The Marvel Spider-Man movies have been carefully bookended around some of the most dramatic events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Things are at a crossroads now with many of the familiar characters off in some faraway places and different challenges for the superheroes left behind. Although rather boring and largely uneventful, the recent Eternals set up the future of the next wave of the MCU. Similarly, Spider-Man’s new adventure causes ripple effects for all things Spidey going forward. The same filmmakers created the three movies with Tom Holland in the starring role. Their continuity makes this latest collaboration both the end of that chapter and the start of something different. Spider-Man: No Way Home introduces a more mature Peter Parker as he deals with the consequences of his actions as Spider-Man.
Director Jon Watts and writing team Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (also the writers of Ant-Man and the Wasp) delivered three solid films with Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man: Far From Home and Spider-Man: No Way Home. This story directly follows the exposure to the world that Peter Parker (Holland) is also Spider-Man. The ramifications are severe as Peter and his friends MJ (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) can’t find a moment of peace from people following them everywhere. Aunt May Parker (Marisa Tomei) suggests that Peter stay with Tony Stark’s former right-hand man Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), but that doesn’t make things much better. Desperate for a return to normal, Peter visits Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell to make people forget that he’s Spider-Man. When Peter asks for exceptions like MJ, Ned and Aunt May, it messes up the spell and attracts from the Multiverse people — villains like Dr. Otto Octavius/Doc Ock (Alfed Molina) — who know Peter’s secret identity. Initially focusing on Peter’s angst, the majority of the movie shifts to Peter, his friends and Doctor Strange fixing the damage that the spell caused to the Multiverse.
Holland has grown as an actor just as Peter has fit into the role of superhero over this trilogy and Spider-Man’s participation in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. I look forward to his further adventures as Spider-Man, and until then, he’s tackling the lead in at least one movie based on the popular video game series Uncharted. Initially, I didn’t like the change from the dashing redhead MJ of the comics, but Zendaya quickly won me over with her version. Tomei’s Aunt May looks nothing like the old, frail, gray Aunt May, and this younger version led to better conversations with Peter and even a romance with Happy. Cumberbatch commands the screen every moment that he appears, so it’s no wonder that they gave him a supporting role here until the next stand-alone Doctor Strange movie. I love the one-liners and comedy that the writers put in his scenes.
In addition to the battles with the villains, Spider-Man: No Way Home largely leans on the many surprises and the bits of new information mentioned casually here and there. No, I’m not going to spoil any of the surprises, but it suffices to say that there are a few moments that will elicit a loud response from the audience — the hallmark of a great cinematic secret. As for knowledge, one example is that just a single comment from Wong (Benedict Wong) changes how he will be perceived in the MCU. His deadpan delivery and sarcasm should be a hoot to watch in the next Doctor Strange story. By the time that the credits roll, you’ll likely be just as excited for what comes next for Spider-Man as I was. In fact, I’d like another movie right now because this one left me with too many questions. By now, everyone knows to stick around until the very end of the credits of a Marvel movie, and these bonus scenes also spawned more questions.
You couldn’t make a Marvel movie without the special effects that provide the superpowers and larger-than-life settings for the characters. With Spider-Man dealing with a variety of villains, it’s sure to be a visual treat as well as heart-pounding action. The Statue of Liberty serves as one key location just as it did in the first X-Men. Boy, have things changed since then! My favorite effects scenes take place inside the Mirror Dimension and involve buildings and landscapes both bending and duplicating as Doctor Strange and Peter navigate this freaky world that looks like parts of Inception. I often wonder if the filmmakers add more Spider-Man suits to sell toys. Ignore my cynicism, and just enjoy the look and functionality of each of the four or five suits that Spider-Man dons over the course of the film.
Michael Giacchino composed another strong score to add to his long list of achievements, including the two previous Holland Spider-Man outings. His music adds that final touch to the dramatic moments. I’d love to go all J. Jonah Jameson — J.K. Simmons reprises his role — on the Marvel heads to hurry up with the next appearance of Spider-Man, but I’m sure that it will come when least expected in some other character’s film. The future is unclear, but with the spate of other Marvel movies, there will be plenty to keep me busy after Spider-Man: No Way Home.