For nearly two decades, Spider-Man has been a constant on the silver screen. The films headlined by the web-slinger endure as some of the most influential blockbusters of all time. And through three distinct iterations (and a delightful animated adventure), Spidey has become a cinematic icon in his own right. But perhaps more importantly, a lot of us have grown up and or fallen in love with Spider-Man through these films. We all have our favourite versions, we all remember the spectacle, and we've continued to connect with the character this way time and time again. 'Spider-Man: No Way Home' recognises that generational quality and takes full advantage of its protagonist's illustrious cinematic history. The result is mainly successful - if a little clunky - yet something I'm deeply thankful for all the same.
Now, before we dive in, I should stress that try as I might to keep things entirely spoiler-free, I buckled. In this review, there are things implied that could ruin a few surprises for those yet to see the film. In that case, I implore you to see the film first before coming back to this review. For the rest of you, let's continue!
Picking up immediately after the conclusion of 'Spider-Man: Far From Home', Mysterio has revealed Spider-Man's (Tom Holland, 'Cherry') identity to the world and framed him for his murder. Due to this, the public view Peter as a killer and his loved ones as accomplices. With his world turned upside-down, Peter reaches out to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, 'The Imitation Game') for help. The pair conjure up a spell to make the world forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. However, upon realising his family and friends will forget what they've experienced with him, Peter tries to change the spell mid-cast. This manoeuvre proves disastrous, as the spell instead starts transporting villains who have previously fought their Spider-Man into this Peter's universe.
The first thing to say about 'No Way Home' is that it is truly an epic. Whereas 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' and 'Far From Home' felt a tad too safe, Tom Holland's third entry swings wildly for the fences. With the introduction of the multiverse, the consequences of Peter's actions hold far more weight than anything he's dealt with before. He has to face real tragedy and make some heartbreaking sacrifices to fix this problem of his own making. And as he scrambles to try and control things, you can sense the clock ticking, especially when he's in the company of characters you know a lot better than he does, and you're aware of their more sinful tendencies. 'No Way Home' does a terrific job telling a grand story while forcing Peter to come into his own through sheer adversity.
Yet, for all its nostalgia and bombast, the film never loses sight of its characters, and the performances do well to give the film a beating heart. 'No Way Home' asks a lot of Tom Holland, and, in turn, he delivers his best performance in the role to date. The film is merciless in beating Peter down, and Holland skillfully expresses a darker side to his usually joyful interpretation. This is also the best Zendaya ('Dune') has been as MJ. In her previous outings, her talent has felt squandered by a character limited to making odd comments and mopey expressions. But here, she finally feels like a living, breathing person. Their relationship works splendidly as the stakes continue to rise. Their performances, as well as that of the incredible supporting cast, allow 'No Way Home' to be thoughtful when it so easily could have felt hollow.
That said, when it comes to the returning villains, while the cast is clearly enjoying themselves, their placement lacks polish. It's an absolute joy seeing these actors return to their roles years after we last saw them. It's like saying hello to an old friend. But despite the strong turns from Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina and Jamie Foxx, how they're utilised is fairly uneven. Often the usage of them oscillates between moments of poignancy and moments of fan service. Some callbacks feel downright cheap, while others are super fulfilling. Regardless, most of them aren't given much opportunity to leave a significant mark. It doesn't help that a couple of members clearly couldn't physically be on set, so the filmmakers were resigned to CGI forms (and, I suspect, repurposed footage). But, despite them all providing worthy menace, with so much going on, they're not given much room to move.
The first thing to say about 'No Way Home' is that it is truly an epic. Whereas 'Homecoming' and 'Far From Home' felt a tad too safe, Tom Holland's third entry swings wildly for the fences.
And that's the biggest issue 'No Way Home' has to contend with; its magnitude. While I adore that after two light teen comedies, this version of Spider-Man has finally moved into more ambitious territory, it isn't always a smooth ride. It hits the ground at a sprint and rarely stops to take a breath, and its rapid pacing can be a bit disorientating. Things get crowded very quickly, and the balancing act of so many characters and plot points is noticeably wobbly. Moreover, the logic behind the multiverse tends to be at odds with certain things that characters say. Look, it can be a bit messy - never to the point of being detrimental, but messy nonetheless.
Although despite its hiccups, it still comes together remarkably well. The fact of the matter is 'No Way Home' cannot be viewed strictly as just its own film. I'm trying to be as vague as I can, but it's fair to say this is more than just a continuation of Peter's story. 'No Way Home' is a legacy text for the many years this character has been on screen, and in that regard, it fires on all cylinders. 'No Way Home' is about our connections with the people we love. For Peter, that is through people like MJ or Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, 'In The Bedroom'). But for the audience, it lets us reconnect with certain figures we haven't seen in some time - and personally, I couldn't stop smiling throughout the time I had with them. It felt like I was granted some closure after never getting the chance to truly say goodbye. Frankly, few moments in film have ever left me in such glee.
'No Way Home' heralds a shift in direction for this version of Peter Parker, and by and large, it's mostly satisfying. It's trying to be more colourful, trying to be bigger, and trying to give its action more wallop. It doesn't always gel as nicely as it could, but the shift is welcome. And as we near 20 years of Spider-Man on the big screen, 'No Way Home' shows we're far from done with Spider-Man, and nor is he done with us. There's been many great webs already spun, and there's plenty more on the way.