A character with an almost unparalleled history, Spider-Man is perhaps the most popular fictional superhero of our time; the franchise’s recent venture, “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” masterfully delivers an ambitious yet touching homage to the icon’s legacy as the finale of one of this decade’s most beloved superhero series. Released on December 17, 2021 by Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios, the movie sees Tom Holland return for his third stint as Peter Parker, this time coping with the effects of his super-identity being revealed to the world. As a desperate Peter goes to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help, a botched spell leads to villains from other worlds appearing and the world needing to be saved once again. Caution: spoilers ahead.
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” opens up with a seismic shift in the status quo of Spider-Man, and is a fun way to start the story, even if (or perhaps because) we see Peter’s life becoming a living hell. To any that ask, “why do superheroes wear masks?”, this movie thoroughly showcases the answer. Peter Parker and his friends are harassed at school; he’s rejected from the college of their dreams, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; he and Aunt May are even forced to change apartments. This willingness to put everybody before himself is a cornerstone of the character, resulting in a decision to reach out to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange to cast a spell that will make the world forget he is Spider-Man. Just as his spell is being cast Peter starts interfering with it by asking for specific people to still remember, causing it to fail and leading to beings of other worlds appearing.
With a myriad of leaks, theories, and hype, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” was one of the most anticipated movies of the year, not only as the trilogy’s finale but also as a compilation of the series’ best elements. In essence, the excitement surrounding this movie boiled down to the inclusion of characters from both Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire and Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man duology featuring Andrew Garfield. Nostalgia can be a viewer’s greatest source of excitement; a large percentage of the movie’s audiences grew up watching either of the previous Spider-Man movie franchises. To bring three generations of Spider-Men together in a single movie is a daunting task. These inclusions could have easily felt like shallow, pandering cash-grabs that did nothing more than obnoxiously allude to the old movies without adding value or depth. It does that sometimes, but for every “I’m something of a scientist myself,” there are references that are established with authentic chemistry and complexity. One of the best scenes in the movie sees Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man save MJ from a fall, a callback to when Peter failed to catch Gwen Stacy in the heartbreaking ending to “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Additionally, the return of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Men was a complete blast. Each retained what made them originally great: Tobey Maguire is the experienced version with a big heart, and Andrew Garfield is the darker version of the character that still has a mildly humorous attitude. However, their presence did not detract from the fact that this is Tom Holland’s Spider-Man movie. The main story of growth is still his, with Maguire and Garfield helping him become the hero he needs to be.
However, “Spider-man: No Way Home” still has its weaknesses. The movie struggles to perfect its cinematic production, and is ridden with flat middle-shot cinematography, amateurish color correction, and unfinished C.G.I. The film is disjointed—many scenes feel out-of-place due to jarring editing, almost as if they were filmed in completely different places and times. This is because of how Marvel movies are made; people are brought in at different points in shooting, the movies go through plenty of re-shoots, and green screens are used instead of real locations. Additionally, Charlie Cox’s beloved Daredevil shows up for around one minute, one of the many instances in which the film tries to pander to the audience and drag on unnecessary parts of the film. When more and more of these moments start to build up, “No Way Home” begins to feel more like a product rather than a movie.
All those points are valid, but movies are really about how they make you feel. As part of a franchise that so many of us hold dear to our heart, the quality of “Spider-man: No Way Home” somewhat intrinsically depends on the audience’s experiences. When I heard the gasps when Aunt May died, the cheers when Maguire and Garfield appeared, and the applause when the credits rolled, I knew this was something special. It receives 4 out of 5 stars.