldn’t Spider-Man just lead his own Spider-Man movie? This new film answers that question, and gives the character a path forward. And in a nifty way it recontextualizes not only the other Holland movies but all of the Spider-Man movies.
To say anymore would obviously be criminal, and the same folks that looked at every supposed reveal with forensic detail will be pouring over the specifics well into 2022. What can be said is that the movie isn’t perfect. The midsection sags a little under the weight of introducing so many ideas and so many new (old?) characters, and your mileage may vary depending on your understanding and love of the previous Spider-films. But the accomplishment of Spider-Man: No Way Home cannot be overstated, evenwhile looking at it in terms of being pan-company synergy. You can practically feel the lawyers and performers and visual effects wizards sweating to try and figure this thing out and get it done in time for maximum Christmas movie season impact.
So go into Spider-Man: No Way Home with your expectations in check and you’ll be delighted. Even if they aren’t in check, you’ll probably still be delighted. It will probably lead to much discussion and a Spider-movie marathon over the holiday break. And the sheer act of going to the theater and experiencing something so joyful and grand, is enough to put a spring in your step even if you weren’t crazy about the end result. End the year on a high note. And stay away from spoilers.