I could have published my thoughts in reaction to Spider-Man: No Way Home much earlier as I saw it opening weekend, but I did not want to be responsible for “ruining” the movie for some random because of spoilers. I do not think it is possible to do the film justice with spoiler-free reviews. Though I am not here to write a review, I do need to discuss several elements that bother me.
When entering spoilery chats related to No Way Home, I initially gave the movie a 10/10 for fanservice, but a 4-5/10 for the plot written to get there. After taking into consideration Jamie Foxx’s comments concerning his expectation of a black Spider-Man–because there is no way anyone in the writer’s room for Electro came up with this organically–I reduced my fanservice score to a 9/10. Had Miles Morales does exist in the best-ever Spider-Man movie, Into the Spider-Verse, and had Sony and Disney collaborated to reveal a live-action Miles as the biggest of big reveals, I would have to elevate the fanservice score to something like 90/10.
Can I tell you something?…You got a nice face, you’re just a kid. You’re from Queens. You got that suit, you help a lot of poor people. I just thought you was gonna be Black. ~ Electro
Getting back into the nitty-gritty, part of the magic of the MCU involves seeing our comic book heroes come to life on the big screen, such that we could imagine them as if they existed in reality. This kind of suspension of disbelief is contingent upon quality writing and characterization. No Way Home dispenses with the pretense that it is anything more than a superhero movie, and in fact regresses into a plot fit for a Silver Age comic book. To the film’s credit, it does portray an accurate depiction of how hellacious life would be for Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and friends if his identity were made public knowledge. The transition to a Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) visit is a flippant “Oh yeah, he lives in NY, too” epiphany, while the Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) cameo is straight fanservice.
Dr. Strange’s line, “I sometimes forget that you’re still a kid,” perfectly encapsulates all that ensues with Parker’s frenetic addendums to the spell that would make everyone in the world forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man: Ned, MJ (Zendaya), Aunt Mae (Marisa Tomei), and Happy (Jon Favreau) each add additional layers to the spell, with Parker coming off here as the most annoying version of Peter Parker in film. Strange ends up miscasting the spell, needing to contain it lest chaos ensues. Irritate, he banishes Parker, regarding him as a subordinate rather than an ally.
Parker’s plan gone sideways, he calls Flash Thompson to ask where the MIT recruiter is so that he can plead his case on behalf of Ned and MJ, whose applications were rejected on account of their controversial association with Spider-Man. It is here where Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) appears. Evidently, a side-effect of the miscast is, instead of the world forgetting that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, the spell pulled from other universes Spider-Man’s greatest enemies who knew his identity.
Dr. Strange then sends Holland-Man on a mission to collect ‘em all, so that he could return them to their dimensions, where each villain ends up dying as per the endings of their respective Spider-Man films. But in the most aggravatingly puerile thing that Holland-Man could have done, he absconds with the magic box containing the spell from Strange in protest of killing the villains. An admittedly cool chase sequence through the Mirror Dimension ensues, where Strange remains trapped. Instead of sending the Sinister Six (minus Mysterio) back from whence they came, in an entirely Disney-like fairy tale scenario, Holland-Man tries to rehabilitate the motley crew while motivated by Aunt May’s singular encounter with a “lucid” Norman Osborne who shows up to F.E.A.S.T. like a vagabond who needs a therapist.
Nice reference to the PlayStation Spider-Man games, but the “act of mercy” that is having Holland-Man fight Dr. Strange so that he cannot reverse the spell that would send the Sinister Six minus one to their doom in their own universes would later cost Aunt May her life. The sheer ridiculousness of the Spider-Man films’ rogues gallery casually, patently, hanging out in the flat that Holland-Man shares with Happy and May set my jaw into a clinch. The coolest scene in the film, Holland-Man needing to trust his Spider-Sense to detect which villain was turning dangerous comes at the grave cost of trying to reform evil.
In the end, Holland-Man sacrifices everything that he loves so that absurd comic book heroism can thrive. No Way Home ends with upbeat undertones, but in truth, the film is a tragedy. No one knows that Peter is Spider-Man, yet his alter-ego is still a fugitive because the world still thinks that he murdered Mysterio. The movie does not seem to care about this; instead, it attempts to distract the audience by unveiling the “new” hand-sewn classic comic book costume, even though helicopters should still be chasing him through all of his web-swinging. After all, JJ (J.K. Simmons) now has his Infowars-like setup to sir the Spider-Man smearing machine.
The worst thing to think about with No Way Home is that it, for all intents and purposes, retcons the character development that we witnessed in Homecoming and Far from Home. Holland-Man’ annuls his relationship with Flash, Ned, and MJ (let us not forget Adrian Toomes for those who remember what might have been a Scorpion tease). Before Strange’s spell wipes everyone’s minds of Peter Parker, MJ says that she figured out his identity once and she will do it again, but the way this movie ends, it is as though Sony is setting up to pluck the Spider-Man franchise from the MCU. The next time we see MJ, she may no longer be “Hollywood’s Acceptable Version of a Black Girl.” The diversity of Flash, Ned, and MJ was fun while it lasted, for when I grew up on Spider-Man, the only character of color was Robbie Robertson, JJ’s Editor-in-Chief.
Well, at least I have Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse to look forward to!
Extra: I have so many more bones to pick with Spider-Man: No Way Home that I had to make a list.
-Did I miss something about EDITH? The authorities confiscated a lot of Tony Stark’s tech at the beginning of the movie, prompting the Daredevil cameo. Is that what Murdock says about Parker being okay but Happy needing to lawyer-up? Is this the beginning of Armor Wars? Here is another instance of erasure; Far From Home was all about EDITH, and expects the audience to forget that Stark Industries (and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts) exists?
–Was Ned strong enough to pull Maguire-Man and Garfield-Man from their alternate dimensions, or were they aimlessly wandering around Holland-Man’s NYC up until that very point where the plot required their intervention, when Holland-Man hit rock-bottom?
I find it difficult to believe that Ned is already strong enough to pull the Spider-Men from alternate dimensions, OR, that those Spider-Men would be just aimlessly wandering around the streets of NYC without intervening when Doc Oc scrambles traffic on a major interstate, and Green Goblin levels a building. Their appearance only when the script requires their presence is movie magic.
-Garfield-Man gets Lizardman and Electro rehabilitated, but Gwen Stacy still cannot be saved so that we can get the Garfield-Man saves MJ tear-jerk. I hope he goes home to find his own MJ.
-We get Defoe’s Green Goblin but not DeHaan’s? How does Electro and two alternate Spider-Men get through but not two Green Goblins?
-The MJ who knows who Spider-Man is, and the MJ who does not, are two different characters, not unlike the way in which Defoe portrays Osborn and Green Goblin. This is what I mean by the erasure of character development. MJ transitions erratically throughout the trilogy. And it is not because Zendaya is portraying a teenager (Euphoria).
-Dr. Strange is one of the most intelligent and witty characters in the MCU, but the writing does Cumberbatch no favors. “It is their fate” is the best he could do to argue in favor of sending the villains back? Not “The instability of the spell required could rip the space-time continuum”? As cliche as that previous sentence reads, it is better than “It is their fate.”
-Now that Parker is living on his own, how is he going to support himself? Ask newspapers how they are faring in 2021, or photographers in the age of Etsy. Holland-Man gonna have to sell pizzas like Maguire-Man.